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