Jane Austen spent years living in straitened circumstances and earned only modest sums from her work, completely missing the giant post-copyright payday enjoyed by everyone else producing Austeniana in our time. So it’s ironic that lately half the Austen news seems to be about money.
For the last few months, we’ve had eternal variations on the story of the four £5 notes that a British artist embellished with tiny engravings of Austen’s portrait and then released into the UK money supply. And now we’ve finally learned when the more official Austen banknote – the £10 note featuring her likeness – will become legal tender.
The Bank of England has announced that it will send the Austen notes out into the world in September. But the first of them will be on display in Winchester Cathedral, where Austen is buried, on July 18, the bicentenary of her untimely death at forty-one. Members of the public will be allowed to touch the new notes on that day, although only under the watchful eye of bank staff.
This is probably a wise precaution, since the cathedral is likely to be crawling with Janeites on that important anniversary. Although, in my experience, we are not a larcenous bunch, the opportunity to augment a collection of Austen souvenirs with the first-ever Jane Austen tenner would try even Fanny Price-level virtue.
(Except, of course, for those Janeites still exasperated over the Bank’s decision to adorn the note with a quote from the execrable Caroline Bingley and use a prettified image of Austen that probably doesn’t even look like her.)
Alas, my virtue will not be tried, since I will not be in Britain in July, or even in September. I am planning, however, to commission a British friend to mail me the new note as soon as it becomes available. For the souvenir collection, you know. . .