Matthew Rowlinson, Real Money and Romanticism

Matthew Rowlinson, Real Money and Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). 266pp. (Hdbk., $85.00; ISBN: 978-0521193795).

Reviewed by
Brett Mobley
Fordham University

The guiding claim of Matthew Rowlinson’s Real Money and Romanticism is that literary historians have overlooked the ways in which “British literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was shaped by changes in the economic structure of the publishing industry and the commodity status of intellectual property” (32). Rowlinson’s objective is to develop a new understanding of the connections between Romantic authors, print culture, and capital as each was changing during this tumultuous period. While much good work has been done on the economics of Romantic literature, Rowlinson’s approach departs from predecessors such as William St. Clair and Lee Erikson. His critical lexicon and methodology are primarily derived from Marx’s Capital (and reactions against Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations), with informing ideas from Marcel Mauss and Jacques Lacan. The works that receive this theoretically-charged critique include Scott’s Waverly novels (particularly Guy Mannering and The Antiquary), Keats’s “Fall of Hyperion,” and Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop. One of these things is not like the other: Rowlinson includes Dickens in his broadened Romanticism as a writer who “acutely experienced” this “period of rapid change in the monetary system, in the British economy at large, and in the publishing trade” (32).

Robert Mitchell, Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity

Robert Mitchell, Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity. New York: Routledge, 2007. 280pp. $148.00 (Hdbk; ISBN 978-0-415-77142-9).

Reviewed by
Tobias Menely
Willamette University

Since when has public debate—about the state’s responsibility for the indigent, about foreign wars and homeland security, about the regulation of international commerce—been so thoroughly informed by issues of financial speculation and public debt? Since the eighteenth century, argues Robert Mitchell, when the parasitic greed of speculators and the dangerous expansion of national debt were the subject of plays and poems, pamphlets and speeches. Mitchell describes his ambitious, fascinating, and timely book Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era as an example of a “new economic literary criticism” (206). Literary critics, he maintains, have as much to teach us as economists do about finance capitalism, a phenomenon (as we have recently learned) that reflects the exigencies of social psychology and imaginative speculation no less than the materialities of production and consumption. Mitchell links the development of a theoretical language of sympathetic identification with the crises in state finance that periodically rocked Britain in the century and a half after the establishment of the Bank of England. Elaborating on Thomas Haskell’s seminal work, “Capitalism and the Origins of Humanitarian Sensibility,” Mitchell shows that financial speculation, social sympathy, and humanitarian reform politics share a cognitive style defined by its “open sense of the future” (vii).

Gordon Bigelow, Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain & Ireland; Philip Connell, Romanticism, Economics, & the Question of Culture; & Maureen N. McLane, Romanticism & the Human Sciences: Poetry, Population, and the Discourse of..

Bigelow, Gordon. Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland. Cambridge Studies in Nineteeth-Century Literature and Culture, no. 40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ix + 229pp. $43.00 (Pbk., 2007; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-03553-8).
Connell, Philip. Romanticism, Economics, and the Question of Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. xii + 338pp. $50.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-13: 9-780-199-28205-0).
McLane, Maureen N. Romanticism and the Human Sciences: Poetry, Population, and the Discourse of the Species. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. x + 282pp. $50.00 (Pbk., 2006; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-02820-2).

Reviewed by Alex J. Dick University of British Columbia

Most literary critics are familiar with economic terms like class, market, exchange, circulation, and production even if they aren't all that interested in economics. But people working in the field now called "literature and economics" or sometimes "the new economic criticism" are not primarily interested in using economic terminology to enhance readings of literary works. Nor are they particularly invested in using the tools of rhetoric or linguistics to challenge the ideological principles of academic economics, as even some economists have recently done. The new economic criticism, so called, is not really a branch of literary criticism at all. Rather it is part of a larger emerging field—discipline studies—that has attracted linguists, intellectual historians, anthropologists, and even economists and that is beginning to make headway in literature. Borrowing methodologies from discourse and systems analysis, the object of discipline studies is to understand when, how, and why literature and economics converge within institutional systems like the print marketplace or the University. These scholars share an interest in the way the different academic disciplines operate not discretely but in relation to one another. Disciplines formulate epistemologies by dismissing the usefulness or legitimacy of other competing epistemologies. At the same time, each discipline also adapts terms and ideas from others as part of their own disciplinary mandates.

Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999. x + 228pp.  Illus.: 4 halftones.  $42.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8131-2116-7).

Reviewed by
Miranda J. Burgess
University of British Columbia

The first word in the title of this book is tonally at odds with the second, and with the argument of the book as a whole. "Misogyny" sounds like a topic for an older or more naïve feminism than Mandell's fresh and sophisticated version, and its transhistorical ring belies the specificity Mandell brings to her cultural study of eighteenth-century economic history. But these impressions are misleading, as Mandell makes clear in framing her book. She begins by arguing that "[m]isogyny in representations is not about women but rather about society" (1). She ends with the assertion that the "[d]isgust allegedly aroused by women's bodies comes in fact from the stench of social inequity" (158). Moreover, she insists that "misogyny is not necessary" either to literature or to culture (158). Criticism that is to be effective in the twenty-first century must be "willing to see gender as a figure, not a thing" (157).

Yet according to Mandell's analysis, the figure of gender and an accompanying misogyny are everywhere in eighteenth-century writing, from the individual poems, plays and economic texts discussed in the first four chapters to the anthologies and critical writings that processed such works later in the century, addressed in chapters five and six. The key to the simultaneous ubiquity and unnecessariness of this seemingly essential discourse is the way in which eighteenth-century poets and Romantic anthologists and critics used misogynist rhetorics and practices to manage the pleasures of their readers. It is eighteenth-century readers and their pleasures, and the social anxiety these pleasures produce in contemporaries, that are the major topic of Mandell's book.

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