Mark Carney has injected a little sense and sensibility into a debate in Britain about women on currency.
The former Bank of Canada governor has been on the job as head of the Bank of England for less than a month, but he’s already made history — literary history, that is, with the selection of Jane Austen to appear on the 10-pound note.
The early 19th-century novelist’s visage will start appearing in British wallets and purses as soon as 2016, the Bank of England said in a statement.
Carney’s move comes as a response to a controversy brewing in the U.K. this year over the disappearance of women from the country’s banknotes.
Social activists earlier this year protested the bank’s impending removal of social reformer Elizabeth Fry’s face from the five-pound note, to be replaced with Sir Winston Churchill, noting this would mean there would be no women on British banknotes. (With the exception, of course, of Queen Elizabeth II.)
As one of the first things he did on taking the BoE job on July 1, Carney vowed to address the issue.
“Jane Austen certainly merits a place in the select group of historical figures to appear on our banknotes,'' Carney said in a statement Wednesday. “Her novels have an enduring and universal appeal and she is recognized as one of the greatest writers in English literature.''
For all that, Carney has come under criticism back home in Canada, where some observers have noted that the celebrated central banker largely ignored a similar controversy here in Canada.
Women’s rights activists protested in 2012 when the Bank of Canada replaced an image of five women on the $50 bill with an image of an ice-breaker. The Bank responded at the time by saying it was too late to change the bill’s new design.
In Britain, tens of thousands signed a petition objecting to the lack of women on bills. Lawmakers asked for reflection. Some argued that equality laws might be violated.
The outgoing governor, Mervyn King, was forced to reassure lawmakers in one of his final public appearances that their concerns were unfounded and that Austen was quietly waiting in the wings for her chance to appear.
Austen, whose novels include "Emma'' and "Sense and Sensibility,'' is one of Britain's best-loved authors. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of "Pride and Prejudice,'' which was celebrated across the country with costume parties and other events.
Austen will replace Charles Darwin on the 10-pound note.
— With files from the Associated Press
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