Friday 28 June 2013

Women on banknotes

The outgoing Bank of England Governor, Sir Mervyn King, has revealed that Jane Austen's portrait may replace that of Charles Darwin on the £10 note, following complaints that the forthcoming appearance of Winston Churchill, replacing the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry on the fiver, will mean all our banknotes will carry images of eminent chaps rather than women (apart from the Queen, of course).

Since 1970, when portraits of the great and the good first started appearing on our banknotes only two women -  Fry and Florence Nightingale - have been commemorated. Austen is an excellent choice, not least because, as Auden noted in Letter to Lord Byron, she is the most subversive and corrupting of writers:

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle-class
Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass’,
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society. . .

© The Estate of W. H. Auden

Her male characters' eligibility hinges on their solvency - Mr Darcy has £10,000 a year.

As a fiscal gynocrat I feel strongly that all our paper money should bear the images of women (as well as the Queen, that is). But who? I'd opt for Margaret Rutherford.

A lexical note: a gynocrat is one who believes in rule by women. I note glumly that recent useage applies the term to those male politicians who choose to 'feminize' their public image in order to appeal to women voters. To which I say: bollocks to all that.

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