Today is the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen. You could say that’s a ‘noteable’ anniversary.
And you’d be bang right to say that it’s LITERALLY, and LITERATUREALLY ‘noteable’, as the final version of the author’s appearance on the new £10 note will be unveiled today.
Excuse us while we bow for applause.
Austen will be the fourth woman - after the Queen, Florence Nightingale and Elizabeth Fry - to feature on a current English bank note when they’re rolled out in September, and will follow in the footsteps of the new fiver, which first emerged into our grubby little hands back in September last year.
However, if, as expected, the final design follows the prototype, which was revealed back in 2013, there’s a major flaw in its design; namely, the quote that features in the bottom right-hand corner of the note which reads: "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!"
It’s taken from Austen’s 1813 classic Pride and Prejudice (you might have heard of it) and, at first glance, looks like a perfect quote to stick alongside Austen’s portrait. Indeed, the person who chose it was probably delighted when they did a quick online search through the text for something ‘booky’ and found that.
Unfortunately, it’s somewhat flawed, though, as the character who utters this phrase has, ironically, very little interest in reading. The words are spoken by Caroline Bingley, one of Austen’s most deceitful characters, who is trying to get in the, ahem, good books, of Mr Darcy, by pretending that she shares his interests.
He is reading a book, so Bingley sits next to him and pretends to read. Austen writes that she is "as much engaged in watching Mr Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own" and "perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page". Eventually, she is so "exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his" that she gives up, yawns and then says, "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!"
She does later declare that "When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library" but this is merely because a well-stocked library was a signifier of wealth and status – she was unlikely to actually want to go to the bother of reading any of them.
This literary misstep is not the only issue with the new tenner – it’s already come under fire for appearing to ‘airbrush’ Austen, with the image being inspired by a portrait painted after her death by her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh, which was in turn inspired by an original sketch drawn by Austen’s sister Cassandra – the only image of her made during her lifetime. The original sketch showed her with thin lips, bags under her eyes and a pointed chin, while the new £10 note version gives her smoother cheeks and a calmer expression.
If this wasn’t enough, the new tenner will also contain tallow (rendered beef and mutton fat), the same material that caused controversy amongst vegans with the £5 note.
It is hoped that the new £20 note, scheduled to come into circulation in 2020, will be able to eliminate this.
The new tenner will be larger than the fiver, which is good, as it will create a bigger fire when we burn them all in disgust at all of these problems.