Pounds and prejudice: Bank Of England puts Jane Austen on banknote

It is an attempt at defusing criticism that women are under-represented on the country's currency.

The writer of classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma will replace naturalist Charles Darwin in 2016.

Britain's central bank sparked an outcry in April when it announced that former prime minister Winston Churchill would replace social reformer Elizabeth Fry on the reverse side of the £5 note, depriving the currency of its only female historical figure.

Mark Carney, the first foreigner to head the bank in its 319-year history, said steps would be taken to ensure tensions of this sort did not erupt again.

"We believe that our notes should celebrate the full diversity of great British historical figures and their contributions in a wide range of fields," he said.

"We want people to have confidence in our commitment to diversity. That is why I am today announcing a review of the selection process for future banknote characters."

The former Canadian central bank governor is keen to assert his reformist credentials in an antiquated institution where doormen still dress in top hats and pink tail-coats.

Redressing the gender imbalance
Whether Carney, who has four daughters, will succeed in redressing the gender imbalance on the bank's monetary policy committee remains to be seen. The nine-strong body has been male-only since May 2010, and only four women have served on the committee since its creation in 1997. 

The Bank of England said it was never its intention that none of the four characters on its notes would be a woman, but would consider if it needed to do more to comply with its commitment to equality.

Like many other countries, Britain changes the design of its banknotes at regular intervals to address counterfeiting risks.

The sovereign has been depicted on British banknotes since 1960, and historical figures on the reverse side of banknotes were introduced in 1970.

The first figure selected was William Shakespeare, and the majority since then have been men. The pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale appeared on the £10 note from the mid-1970s, but the notes went out of issue in the early 1990s. – Reuters

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