By Professor EJ Clery, professor of English and the University of Southampton.

TWO months ago, on July 18, the eyes of the world’s media were trained on Winchester Cathedral, the burial place of Jane Austen, for events marking not only the 200th anniversary of the death of a Hampshire writer who has become a household name globally, but also the launch of the design for the new Bank of England £10 note that will bear her image.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, joined Gillian Dow, Director of Chawton House Library, in praising her literary achievements. There was a slick video presentation of the decorative security features of the banknote. Later in the day there were hymns and prayers. The combination of religious commemoration and cash was slightly awkward but curiously apt.

Yesterday, the Jane Austen banknote became legal tender, and the question might arise: what would she think of this latest tribute to her greatness? What would this notoriously publicity-shy author have made of the fact that a prettified version of a portrait sketch by her sister Cassandra, will now feature in millions of financial transactions on a daily basis, along with the Kent mansion of her wealthy brother Edward and a quotation from Pride and Prejudice?

Fans of the novels will be well aware of the prominence of money matters in the novels. This alone makes her appearance on a banknote appropriate. The poet W.H. Auden once complained in verse about Jane Austen’s frank admission of “the amorous effect of ‘brass’”. It was a facet of her realistic depiction of the increasingly materialistic society of her day. Those who have gone further and looked into her biography will also know that the hard-up Hampshire Austens could not entirely suppress their envy of the Kentish senior branch of the family. In time the third for her six brothers would be adopted as heir by rich relations and settle in Kent. He inherited property in north-east Hampshire as well, and while Chawton Great House was generally inhabited by paying tenants, his widowed mother and two unmarried sisters eventually came to live in the former Bailiff’s cottage for free. Jane had an acute sense of economic inequality, having experienced both the world of landed wealth and the pinched existence of a poor spinster.

What is less well known is that Jane Austen also had significant personal knowledge of the world of banking. Her favourite brother Henry entered finance after serving as paymaster with the Oxfordshire Militia in the 1790s, and eventually became a partner in three country banks and London headquarters.

My new book, Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister (Biteback Publishing), provides the first comprehensive account of this side of the family history, and explores the influence of the close relationship with Henry on her imagination and her writing career. Henry was responsible for getting the novels into print and continued to act informally as her literary agent in her lifetime and as literary executor after her death. It was Henry who gathered up the manuscripts of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion and hurried them into print posthumously in December 1817.

Both Persuasion and the last, unfinished novel Sanditon bear traces of the calamitous failure of Henry Austen’s banking empire during the post-war crash of 1816. The latter captures of the mood of speculative exuberance characterising the war years. Banknotes were a crucial part of the picture. In 1797 the British government severed the link between the currency and the gold reserves in the Bank of England, partly in order to free up credit.

Banknotes could no longer be converted into coin. It was a transition equivalent to the Big Bang of the 1980s. Previously paper money was a rarity; it now became the main medium of exchange in denominations as low as £1, entering the lives even of poor labourers for the first time. Forgery became rife. Private country banks like those of Austen & Co in Alton and Petersfield sprang up in their hundreds, unregulated and unstable, to issue notes and offer loans in the booming agricultural districts and new spa towns and watering places.

Jane Austen turned twenty-one in the year of the Bank Restriction Act of 1797 that marked the start of the paper money age. My guess is that she would have loved the historical irony that she has gained the distinction of a place on a banknote at the very moment that cash cedes supremacy to the debit card.

l Prof Clery will be speaking on ‘Jane Austen, Money and the Hyde Connection’ as part of the Hyde900 lecture series, at West Side Lecture Theatre, Winchester School of Art, 7.30pm, September 21, and on the her new book at Chawton House Library, September 28, 7pm.