Jane Austen's image could soon grace British currency, outgoing Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King has revealed, replacing Charles Darwin on the 10-pound bank note.
The author is one of England's most popular historical figures. Since it was published 200 years ago, Pride and Prejudice has sold 20 million copies worldwide, and is the reason we all know who Colin Firth is.
Austen would be the third woman (besides the Queen) to appear on British currency, the other two being Florence Nightingale and prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.
The latter was at the center of a controversy when the Bank of England announced it was replacing her with the rather unladylike Winston Churchill in 2015. The backlash could be the reason why British officials decided to put Austen in the running for the 10-pound spot. But is she really the woman for the job?
Jane Merrick of The Independent doesn't think so, noting that the faces currently featured on British currency look awfully white:
They should not be just figures of history, representing a past achievement, but provide a contemporary source of inspiration. They should also evoke current challenges: what is going to unite us in the present, how do we live together in an ever-shrinking world? In a week in which we are reminded of the legacies of two important black figures, Nelson Mandela and Stephen Lawrence, it seems odd that, in 2013, all the faces on our banknotes are white. [The Independent]
Granted, Nelson Mandela is from South Africa, which suffered terribly under British colonialism, but point taken. The U.K. is an incredibly diverse country today and its money arguably should reflect that.
If your criteria, however, is how recognizable a Brit someone is, it's hard to beat Austen, Kathryn Sutherland, professor of English at Oxford University, tells the BBC, saying, "Jane Austen is a great ambassador for Englishness — English humour, English politeness, English reserve."
The Spectator's David Blackburn agrees that Austen is an obvious choice because of her fame, noting that historically the Crown has chosen simple, recognizable iconography for its currency as "a tool of power and unity," which worked because "the lumpen-proletariat grasped what it was looking at."
John Mullan, professor of English at University College London, writes in The Guardian that Austen should be chosen because she wrote convincingly about money:
Nobody has put money to better uses in their novels than her … The animating thing in her novels is that everybody knows how much everyone is worth. As soon as [Mr Darcy] appears it is whispered around that he is worth £10,000 a year. Mr Collins, when he proposes to Elizabeth, tells her how much her mother and father have. He knows what her parents income is exactly down to the last percent. That is what makes money pulse through all her novels, the fact that all the characters know about each other's money. [The Guardian]
Ultimately, the decision lies with Mark Carney, who will take over as governor of the Bank of England on July 1.
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