Here is the splendid Peter Mullan, writing in The Observer on the prospect of Jane Austen appearing on British currency notes (The retiring Bank of England governor, Sir Mervyn King, says she is “quietly waiting in the wings”. Quietly? I doubt it.)
Who could not be cheered at the thought of Jane Austen’s image on the new £10 note? She would surely have found it a thoroughly amusing honour, given her own remorseless attention to the power of money in people’s lives. Think of Mr John Dashwood, mentally fingering his banknotes as he talks, or Mr Collins, solemnly telling Elizabeth Bennet just how little she is worth, even as he is proposing to her. On money, as on much else, she is the most astringent as well as the funniest of our writers. So she is no sentimental choice.
Of course it matters that one of the nation’s representatives on its currency is a woman, and all the better that it be a woman who came out of provincial nowhere to make herself immortal by talent alone. She took a type of writing – the novel – that was looked down on as trivial stuff for female readers, and she made it into the highest art. And yet what she wrote remains completely accessible, and can delight an imaginative 13-year-old as much as any ingenious critic. In an age of literary cliques and networks, she contrived her masterpieces without the advice or patronage of any other authors, with only her belief in her own brilliance to sustain her. She is a kind of heroine as well as a genius. I can’t think why you would not be delighted at the idea of her presiding over our everyday transactions.
And here is the idiotic response from “media blogger” Fleet Street Fox, with whom Prof Mullan is dialoguing.
Jane Austen is a perfectly good writer, and I enjoy reading about perky young girls and smouldering, tightly breeched heroes as much as anyone. But we differ on your use of the word “genius”, which is over-egging it, and the fact that her addition to our banknotes causes you great delight and throws me into despair. I fail to see how anyone could think she is the best and sole representative of 2,000 years of British womanhood. George Eliot’s books provoked more social change than Jane’s; Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist philosophy is more relevant to modern society; Boudica sends a better message to men and women alike about how it is possible to be wife, mother and successful general.
There are many banknote candidates who did more to change the world than Jane. Rosalind Franklin did the legwork to discover the nature of DNA, which Crick and Watson barely bothered to mention, and Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer algorithm …
And on it wanders, each observation more trite, banal and ghastly than the last. A perfectly good writer? A PERFECTLY GOOD WRITER??? Excuse me. Sorry for shouting. “Perky”? “Smouldering?” “Tightly-breeched?” That’s Andrew Davies you fool, not Jane Austen. Provoking social change? Sending a message? Changing the world? I’m getting apoplectic . I’m afraid I’m going to have to lie down, or perhaps take something. Yes, I’ll take something. Mrs Elton will do very well.
The charming Augusta Hawkins, in addition to all the usual advantages of perfect beauty and merit, was in possession of an independent fortune, of so many thousands as would always be called ten; a point of some dignity, as well as some convenience: the story told well; he had not thrown himself away – he had gained a woman of 10,000l. or thereabouts; and he had gained her with such delightful rapidity – the first hour of introduction had been so very soon followed by distinguishing notice; the history which he had to give Mrs. Cole of the rise and progress of the affair was so glorious – the steps so quick, from the accidental rencontre, to the dinner at Mr. Green’s, and the party at Mrs. Brown’s – smiles and blushes rising in importance – with consciousness and agitation richly scattered – the lady had been so easily impressed – so sweetly disposed – had in short, to use a most intelligible phrase, been so very ready to have him, that vanity and prudence were equally contented.
John Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen reviewed here: http://www.drb.ie/essays/naughty-but-nice
John Mullan and Fleet Street Fox here: http://bit.ly/150I9cU