Thought For The Day - The Rev’d Dr Michael Banner - 27/06/2013

The out-going Governor of the Bank of England revealed to the Treasury Select Committee on Tuesday that Jane Austen is ‘quietly waiting in the wings’, to use his expression, to make a possible appearance on the next £10 note. If and when Elizabeth Fry retires from serving on our fivers, the Queen would be the only woman left – unless and until that is, Jane Austen is called up.

We are perhaps so used to seeing famous faces on bank notes that the placing of the great and the good on our currency doesn’t seem as remarkable as it surely should. Our parents are, as is well known, responsible for all our faults and foibles – and I am sure I can blame my mother for my irrepressible urge to wash my hands very thoroughly after handling any amount of cash. But that is, of course, just the acting out of the notion that money is not merely literally dirty, but metaphysically so. William Tyndale in his eloquent translation of the Bible of 1525 gave us that resonant term ‘filthy lucre’ – and the designation has stuck. So those various modern notables who look up at us from banks notes, are surely there to do their bit in lending kudos and respectability to dubious dosh - to use another pejorative.

The irony of her being pressed to this service would not be lost on that great ironist, Jane Austen. I fear that she has been rather poorly served by recent Hollywood adaptations of her novels, which have been inclined to present her as an early exponent of the hackneyed narrative of true love seemingly thwarted, but finally triumphant. Her novels are not, however, sentimental romances, but penetrating analyses of human character and its failings. They deal with pride, prejudice, selfishness and greed; with gratitude, sympathy and generosity; with the vices of character to which we are so prone, and to the virtues which only come after hard won experience, reflection and self-criticism.

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