Tag Archives: Bank of England

Travels with Jane

Reuters image from artsbeat-austen-blog480, featured in NYT article cited below Reuters image from artsbeat-austen-blog480, featured in NYT article cited below

I have to comment again on the new ten-pound banknote that will begin featuring Jane Austen in 2017.  I was curious about the images in the background.  The image in the center of the round seal shows Jane Austen bent over her little writing table.  She famously wrote in the drawing room, in the middle of family life.  Some years ago I visited Chawton Cottage, where Jane spent much of her time during the last years of her life.  She wrote on a little round table placed in front of a window overlooking the road outside.  I stood awhile in front of the table, trying to imagine the drawing room door creaking.  That was the signal for Jane to tuck her pages away and turn her attention toward a visitor.

I wondered if the mansion in the background was meant to represent Pemberly, the home of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. But then, Pemberly was a fictional creation.  Instead, it appears the mansion pictured is Godmersham Park.  Jane’s brother was adopted by a wealthy family and eventually inherited the mansion and property.  Jane and her family spent a lot of time there–welcomed as poor but genteel relations, I gather.

The planned quote below Jane’s portrait is “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”  Some people object because the line is spoken by a decidedly mercenary character, Caroline Bingley.  In The New York Times article I cited in my last post, “Jane Austen, Wallet-Sized,” there’s a suggestion for a different quote.

John Mullan, a professor at University College London, proposed another line from Pride and Prejudice.  His suggestion comes from the middle of the novel, when Elizabeth Bennet is invited on a road trip with her aunt and uncle.  The dastardly Mr. Wickham has just deserted Elizabeth for a certain very rich Miss King.  On a three-week trip, they hope to travel as far as the Lakes.  Elizabeth was not in love with Wickham, but still she welcomes the diversion.  She exclaims, “What are men to rocks and mountains?”


Then as now, getting to the Lake District in northern England takes some doing.  As it happens in the story, Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle have to cut their trip short because of business–they are in a class that works for a living.  So instead of going to the Lakes, they can go only as far as Derbyshire.  “Elizabeth was excessively disappointed; she had set her heart on seeing the Lakes…But it was her business to be satisfied–and certainly her temper to be happy; and all was soon right again.”   Every reader of the novel knows that the shortened trip put Elizabeth Bennet at Pemberly at the same time Mr. Darcy happened to be there, sealing her fate and his.

Her biographers agree that Jane Austen herself was traveling in Derbyshire at the time she was writing the novel.  I can only imagine that she was as agreeable and happy a travel companion as her beloved heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.


Jane Austen, Wallet-Sized

It was big news this week when the Bank of England announced that Jane Austen’s face will appear on 10-pound notes beginning in 2017.

Reuters image from artsbeat-austen-blog480, featured in NYT article cited below

Reuters image from artsbeat-austen-blog480, featured in NYT article cited below

Notice the quotation below Jane’s portrait?  It reads, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”  Now critics are complaining that these words were spoken not by one of Jane’s heroines, but by a materialistic snob in Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley.  When she speaks the line in the book, it’s only to try to gain the attention of Mr. Darcy, which to her consternation Elizabeth Bennet is monopolizing in the drawing room.

I look forward to a  lively debate about what quotation would be more suitable.  I don’t mind this one, though.  After all, Jane Austen was a wise enough writer to allow characters other than her heroes and heroines to speak the truth once in awhile.  I’m thinking of Elizabeth Bennet’s mother, described as “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.”  Yet she speaks sincerely and truthfully about the difficulties of marrying off five daughters with no fortunes of their own. “If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield…and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”

This brings me to one of my favorite lines in Jane Austen, and indeed in all of literature: the opening line of Pride and Prejudice.  It reads, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”  That one line encompasses not only the whole plot of the great novel, but the workings of an entire social and economic system.

In a recent interview, another of my favorite authors, Hilary Mantel, commented, “I love Jane Austen because she’s so shrewdly practical; you can hear the chink of cash in every paragraph.”

I’m sure Jane would be amused and delighted to find herself on the face of a ten-pound note, whatever the quotation under her portrait.

The article about the new currency is at


The interview with Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall  and Bring Up the Bodies, is at


Join me next time for more explorations into the art, history, and literature of Europe and the British Isles.


Tyntesfield: Mr. Gibbs Made His Dibs

Entry Hall

William Gibbs’s son Antony did not take over the family business as expected.  The story went that William would not allow it, after he observed that the boy could not add four columns of figures simultaneously (I wonder how many of us would pass that test?)  I doubt Antony was disappointed.  He managed the Tyntesfield estates and charities, became an accomplished carver of ivory, and puttered with inventions such as a bicycle which supposedly stored energy going downhill and used it when going uphill. It didn’t work, though.

Instead, William’s nephew Henry Hucks Gibbs took over the company.  Henry was elevated to the peerage, becoming Baron Aldenham in 1896.  (What exactly is the peerage, anyway?  A subject for another post).  Henry also became Governor of the Bank of England, earning him the popular jingle which forever followed the Gibbs family: “Mr. Gibbs made his dibs, Selling the turds of foreign birds.” Not very elegant, but it certainly told the story. And he must have laughed all the way to the bank.

The little ditty no doubt followed George Abraham Gibbs, a war hero who moved in higher social circles than his humbler ancestors.

George became 1st Lord Wraxall and Treasurer of the Royal Household–an example of the new commercial and industrial wealth overtaking older titled families.

The 2nd Lord Wraxall, known as Richard, inherited the title at the age of 3.  His mother, Ursula, Lady Wraxall, presided at Tyntesfield until she died in 1979.  She received an OBE for her services to the war effort. During World War II, the house became a medical distribution center, with the books in the library replaced by bandages. It was also a convalescent home for American soldiers, who stage reunions there to this day.

When he came of age, the 2nd Lord Wraxall (Richard) served with the Coldstream Guards, then took over management of the estate. He maintained the house and grounds as they were, not following the lead of so many great homes in getting rid of Victorian furniture and features as they became unfashionable. He never married, and ended up living alone in the house with most of the rooms closed. When he died unexpectedly in 2001, the place was a treasure trove of Victorian items from the past 150 years.


Join me next time when I consider the very challenging acquisition of the house by the National Trust.  It’s one of the chapters in the fascinating story of the history and art of the British Isles.