The ideals, values and legacy that a nation would like to project to the world are represented by the figures it chooses to place on its currency. These figures provide a collective memory, a national imagery and a sense of belonging. Just look at the European Union, for example, to view the opposite trend — the Euro Zone is creating a pan-European identity as it breaks down the distinct identities of the the sovereign member states and unites them under a single currency. Therefore, the decision to give Jane Austen a place on the currency conveys a loud message about British culture.
The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said that Jane Austen deserves to be among the historical figures to grace Britain's bank notes, given her widespread influence and role as one of the greatest female authors of all time.
Austen's best selling novels Price and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma have gone on to win international acclaim. Her novels explore similar themes of "enduring and universal appeal" such as freedom and limitation, the individual in society, romance and courtship, and imagination versus reason.
All of Great Britain's banknotes showcase a historical figure on one side and a portrait of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II on the other. According to the Washington Post, the bank often replaces the historical figures on their currency as a security method.
The English Bank introduced the Jane Austen note in response to feminist criticism that the currency was not diverse enough, particularly since Winston Churchill recently replaced female prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, on the £5 note. In addition to the Queen, Austen will be the third female depicted on British currency along with Fry and Florence Nightingale.
Austen will add diversity as well as an important cultural icon to British currency. "As Austen joins Adam Smith, Boulton and Watt, and in future, [Sir Winston] Churchill, our notes will celebrate a diverse range of individuals who have contributed in a wide range of fields," said Carney.
The selection of Jane Austen to the British currency is an honor to women and creativity and above all, a testament to the importance and power of reading. Accompanying the design that is based on a 1870 portrait of the novelist will be a quote from Pride and Prejudice that says, "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!"
Great Britain is not the only nation that honors important cultural figures with its currency. Australia's banknotes, for example, pay homage to renowned poet, Andrew Banjo Paterson, important female icon, Mary Reibey and nationalist writer, David Unaipon. The Japanese Yen also blends political and cultural appreciation by honoring scientist Noguchi Hideyo and writers Higuchi Ichiyo and Fukuzawa Yukichi.
The Mexican banknote reflects the nation's prevalent Roman Catholic influence; the peso depicts portraits of Priest, José María Morelos y Pavón, and Nun, Sor Juana de la Cruz.
The portrait of Mahatma Gandhi on the Indian Rupee which replaced a picture of the King honors Indian independence and pays homage to the reformed state's values of truth, humanism and pacifism. Similarly, the South African rand, which once featured the region's indigenous animals now showcases Nelson Mandela's portrait to represent the nation's transition from apartheid to tolerance.
The diversity of British currency highlights, by contrast, the American lack thereof.Why would a nation so rich in diverse cultural leaders chose only to portray white, male politicians — Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant and Benjamin — on its currency? The U.S. silver and golden dollars featuring Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea respectively are the only emblems of diversity. For a nation that claims to honor diversity, progress and freedom, perhaps America should modify its currency to project the same values.