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Pounds and Prejudice: Jane Austen Graces the £10 Note

The UK has just released images of the brand new £10 note featuring pictures of Jane Austen, making her the first woman author to be put on English currency. William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens have both been placed on British currency.

The reveal took place on the 200th anniversary of the author’s death. The new note was also unveiled at  Winchester Cathedral, Austen’s resting place. The Bank of England proudly showed off the colorful design featuring an image of Austen herself and Elizabeth Bennet, one of her most adored characters from her novel, Pride and Prejudice.

While it’s great to see a woman’s head on the tenner without a crown on it, the creators are facing some backlash from Austen’s loyal fans.

There is a quote below Austen’s face that reads, ““I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” Sounds nice, right? Not if you know the context it doesn’t.

The quote is said by Elizabeth Bennet’s rival, Caroline Bingley, who actually couldn’t care less about books. Bingley only says that to try and seduce Mr. Darcy as she reads over his shoulder.

“Seriously?! New bank note w/Jane Austen has ironic quote from Caroline Bingley on it?! Haha somebody didn’t read…” Twitter user Courtney Hatch wrote.

Some such as writer Eloisa James were elated by the decision. She tweeted, “I’m so thrilled that Jane Austen has made it onto the 10 pound note! I think I have to get ahold of some.”

The Bank of England has responded saying that the quote is intended to appeal to multiple audiences by being both ironic and sincere. An official from the bank stated, “It’s two things: It captures much of [Austen’s] spirit, that is the quote, you can read it straight, there is no enjoyment like reading, and we agree with that.” He continued, “If you know her work, you can enjoy the irony of that, it draws out some of the aspects of her social satire, it works on many levels.”

Many fans, myself included, aren’t really buying this.

“It’s a 19th Century airbrushed makeover,” Oxford University fellow Dr. Paula Byrne told the BBC. Byrne feels that the image of the famous author beautifies her instead of depicting her as the hyper-intellectual that she was.

In a statement, the Bank of England said the banknote portrait was an 1870 engraving commissioned by Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh. That engraving comes from the original sketch by her sister Cassandra, the only concrete image we have of Austen.

While I understand this criticism, I’m more inclined to relish in the sight of a woman writer’s face on the note than to dwell on the fact that she looks too pretty, especially since we don’t have any photographs of her.

The real irony however is that Austen, a commenter on wealth and morality, might also have mixed feelings about being printed on currency.

Featured Image by Bank of England on Flickr
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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