In a week where the media stalked the car parks of St. Mary’s Hospital in feverish anticipation of wee George’s arrival, the announcement that Jane Austen was to replace the face of Charles Darwin on the ten-pound note might have got lost in the fray. The Chancellor, George Osborne, surely channeling the erudite (sarcasm) Mr. Collin’s from Pride and Prejudice, tweeted that the move showed, ‘Sense and Sensibility’. I wonder how long it took him to think up that little quip!
The decision to elect the much loved author to adorn our tenners was helped along by a campaign to feature more women on our monies. Something, I whole-heartedly agree with, even though my sister’s in the world are busy spending their tenners on blue polka dot dresses, of the sort snapped on the Duchess of Cambridge, post George delivery. Come on, girls!
The presence of Austen’s face on money would have certainly brought a wry smile to the writer’s lips. In all of her novels, her character’s lives are shaped by three main themes: family, love and social standing in relation to wealth (side note to shoppers, there are no themes revolving around blue polka dot dresses). Austen’s family, on occasion had their own share of financial strain but pulled together when needed to get by. It is a reflection of her time that the first lines of at least three of her novels mention money or suggests the financial circumstance of her characters.
For example, our introduction to her novel, Emma: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition…
The long opening sentence in Mansfield Park: About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Nottingham, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.
And finally, in Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Her novel Emma was written in 1814/15, a time when the rural community that she lived in was struggling with recession, the country was facing a dire economic downturn, farmers were going bankrupt and her beloved brother, Henry lost his career in banking. Emma is one of her only novels where the heroine is significantly wealthy and it must have been empowering for Austen to create a female character that could make free choices that were not necessarily controlled by a requirement for wealth.
I know, that Miss Austen would not fail to see the romance in the legacy that now trails in her wake – her face on money, due for release two hundred years from her passing. I know what I’ll be doing with my first Jane Austen tenner – trading it in for a nice new copy of Pride & Prejudice and not a blue polka dot dress.
Olivia Kiernan is author of novel, Dawn Solstice.
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