On the occasion of Jane Austen’s 200th death anniversary, the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney unveiled a new £10 banknote featuring the beloved novelist. Austen is now the only woman featured on an English banknote, apart from the Queen of England.
“Our banknotes serve as repositories of the country’s collective memory, promoting awareness of the United Kingdom’s glorious history and highlighting the contributions of its greatest citizens,” said Carney in a July 18 ceremony at Winchester Cathedral, where Austen is buried. “As the mother of the great tradition of the English novel, Jane Austen’s place in this august group is assured,” he said. Loaded with enhanced security features, the crisp, polymer notes will go into circulation on September 14.
After a hailstorm of criticism over the UK’s male-dominated currency set, the Bank announced in July 2013 that the author of 19th century classics Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Emma will replace Charles Darwin on the tenner. But not everyone is pleased with how she’s been represented.
Historian Lucy Worsley pointed out that the famously plain author seems to have been given the “Georgian equivalent of an airbrushing.” The Bank based its design on an 1870 etching based on a purportedly more realistic portrait of Austen drawn by her sister Cassandra. The unfinished pencil-and-watercolor sketch currently displayed at London’s National Portrait Gallery depicts Austen with bags under her eyes, a pointy nose and a receding chin.
However, the portrait that’s been printed on millions of banknotes shows a prettier version, with Austen’s features softened and idealized.
Austen fans also have issues with the quotation on the banknote. Printed under Austen’s portrait, it reads, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” The quote isn’t exactly Austen’s endorsement of her favorite pastime, but in fact, a line uttered by one of Austen’s minor characters who actually has no interest in books.
In Pride and Prejudice, boy-crazy Caroline Bingley pretended to be an avid reader in an attempt to win the attention of the novel’s aloof hero, Mr. Darcy. In the eleventh chapter, Austen describes Bingley’s falsehood:
Miss Bingley’s attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy’s progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
The Guardian declared the choice of quotation, “a major blunder.”
Vegans and religious groups also complain that the £10 note’s plastic material contains trace amounts of animal fat. Despite a 130,000 signature-petition, the Bank decided to go with the same tallow-laced polymer used in the £5 banknotes. Working with De La Rue and Innovia Security who printed the new banknotes, the Bank is now researching the viability of using palm oil in place of animal fat for the new £20 which will be introduced in 2020.