Did The Bank Of England Airbrush Jane Austen?

The Guardian yesterday reported on some totally pointless but fairly justified whingeing from a Jane Austen scholar. Paula Byrne, author of the biography The Real Jane Austen, is understandably committed to the accuracy of any depiction of her subject, and the Bank of England may have missed wide in their use of Austen’s image on the U.K.’s new £10 note. In short, it appears they gave her the same touch-up treatment anyone who gets on the cover ofCosmo can expect.

“Jane Austen is the funniest writer to walk this planet, and she’s been made to look dim-witted,” Byrne fumed. “I can’t believe they have gone for such a saccharine picture. Jane Austen was a supreme social satirist, and some of her writing was quite dark, but they’ve chosen a picture that makes her look a really cosy, middle-class writer.” It’s undeniably true they’ve, erm, prettied her up a bit—if only so that insensitive chavs don’t have reason to go around slagging off Austen as a total munter.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with Austen’s face being softened or subject to “Victorian airbrushing.” In the first place, it’s not like we have a photo of her; who knew how good that original portraitist really was? But more importantly, would you ever be able to spend £10 with that stern face looking at up at you, a grim reminder that only individuals of means are worth marrying and that others judge us by our cavalier attitude toward money? Aside from being a writer of realistic romance and comedy of manners, Austen has to be the prime symbol of English financial neurosis. It’s nice she’s getting her due, but it was a lot easier paying for drugs with bills that had Queen Elizabeth II on them.

Photo via Bridgeman Art Library

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