LONDON — “Pride and Prejudice” novelist Jane Austen looks set to replace Charles Darwin as the new face on Britain’s 10-pound note.
The outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, made the suggestion today, after the bank recently confirmed that it will replace 19th-century social reformer Elizabeth Fry with wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the 5-pound note.
That widely anticipated announcement prompted complaints that no woman except Queen Elizabeth II would be represented on Bank of England bills. Activists launched an online petition on the issue, and a group of 46 lawmakers wrote to the bank last week to ask it to reconsider the predicted decision. Some campaigners have even argued that the move will not conform to equality laws and raised the possibility of legal action.
King sought to reassure lawmakers today that such fears are unfounded. He said the bank always has a “reserve” system of bills that are not circulated and Austen has been used on them for two years, making her a likely figure to appear next on the real notes when they are changed.
“I think it’s extremely unlikely that we will ever find ourselves in a position where there are no women among the historical figures on our banknotes,” he said. “Jane Austen is quietly waiting in the wings.”
British bank notes celebrate a range of historical figures, some better-known than others. The bank has not yet made a decision on when the 10-pound note will be changed, and King said the final decision would be made by his successor, Mark Carney, who takes over on Monday.
Aside from the queen and Fry, who has featured on the 5-pound bill for more than a decade, only one other woman — Florence Nightingale — has appeared on the bills since historical figures were introduced in 1970.
The bank has said the Churchill note replacing Fry isn’t expected to be issued until 2016.
Austen, whose novels include “Emma” and “Sense and Sensibility,” is one of Britain’s best-loved authors. This year marks the 200th anniversary of “Pride and Prejudice,” which was celebrated across the country with costume parties and numerous other events.
Other historical figures appearing on British bills include economist Adam Smith and James Watt, an engineer who improved the steam engine.