Jane Austen to be new face on British currency

Bank of England bows to outcry over the lack of representation of famous women on currency

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 July, 2013, 3:39am


The Bank of England has swallowed its pride and overcome its perceived prejudice by designating Jane Austen as the new face of the £10 note, bowing to public outrage over the possibility that only male historical figures would be represented on British currency.

The beloved novelist probably will appear on bank notes starting in 2017, a year after the portrait of 19th-century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry is to be phased out from the £5 note.

The announcement in April that Fry would be replaced by war-time leader Winston Churchill, thus sidelining women, sparked protests and an online petition that drew more than 30,000 signatures.

"We have listened, and we fully understand the concerns that were raised by many people," said Mark Carney, the new governor of the Bank of England, who took up the post three weeks ago. "We believe our notes should celebrate the full diversity of British historical figures and their contributions in a wide range of fields."

About Austen, who wrote the classics Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, Carney added: "We are very certain that she will prove a popular choice."

The move followed a storm of criticism and a creative campaign that included a protest at Bank of England headquarters by women dressed up as important female figures in British history, such as scientist Rosalind Franklin and the ancient warrior-queen Boadicea.

Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist who led the drive for women's representation on bank notes, said she was "absolutely delighted" with Carney's decision, which he announced at Austen's home in Hampshire, now a museum.

She is particularly pleased that Carney has promised a review of how the bank chooses the people who appear on its bills. Carney pledged to revisit the criteria and to make the process more transparent.

"If we want to stop having basically white men running everything and being chosen for everything, then the process by which we value things and choose things needs to be changed," Criado-Perez said.

The Bank of England's change of heart comes at an interesting time. At present, besides Fry the reformer, the only woman featured on British currency is Queen Elizabeth, 87, who as monarch appears on all notes and coins. But after her death, Britain's next three in line for the throne are Prince Charles, 64, Prince William, 31, and William's newborn son, George Alexander Louis.

Austen will be only the third notable woman to grace a bank note, following Fry and nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale. She replaces Charles Darwin.

A prototype of the bill unveiled on Wednesday shows the silhouette of a writing desk and a drawing of the house where Austen's brother lived, which is believed to have been an inspiration for places in some of her novels.