Pride and pri­va­tion: Austen’s money wor­ries at heart of Bank ex­hi­bi­tion

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Maev Kennedy

Jane Austen is not just the hero­ine of the new £10 note, to be un­veiled to­mor­row on the 200th an­niver­sary of her death, but also the star of an ex­hi­bi­tion on the lit­er­ary con­nec­tions of the Bank of Eng­land.

“Austen’s nov­els are not taken up with chitchat about bon­nets in car­riages, as some peo­ple who haven’t read them think. She was very well aware of the value of money,” the ex­hi­bi­tion’s cu­ra­tor, Jenni Adam, said. “She writes about mar­riage not as empty ro­mance, but as the key to eco­nomic sta­bil­ity for women. She never mar­ried and for much of her life she had al­most no money to call her own – and when her fa­ther died she and her mother and sis­ter faced a truly pre­car­i­ous ex­is­tence, stay­ing ba­si­cally with who­ever would have them.”

One of the ob­jects Adam con­sid­ers most poignant is a ledger show­ing money paid into Austen’s ac­count at Hoare’s bank. She made three de­posits of £15 each, but never lived to en­joy any of the money – the first with­drawal was made by her sis­ter, Cas­san­dra, to help pay for her fu­neral.

The £10 note will fea­ture a quote from Pride and Prej­u­dice – “I de­clare af­ter all there is no en­joy­ment like read­ing!” – and a por­trait of Austen based on the im­age com­mis­sioned by her brother as a fron­tispiece for the books, based in turn on the only agreed life por­trait, by her sis­ter.

Adam is im­pressed by the fi­nan­cial acu­men of an­other writer, Ge­orge Eliot – “she ob­vi­ously took very good ad­vice and made re­ally ex­cel­lent in­vest­ments” – and will dis­play the £1,000 note she signed as a sou­venir when she vis­ited the Bank in 1874, hav­ing be­come a woman of in­de­pen­dent means.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, which opens at the Bank’s mu­seum on Wed­nes­day, fea­tures many other writ­ers ei­ther pre­oc­cu­pied with money or con­nected to the bank, in­clud­ing Ken­neth Gra­hame, the cre­ator of The Wind in the Wil­lows, who was an em­ployee for 30 years.

Gra­hame’s ca­reer in­cluded an episode that might have given pause to the many thriller writ­ers who have used the Bank as a set­ting – in 1903 a man de­manded to see the gover­nor and in­stead met Gra­hame, who was in­vited to choose one end of a rolled doc­u­ment. He ev­i­dently chose the wrong end as the man fired three shots at him, miss­ing each time un­til Gra­hame man­aged to lock him in a wait­ing room.

The orig­i­nal art work will be on dis­play for one of Austen’s pre­de­ces­sors on the £10 note, Charles Dick­ens, fea­tur­ing a scene from The Pick­wick Pa­pers. Dick­ens, hav­ing seen his fa­ther im­pris­oned for debt, was very care­ful with money all his life and fea­tured many fool­ish spendthrifts in his books.

Sto­ries from the City, Bank of Eng­land Mu­seum, Bartholomew Lane, Lon­don, from 19 July to sum­mer 2018

Jane Austen and a quote from Pride and Prej­u­dice – ‘I de­clare af­ter all there is no en­joy­ment like read­ing!’ – fea­ture on the £10

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