It was confirmed last week that Jane Austen will be the controversial new face of the British ten pound note when it is launched in 2017. Why controversial you may ask – Austen seems a natural choice as one of England‘s most renowned authors whose works are enjoyed to this day and whose stories have been reworked for the television and movie screens time and again. Indeed, she would seem to sit well in the long line of famous British historical figures to appear on our currency from William Shakespeare right through to Scottish inventor James Watt and nature scientist Charles Darwin.
However, the announcement takes on new significance when you consider that Austen will be only the third female ever, apart from her Majesty the Queen herself, to appear on a banknote of Great Britain. And that the only other woman – prison-reformer Elizabeth Fry – to currently appear on our banknotes is due to be replaced in 2016, by a male figure (Winston Churchill).
It was this announcement of Fry’s replacement earlier this year which caused a storm of debate – an online petition demanding more female representation on our nation’s cash, aside from the Queen, gained 35000 signatures and there were even threats of court action against the Bank of England on grounds of equality and discrimination. Austen had been suggested as a potential female figure and a social-media campaign of support was quickly galvanised.
Fortunately, last week’s confirmation that Jane Austen will indeed appear on our new ten pound notes has quelled some of the controversy. The new Governor of the Bank of England seems to be more than happy with the selection saying that Jane Austen clearly “merits” a place amongst the other historical figures and that her novels are both “enduring” and with “universal appeal”. And in response to the online petition he has also announced a review of the selection process for who appears on our bank notes to ensure improved diversity in the historical figures portrayed.
So soon it will be with great pride that we see Jane Austen represented on our banknotes and hopefully we won’t see this type of prejudice again!
Interested in Jane Austen, why not visit the Jane Austen centre in Bath or the museum set in her former home at Chawton near Winchester.