Speculation and Its Discontents: Economic Criticism, Literary History, and the Unpredictable Pleasures of Victorian FictionA Review-EssayTamara S. Wagner. Financial Speculation in Victorian Fiction: Plotting Money and the Novel Genre, 1815-1901. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-8142-1119-9. Price: US$44.95Kathleen Blake. Pleasure of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. ISBN: 978-9-19-956326-5. Price: £56.00/US$95.00
University of Chicago
Résumé | Extrait
News of protracted economic crisis has a way of making any story of financial collapse—past or present, fact or fiction—shimmer with reflected relevance. “Ring any bells?” asked the London Observer of the bank fraud subplot in the BBC’s production of Little Dorrit, which British historian Tristram Hunt lauded in October 2008 as “a rich text for our supremely troubled financial times.” When the series aired on PBS in the spring of 2009, American viewers were quick to cite parallels between Charles Dickens’s Mr. Merdle and Bernard Madoff (whose Ponzi scheme, unknown at the time of production, had just come to light). Two decades earlier, Vincent Canby’s New York Times review of a 1988 miniseries of the same novel found the disgraced speculator “an eerily prescient Dickens creation” in the context of the Savings and Loan scandals. While this compulsory economic déjà vu can be a little facile, we should not be surprised to learn that Victorian tales of financial panic seemed remarkably timely in their own time, as Tamara Wagner notes in the Introduction to her new book. Headlines on John Sadleir’s role in the Tipperary Bank crash and his subsequent suicide in February 1856 presented one obvious source for Merdle’s character—yet Little Dorrit (1855-57) had begun its serial run in December 1855, and Dickens’s afterword of May 1857 equivocally alludes to the Sadleir case as a justification for the novel and as merely a “curious coincidence.” Wagner thus does well to caution against overestimating the significance of topicality: “Dickens did not need specific financial scandals to create fictional speculators” (3), she notes, since the conditions for crisis were present at any moment in the normal functioning of capitalist markets. Why then does Victorian fiction remain so anachronistically relevant to the economic imagination? In perennially insisting on its applicability to the way we live now, what are we in fact assuming about the relationship between capitalism and history—and about literature’s place within or outside both?
These are crucial questions for Victorian literary studies. Indeed, studies of the novel since Ian Watt’s account of its rise in the eighteenth century can hardly avoid addressing the genre’s connection to the rise of laissez-faire capitalism. Is the novel uniquely positioned to reflect on the social transformations that attend its history (as Georg Lukács argued in The Historical Novel [trans. 1962])? Or is it implicated in the ideologies of market society and of individualized economic personhood that brought it about—one of several “genres of the credit economy,” as Mary Poovey’s recent book suggests? Critics pursuing these questions in recent years have begun to challenge the presumptive separateness of literature and economics. The New Economic Criticism (1999), edited by Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen, crystallized this trend. Regenia Gagnier’s work made further inroads in revealing the aesthetic side...
|Auteur :||Emily Steinlight|
|Titre :||Speculation and Its Discontents: Economic Criticism, Literary History, and the Unpredictable Pleasures of Victorian Fiction: A Review-Essay|
|Ouvrages recensés :||Tamara S. Wagner. Financial Speculation in Victorian Fiction: Plotting Money and the Novel Genre, 1815-1901. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-8142-1119-9. Price: US$44.95|
|Kathleen Blake. Pleasure of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. ISBN: 978-9-19-956326-5. Price: £56.00/US$95.00|
|Revue :||Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, Numéro 57-58, février-mai 2010|
Copyright © Emily Steinlight, 2011