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.
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.