"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Literature In The News: Jane Austen to be Placed on a Ten Pound Note

Here's a new feature for my blog, Literature In The News. There have been a couple of instances I've come across where a news article on something literary would make a good blog post but didn't write it. So here's the first.

First off, let me give a hat tip to Tom McDonald who blogs at God and the Machine for bringing this news bit to my attention. 

The first Lit in the News post will highlight Jane Austen replacing Charles Darwin on a British Ten Pound Note.  From The Guardian:   

Jane Austen has been confirmed as the next face of the £10 note in a victory for campaigners demanding female representation – aside from the Queen – on the country's cash.

Sir Mervyn King, the Bank's former governor, had let slip to MPs that the author of Pride and Prejudice was "waiting in the wings" as a potential candidate to feature on a banknote, and his successor, Mark Carney, confirmed on Wednesday that she would feature, probably from 2017.

"Jane Austen certainly merits a place in the select group of historical figures to appear on our banknotes. Her novels have an enduring and universal appeal and she is recognised as one of the greatest writers in English literature," the new governor said.

He also announced that the Bank would carry out a review of the process for selecting the historical figures who appear on banknotes, to ensure that a diverse range of figures is represented.

"We believe that our notes should celebrate the full diversity of great British historical figures and their contributions in a wide range of fields. The Bank is committed to that objective, and we want people to have confidence in our commitment to diversity. That is why I am today announcing a review of the selection process for future banknote characters," Carney said. The review will be overseen by the chief cashier Chris Salmon, whose signature appears on banknotes.




I should say the feminists did agitate for a woman to make it onto the currency, and frankly they have a point.  If cultural figures make it onto the currency, then there is little reason women should not be represented.  I have to say I’m pleased they picked Jane Austen.   I love her work.  I’ve read three of her six novels, Pride and Prejudice, Emma,  and Persuasion.   I know Pride and Prejudice gets most of the notoriety, but I think Emma is her greatest work.  I guess I shouldn’t speak for the ones I haven’t read.  I do intend to read them, and it’s just about time for another.  I’ll have to put one on my 2014 list.  Any suggestions of the ones I haven’t read?

In that Guardian article the feminists admitted that Austen was not their personal choice, but they did ultimately try to put Austen in the best feminist light possible.  The truth is that Austen is not really a feminist by modern standards.  While her female characters are bright, energetic, and independent, they seek personal fulfillment in the context of traditional marriage and male/female roles.  And while her novels only tangentially address religion, religious and traditional morality color many of the decisions the characters make.  She was the daughter of an Anglican priest after all.  Despite the claims of some critics, there is nothing deconstructive or subversive about Austen.  I don’t see Austen in sympathy with modern day feminism at all.

Tom McDonald, who I gave the hat tip above, speculated what if we in the United States decided to put a writer on our money.  He suggested Washington Irving.  You can read through the comments, but it seems the most popular choice was Mark Twain.  I thought of Twain too, but ultimately I went with Walt Whitman.  I think Whitman is more universal American than Twain.  But that might be my opinion.  If you had to choose, which American author would you put on our twenty dollar bill?