THE Scholarly Web - Notes and Austen queries

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

August 8, 2013

The Bank of England announced last month that a portrait of Jane Austen is to replace that of Charles Darwin on the £10 note.

The decision was welcomed by many and marked a success for a high-profile campaign to ensure that female figures are still represented on UK currency when Sir Winston Churchill replaces Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note in 2016.

However, others are not impressed. “I realize that it is not attractive to kvetch about something good not being good enough, but I just cannot help myself,” writes Janine Barchas, professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, in a guest post on the Johns Hopkins University Press Blog. “In spite of this apt choice, and the banknote’s welcome recognition of Austen’s literary stature, the preliminary concept design for the new tenner is raising eyebrows among Austen fans.”

Professor Barchas points out that the portrait used in the preliminary design is “a saccharine Victorian derivative” of an original sketch by Cassandra Austen that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. “Why…the airbrushed Victorian by-product and not the edgy original?” she asks.

Also, the image shows Austen in front of Godmersham Park, home of her brother, Edward Austen Knight, and believed to be the inspiration for a number of her novels, rather than “her own humbler home in Chawton, Hampshire…which draws over 30,000 visitors a year”. Is it “not grand enough”? Professor Barchas asks.

Writing on the Princeton University Press Blog, Leah Price, professor of English at Harvard University, discusses criticism of the “quotable quote from Pride and Prejudice” that has been selected to accompany Austen’s picture: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

“What’s not to like?” asks Professor Price. “Well, for one thing that quotation emerges from the mouth of the novel’s least likeable character, Elizabeth Bennet’s dim-witted would-be rival Caroline Bingley.

“When Darcy picks up Volume I of an unnamed book, Caroline immediately sticks her nose in Volume II; her ‘attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr Darcy’s progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page’.”

It is after becoming “bored by her book, and stymied by his absorption in his” that Ms Bingley “declares with a yawn, ‘How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!’”

But a blogger calling herself Judgy Bitch (who has “recently been admitted to a PhD programme in entrepreneurship and innovation”) uses her eponymous blog to criticise those unhappy with the choice.

“Appease the shrieking feminists and they will still piss and moan,” she writes in the title of her post, adding sarcastically: “Jane Austen is the WRONG sort of woman to grace a bank note. She liked men. And she understood economics. Obviously, Jane sucks.”

The accusation that there is “a dearth of women on British currency is utterly laughable”, she continues, pointing out that every banknote in the Commonwealth features the Queen.

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tsleducation.com

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