Jane Austen banknote

Contributed by: Victoria Cleland
Themes: Jane Austen, whyLiteratureMatters
Categories: Comment

During a time with so much change and uncertainty in the world, literature can play a role in helping us to escape but also to learn and to be inspired. It was therefore uplifting  to see so much focus during 2017 on Jane Austen, 200 years after her death. Celebrations have included exhibitions, new biographies, costume balls and a very moving service in Winchester Cathedral.

I was delighted that the Bank of England was also able to commemorate this event by issuing a new £10 polymer note celebrating Jane Austen.  She is the seventeenth character to appear on a Bank of England banknote, and the third from the world of literature.  Indeed the first ever character to feature on one of our notes was William Shakespeare, with Charles Dickens appearing in 1992:  an indication of how important literature is to us all.

With such a wealth of talent in the UK, we look for banknote characters who not only excel in their field, but also contribute to thought, leadership, values and society.   And how well Jane Austen meets these criteria.  Her novels through magnificent characterisation, razor sharp dialogue wit and irony, not only bring enjoyment worldwide but provide great insights into the society at the time.  She grapples with issues around gender, power and independence, class structure, the navy, as well of course with affairs of the heart.   Her novels have not just inspired many readers, but also a wealth of authors through her approach to character development, and for some even the story lines themselves.

The banknote seeks to reflect, on a small, carefully crafted piece of polymer the life and contribution of Jane Austen.  We have weaved into the intricate design work the 12 sided writing desk once used by Jane, and the motif of books and quills appears throughout.  A key security feature is a bright foil of Winchester Cathedral, where she is buried with an epitaph which referred to “the extraordinary endowments of her mind“.  How lucky we have all been to benefit from those.