Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tell me it's not true!

Ha! … bet you thought it was going to be something about the first six weeks of Trump. No, what concerns me right now is news in the Daily Mirror, about the governor of the Bank of England and what he's putting on a £10 note.

A few weeks after taking up his appointment as Bank of England governor in 2013, Mark Carney shows off the proposed Jane Austen £10 note

There are four things worth remarking about this new banknote, due to be issued later this year. The animal fat it contains; the campaign of abuse and threats against the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez whose persistence persuaded the Bank to put Jane Austen on the back; the airbrushed portrait ... 

And lastly, an ill-chosen quotation (too small in the photo) placed under Jane Austen's image: "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!“

Last November I was in Dublin to hear John Mullan, author of What matters in Jane Austen?  It was a lecture put on by the Jane Austen Society of Ireland, and half a dozen of us travelled from Cork.  Well worth sitting 6 hours on a bus for. Prof Mullan brought up the no enjoyment like reading quotation, and asked the audience if we could guess the controversy it has provoked. We could, of course. As three years had elapsed since the Mark Carney photo opp, and the new note was still not issued, the professor had reason to hope this delay betokened unease about the said quotation, and that the bank was hunting out a replacement.

Sadly, it appears not ... According to a story posted on the Mirror website on 15th February, no enjoyment like reading is still there. Dearie me ...

Prof Mullan even surmised how it came about; convinced that governor Carney had a gofer called Barney, he imagined the following conversation.

“Barney, there's been a bit of a fuss about needing a woman on the back of the new tenner, Jane Austen would do, be a good fellow and find me an image.” 

Next day Barney produces the Jane Austen image for the new banknote. “That’s terrific Barney, now we could do with a quotation to go with it.”

“What sort of quotation boss?”

“Oh I dunno, something to do with reading would be good.”

Barney goes googling and comes back with “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

“Good Barney, very good, and where does that one come from?”

“Pride and Prejudice boss.”

“Wonderful, my fave, now then, we need a meeting about interest rates, set one up for Friday will you, like a good chap.” 

Cue an outcry from all Jane Austen enthusiasts.  If you are one, you'll know the rest. If not, you need to understand that these words from Pride and Prejudice are put in the mouth of the ghastly Caroline Bingley, the novel’s least appealing character, not even excepting the villainous Wickham and the atrocious Lady Catherine.  

Caroline Bingley is deceitful, she's pretentious, she's a snob, and the worst is, she's the sworn foe of English literature's favourite heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.  To cap it all, she has no interest in books, as proved in the scene where in furtherance of her campaign to hook Darcy as a husband, she sidles up to him, purporting to share his interests. Since he is reading a book, she sits next to him and pretends to read one too, which she has only chosen because it's the second volume of his. (At that time, novels were commonly issued in three volumes.)

Here's this scene in full:-

Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, "How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."

No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement …

Now of course all Jane Austen’s heroines are at odds with Caroline Bingley in this respect, that they are great readers. (Save one. Emma knows she should read, and even makes reading lists, but never quite gets round to it.) Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey actually reads too much, makes a fool of herself by imagining she’s living out the plot of a gothic novel. Anne Elliott in Persuasion in a crucial scene is overheard by the hero Captain Wentworth discussing books, leading to the happy denouement. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor and Marianne are fond of reading, and a shallow character called Lady Middleton fancies them satirical as a consequence. Fanny Price reads about the McCartney expedition to China, and Lizzy Bennett is disparaged by her antagonist Caroline Bingley as "a great reader".

Please Governor Carney, choose one of these! Not Caroline Bingley! Tell me it's fake news!

Note: the Pride and Prejudice extract is from ch 11. More Jane Austen extracts about reading, including those mentioned above, on a separate page if you want them.  In the last extract on that page I've suggested a possible alternative quote for the new £10 note - see if you agree. And a final point, we must beware of being too up ourselves over this one, as Jane Austen wouldn't have said … "for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous." (P&P ch 3)

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