It is a truth universally acknowledged that a beloved writer celebrating a notable anniversary must be in want of a news feature.
But where to begin with Jane Austen? Died 200 years ago today, aged just 41; author of six major novels (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Emma and Persuasion); combined Regency grace with biting social commentary; insanely popular the world over to this very day.
Why should we care, though, about this Oxford-educated daughter of a rector, swanning around in her long frocks and bonnets? What relevance does all this old literature have on our lives today? What, indeed, has Jane Austen ever done for us?
She’s on the new £10 note, which is released into the wild by the Bank of England today, the anniversary of her death, though it’s likely to be another couple of months before the new polymer tenner finds its way into your purse. Since Winston Churchill replaced Elizabeth Fry on the fiver, it means that Jane Austen – accompanied by a quote from Pride and Prejudice, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment but reading!” – will be the only woman apart from the Queen currently on British legal tender.
You think that picture of Beyoncé posing with her twins looked maybe too good to be true for a woman who gave birth a month ago? Well, there’s been a bit of a row after Jane Austen’s picture was “airbrushed” to make her look better on the aforementioned tenner. It’s based on a painting done after Austen’s death; the original sketch for it, by her sister Cassandra, showed Austen with bags under her eyes and plump cheeks, prompting TV historian Lucy Worsley to say when it was unveiled: “It’s deeply ironic that the image chosen by the Bank of England isn’t really her … It’s an author publicity portrait after she died in which she’s been given the Georgian equivalent of an airbrushing.”
If you wake up every day thanking Jane Austen for the 1995 BBC…