LONDON – Jane Austen will become the new face on England’s 10-pound notes – in an attempt to add a little pride and fight the prejudice against women on the country’s currency.
The Bank of England chose the chronicler of 18th century English country life as the new face of the note, bowing to critics who complained that the venerable institution was ignoring women on their currency.
“Jane Austen certainly merits a place in the select group of historical figures to appear on our banknotes,” the bank’s new governor Mark Carney said Wednesday in a statement.
“Her novels have an enduring and universal appeal and she is recognized as one of the greatest writers in English literature.”
Carney elevated the creator of Mr. Darcy to the 10-pound (about $15) note within weeks of his taking over the helm of the U.K.’s central bank.
The controversy began earlier this year when the bank announced it would replace the 19th-century social reformer Elizabeth Fry with wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the five-pound note. Though Churchill is still revered for his World War II leadership, the change led to protests because no other woman – besides Queen Elizabeth II – would be represented on Britain’s currency.
Though few quibble with the hard work the monarch has done for Britain, women’s rights advocates fiercely argued that counting the head of state among the luminaries sent the wrong message to young women. This, they said, suggested that the only way for women to get ahead was to be born into the right family.
Tens of thousands signed a petition. Lawmakers asked for reflection. Some argued that equality laws might be violated.
The outgoing governor, Mervyn King, was forced to reassure lawmakers in one of his final public appearances that their concerns were unfounded and that Austen was quietly waiting in the wings for her chance to appear.
Austen, whose novels include “Emma” and “Sense and Sensibility,” is one of Britain’s best-loved authors. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of “Pride and Prejudice,” which was celebrated across the country with costume parties and other events.
The Austen note will be issued within a year of the Churchill note, which is targeted for release during 2016. The present face of the 10-pound note, Charles Darwin, will become extinct.