British women have fared well in the public consciousness of their island nation. When the hundred greatest Britons were put to the popular vote by the BBC, a woman scored in the final three. That would be Princess Diana and, yes, she beat out Shakespeare (number 5). Margaret Thatcher is probably the most iconic British politician since Winston Churchill.
One area where women in Britain seem to be kept in the veritable dungeon is finance. Not a single banknote emblazoned with a female figure, you say? Not quite. Elizabeth Fry, a prison reformer, was on the five pound note. But she will be phased out by 2016, to be replaced with none other than Churchill. Only one other famous female Briton, Florence Nightingale, has been depicted on British currency. Queen Elizabeth doesn’t exactly count, since she appears on every note, a privilege of the Head of State.
So the news that the portrait of Jane Austen will grace the new 10 pound note is most welcome. The nineteenth century novelist is remembered as the genius behind many comedies of manners. But the author of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility had a strikingly insightful eye for economics too. She is the first universally great female mind to ascend to the ranks of Darwin (who she will replace) and Newton.
Her observations on the British Empire’s colonial financial system are scattered throughout her novels. Many a dissertation are being pumped out based on her socioeconomic observations, not matters of the heart or domestic compatibility. Now more work is still to be done. In fact, there is only one woman on the ten member Financial Policy Committee. Austen would no doubt support the cause of gender equality. She would confront the situation with the same forthright directness and calm poise that we associate with Elizabeth’s duels with Darcy.