History Stories

The Controversy
Yesterday, the Bank of England unveiled a new 10-pound banknote featuring Jane Austen, on the 200th anniversary of her death.

While fans and equality advocates alike were thrilled at the nod to the beloved author (especially after the Bank sparked outrage when it announced in April 2013 that it was replacing activist Elizabeth Fry with Winston Churchill on the back of another banknote), controversy swirled when the actual Austen image was revealed.

It’s based on a portrait that was made after she died, rather than one from life. The posthumous portrait creates a much “softer” look of the author—giving her an airbrushed feel.

As the Sunday Times reported:

“The historian and television presenter Lucy Worsley, who has recently published a book about the Pride and Prejudice author, said: ‘Jane Austen fans are pleased, obviously, that she’s going to appear on the banknote, but it’s deeply ironic that the image chosen by the Bank of England isn’t really her. It’s an author publicity portrait painted after she died in which she’s been given the Georgian equivalent of an airbrushing—she’s been subtly ‘improved.’”

Portrait of Jane Austen dated 1810. (Credit: World History Archive/Alamy Stock Photo)

Portrait of Jane Austen dated 1810. (Credit: World History Archive/Alamy Stock Photo)

Not only was her image “disneyfied”—a controversial process seemingly all Disney princesses go through—but the quote selected to appear on the note has rabid “Janeites” shaking their heads. The quote reads, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment but reading!”— a phrase uttered by one of the most unpopular characters in the Austen cannon, Pride and Prejudice’s Caroline Bingley, who, most assuredly, deeply hated reading.

One fan quipped on twitter, “This is what happens when ppl don’t actually READ Jane Austen’s works. Just slap a quote on there and call it quits.”

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, responded stating, “It captures much of her spirit, that is the quote, you can read it straight, there is no enjoyment like reading, and we agree with that. If you know her work, you can enjoy the irony of that, it draws out some of the aspects of her social satire, it works on many levels.”

Why It’s Important
Despite the debate over the image and quote selection, Austen will be the only woman, apart from Queen Elizabeth II, to be featured on an English bank note. Austen’s appearance on the note was in direct response to the outrage expressed after removing Elizabeth Fry, which resulted in tens of thousands of signatures on a petition asking British lawmakers to work with the Bank for more equal representation.

What’s Next?
The new notes will enter circulation this September. Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, U.S. currency updates still haven’t highlighted a woman in more than a century. That will all change by 2020 when Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20.

Image placeholder title

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.