A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
On Tuesday’s 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen – 1775-1817 – U.K. officials unveiled their new £10 banknote featuring “the mother of the great tradition of the English novel,” making her the first woman besides the Queen to appear on the country’s currency. The death of the much-beloved Austen at 41 was marked around the world with tributes, readings, re-enactments and other events celebrating her six novels – most famously, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Persuasion – exploring women’s social, economic and marital place in society. At a ceremony at Winchester Cathedral, where Austen is buried, Bank of England head Mark Carney said their banknotes “serve as repositories of the country’s collective memory (and) glorious history.”
To the wry, unmarried, often broke Austen, they were also a matter of life and death. Ten pounds – worth $1,300 today – was the advance she got for her first novel, and women’s economic inequality was a major theme in her books. “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor,” she wrote, “Which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony.” Austen’s tenner, which will replace Charles Darwin, is made from a new polymer more durable than paper. Ironically, it bears a less-than-apt quotation, likely chosen by a bank employee who perused Google rather than Pride and Prejudice. “I declare, after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” was in fact babbled by a frivolous woman who hated books but was trying to impress a suitor. But so many others beckon. “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid” is perfect. In these Trumpian times, so is, “Vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief.” We’d go for, “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” Timeless.
Copyright 2017 Abby Zimet. First published in Common Dreams.
Austen, drawn by her much-loved sister Cassandra.