Sunday, 4 August 2013

Women on Bank Notes: there is a point.

If you haven’t heard by now, 2017 will see the release of a new £10 note featuring the portrait of one of the most prominent British female writers in literary history, Jane Austen. Her face will go on to replace that of the current Charles Darwin and while some see this as a huge success for women everywhere some are not so convinced, asking if there was any real point to kicking up such a fuss about a woman on our bank notes and if Jane Austen was really a worthy candidate.

The Bank of England made the decision after a series of protests lead by feminist activists, namely those from The Women’s Room, after they announced they would be removing Elizabeth Fry from our bank notes, Britain’s only female historical figure to date that isn't a part of the monarchy. Fry's face would cease to appear on the five pound note, only to be replaced by another male.

While Jane Austen’s novels may not be for everyone, with certain critics deeming her work dull and over-rated, a “chronicler of petty squabbles and small lives” - some have questioned if there’s any real point behind the Bank of England’s decision.  

However, I’m inclined to think that a majority do regard her works as quality pieces of fiction, after all, Austen is a definite part of our literary canon whether you like it or not. Her novels are renowned for their stark humour towards upper class sensibilities, not to mention their witty observation surrounding the everyday conventions of female life in the early 19th century. These themes are perhaps amplified in Pride and Prejudice, one of Austen's most loved works, as she mocks the genteel snobbery of the Bingley family and equally the ignorance of characters such as Mrs Bennet, a boisterous mother whose only ambition is to marry off her daughters to wealthy suitors.Writing in a time when the woman's place was mainly at home, Austen mocks the mundane trivialities of domestic reality.  

On the face of it, Jane Austen was herself an ordinary person; there was nothing particularly unusual about her as one of 8 children and educated at home by her father, a clergyman. Her vivid imagination and her ironic humour are perhaps what marked her out from other writers in her time as her novels were such a success they equivocated her to her male literary peers. But alas, in her lifetime Austen's novels were supposedly that of some anonymous Lady. Her talents were acknowledged posthumously with her author identity kept hidden until her death in 1817 when her brother, Henry, announced it to the world. 

As a woman who couldn't even take credit for her own works to now being the face of the new bank note surely this counts as a huge achievement for Austen and British women. With less than 25% of women making up our parliament today, Jane Austen's recognition only shows that, actually yes, the British do have more female representatives out there. 

No comments:

Post a Comment