LONDON -- The Bank of England swallowed its pride and overcame its perceived prejudice Wednesday by designating Jane Austen as the new face of the 10-pound note, bowing to public outrage over the possibility that only male historical figures would be represented on British currency.
The beloved novelist will probably appear on bank notes starting in 2017, a year after the portrait of 19th century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry is to be phased out from the five-pound note. The announcement in April that Fry would be replaced by wartime leader Winston Churchill, thus eliminating any women from Britain’s past on its bank notes, sparked protests and an online petition that drew more than 30,000 signatures.
“We’ve listened, and we fully understand the concerns that were raised by many people,” said Mark Carney, the new governor of the Bank of England, who took up the post three weeks ago. “We believe that our notes should celebrate the full diversity of British historical figures and their contributions in a wide range of fields.”
About Austen, who wrote the classics “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility,” Carney added: “We’re very certain that she will prove a popular choice.”
The move followed a storm of criticism and a creative campaign that included the Internet petition and a protest at Bank of England headquarters by women dressed up as important female figures in British history, such as scientist Rosalind Franklin and the ancient warrior-queen Boadicea.
Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist who led the drive for women’s representation on bank notes, said she was “absolutely delighted” with Carney’s decision, which he announced at a news conference at Austen’s home in Hampshire, now a museum.
Criado-Perez is particularly pleased that Carney has promised a review of how the bank chooses the people who appear on its bills. Carney pledged to revisit the criteria and to make the selection process more transparent.
“If we want to stop having basically white men running everything and being chosen for everything, then the process by which we value things and choose things needs to be changed,” said Criado-Perez.
The Bank of England’s change of heart comes at an interesting time. At present, besides Fry the reformer, the only woman featured on British currency is 87-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, who as monarch appears on all notes and coins.
But after her death, Britain is likely to be ruled by kings for decades, since the next three in line for the throne are Prince Charles, 64, Prince William, 31, and William’s new son, George Alexander Louis, who was born Monday. With male monarchs eventually replacing Elizabeth on British money, the need to ensure that notable women from British history also appear takes on even more urgency.
Austen will be only the third such woman to grace a banknote, following Fry and nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale. Her face will replace Charles Darwin’s.
A prototype of the bill unveiled Wednesday shows the silhouette of a writing desk and a drawing of the house where Austen’s brother lived, which is believed to have been an inspiration for places in some of her novels.
The writer’s portrait is based on a sketch by her sister, and below her gently smiling face is a quote from “Pride and Prejudice”: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading.”
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