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.