Nancy Henry and Cannon Schmidt, Eds. Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture. Bloomington, IN: Indiana U P, 2009. ISBN: 9780253220271. Price: US$24.95[Notice]

  • Ayşe Çelikkol

…plus d’informations

  • Ayşe Çelikkol
    Bilkent University

“Rapid changes in Victorian financial markets and investment practices reflected and influenced broader changes,” write Nancy Henry and Cannon Schmitt in the introduction to their edited collection Victorian Investments, which grew out of the 2002 special issue on this topic in Victorian Studies (12). Democracy, women, empire, affect, race, morality, and class: the list of issues affected by Victorian finance appears inexhaustible, and the essays in the volume do justice to its breadth. When the editors note that the “watchword in this volume in its entirety is transformation,” they alert their readers to one of the most compelling aspects of the collection (12). The nine essays in Victorian Investments, two of which are by the editors, dwell on emerging investment cultures that changed Victorian social relations, literary forms, and epistemological perspectives. Lively analyses uncover the dynamism of Victorian finance cultures. The emphasis on transformation ensures a deeply historicist approach as it distinguishes and interconnects distinct moments in time. The editors and the contributors explore developments in finance cultures which constituted breaks with the status quo. For example, Ian Baucom’s essay, which, offering a prehistory of Victorian finance, constitutes Part I of the collection, attends to the critical moment in the mid eighteenth century when slaves came to be perceived as “‘empty bearers’ of an abstract, theoretical, but entirely real quantum of value” (31). Part II, comprised of five essays on cultures of investment, examines new institutions and narratives of finance in the Victorian period. Mary Poovey turns to the 1840s to trace the appearance of financial journalism, which provided the middle classes with investment tips; Timothy Alborn approaches the rise of life insurance bonuses in the early nineteenth century as a foundational moment in fund management; Donna Loftus examines political debates surrounding the 1855 Limited Liability Acts, which altered laws of commercial responsibility such that members of the working class could hypothetically become investors. As the final two essays in Part II suggest, there was no shortage of novelty in the world of finance in later decades of the nineteenth century. David Itzkowitz explores the birth of new industries in the 1870s that blurred a line between investment and gambling which had been laboriously drawn in the preceding decades. George Robb’s essay reveals that “the faceless thousands” whose investments financed joint-stock companies included women and that banks in the second half of the century sought to distinguish themselves by building “special facilities for ‘ladies’” (121, 123). While the essays recognize the large-scale injustices that these historical developments enforced, the emphasis is on the unique circumstances of each event. These subtle perspectives reveal the complex webs in which capitalism, liberalism, and ideologies of gender and race intersect and challenge one another in unpredictable ways. The volume’s emphasis on transformation persists in Part III, devoted to what the editors call fictions of investment. Zooming in on the Victorian novel, this final section focuses especially on the strategies and forms involved in the representation of investment. The essay by Audrey Jaffe on Trollope’s fiction shows that the stock market necessitated new ways of relating affect to value. Henry’s essay, which reads the common trope of the financier’s suicide as a critique of emergent business cultures, partly replicates Jaffe’s emphasis on Trollope, but also features analysis of George Gissing’s and Edith Wharton’s novels. Schmitt’s essay, the final in the collection, offers a provocative reading of Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. The “place of speech, misinformation, and rumor” in this novel, argues Schmitt, mimics the operation of the stock market and forges a new narrative style in which what is said about a …

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