Thursday, 27 June 2013

They've got her on the list, the lady novelist.

So, the portrait of Elizabeth Fry is about to be replaced by a.n.other on the 5 pound note. To be quite honest, I only remembered that her picture was actually on the note when it was announced that she was about to be ousted. Did I ever know it was there, despite the fact that being a Quaker she was an ancestral member of the ever-shrinking bunch of people to which I myself belong? With constant daily usage, pictures on bank notes become wallpaper after a time: we become blind to the design on the paper which our grubby fingers handle on a daily basis. I'm not sure our Liz would even have approved of having the dubious honour of being there, though those old Quaker (mostly chocolate) families didn't actually spurn money, but used it wisely, the modest profits going partly to building houses for their workers and on other laudable projects. Elizabeth Fry was of course a woman who dedicated her life to reforming the awful conditions in Victorian prisons.

So, who is to be the replacement? It was with some puzzlement I heard this morning that it might be the novelist Jane Austen, an ancestral member of yet another of my groups, though 
one that seems to be expanding rather than shrinking. Jane wrote some excellent novels, dealing (under a flimsy veil of romanticism and 19th century manners) the human condition. An immensely talented woman, but really, did those made-up stories written in the comfort of a middle class home and earning the author a considerable income actually do anything to improve the lot of less fortunate men and women? (She has thousands of fans, so I'm expecting a lot of flack!) My money, my five pound note, would be on someone like Mary Seacole, who unlike Florence Nightingale, was actually there, on the battlefields of the Crimea, caring for the dying and wounded. Mary, from the West Indies, applied to become a nurse and to travel to the Crimea to do just that, but was rejected by whoever was running things at the time, so she used her own small income to get there under her own steam, where she opened a hospital she called the British Hotel. Laudable? If not Mary, someone equally unselfish and generous with their time and money. There are surely more worthy women than novelists?

1 comment:

  1. Mary Seacole would be an excellent choice and a worthy successor to Elizabeth Fry.