The Bank Nunâ€™s Tale: Financial Forgery, Gothic Imagery, and Economic Power
AbstractA Victorian urban legend maintains that â€˜Miss Whitehead, the Bank Nunâ€™, a blackâ€“clothed woman in a nunâ€“like headdress, frequently visited the Bank of England to protest her brotherâ€™s 1812 execution for financial forgery. Wellâ€“known by 1880, the story is largely neglected by modern scholarship on the depiction of forgery. I reveal that the Bank Nun is a Victorian literary invention, the product of a series of texts that enlist Gothic imagery to debate financial forgeryâ€™s impact, prosecution, and punishment and the economic empowerment of women and workingâ€“class people. The characterâ€™s development begins with the sketch collection Streetology of London, or the Metropolitan Papers of the Itinerant Club (1837), which vilifies financial forgery by transforming the historical Miss Whitehead into â€˜the Bank Nunâ€™, an update of the venal nun of Gothic literature. Contesting this narrative, â€˜Sweeney Toddâ€™ creator James Malcolm Rymerâ€™s penny novel The Lady in Black, or, the Widow and the Wife (1847â€“8) reinvents the Bank Nun as a Gothic heroine whose ordeal demonstrates that forgery prosecution oppresses the productive classes. These angelic and demonic instantiations of the Bank Nun proliferated throughout the Victorian era, generating an enduring myth.