Literature, Money and the Market. From Trollope to Amis by Paul Delany (review)
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Reviews Paul Delany, Uterature, Money and the Market. From Trollope to Amis. (London and New York: Palgrave, 2002), 243 pp. $45.US. "The private finances of people seem to me always interesting ..."confided Leonard Woolf (142). If you share Paul Delany's healthy interest in the loaves and fishes of literature you should enjoy this book. If you don't, maybe it's because you are afflicted by the snobbery that he believes still pervades the critical establishment. That attitude he sees as being freshly reinforced by the new historicism which has devoted much ingenuity to enhancing traditional disdain for — and misunderstanding of — the workings of the marketplace. It was once a particular sign of Marxism to emphasize the material aspects of creativity, and Delany's combativeness and knowledgeability suggest a more than passing acquaintance with its doctrines. Among the strengths of Marxism at its best has been its recognition of the extraordinary dynamism and cunning of capitalism and its servants — the bourgeoisie which also produced most of its greatest critics, led by Marx. Many Marxists emerged from the ideological earthquakes of the late twentieth century with a new respect for the old enemy. Delany may be one of these. But Marxist energies have also flowed into the postmodern and postcolonial critique that identifies globalization as capitalism's latest and greatest menace. The batdeground as usual is history, in all the meanings of that mercilessly exploited word. Delany warms up in an introductory chapter "The Peculiarities of the English" which borrows its tide from that master polemicist E. P. Thompson, perhaps the greatest historian Marxism has produced in any language. Over twenty-five years ago Thompson memorably demolished the argument of the English New Left historian Perry Anderson that his country's failure to meet its historical obligation to embrace communism was chiefly due to the ideological failure of its bourgeoisie, as exemplified by its failure to produce any of the master minds of modern thought — those who happened to live in England were foreign imports. As it was economically parasitical on the rest of the world through its empire, so too was it intellectually parasitical. England had at some point gone off the rails of history, though precisely where was open to historical debate. Anderson's paradigm, the nation that had met its historical obligations both Victorian Review (2003)97 Reviews revolutionary and intellectual, was France. Just as it had led the world ideologically into modernity, so too was France leading the world into postmodernity — Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Barthes, Althusser: who could deny it? Step forward Edward Palmer Thompson in defence of the sturdy empiricism of the English mind. If any country had jumped the tracks, he argued, it was France, soaring as it so often did on the hot air of theory. Delany shares Thompson's suspicion of the tendency of French theory, and its foreign acolytes, to universalize from the unacknowledged historical uniqueness of France. If Thompson's chief bete noire was the now largely spent force of Louis Althusser, Delany's is the much more formidable legacy of Michel Foucault, the chief internationalizer of French provincialism and favourite theorist of the new historicists. Delany would bring new historicism back to earth with a lesson in "English cultural economics" and a realistic understanding of the actual working of the marketplace, which includes appreciating with Adam Smith its great benefits — notably the market's ability to give recognition and identity to all participants. To do so is to understand capitalism in history as economic practice rather than the demonized discursive phenomenon it is for too many students of literature. For Delany the peculiarity of the English is a persisting "dialectic between prestige and market values" rooted in their social system. This dialectic is not only a central theme of English literature, particularly the novel, but a reality that profoundly affects its producers. It's a commonplace to contrast the Victorian literary marketplace which seemed so remarkably efficient not only in identifying merit but in rewarding genius, with the modern literary marketplace where a Jeffrey Archer receives obscene advances while hundreds of worthy products of creative writing programs can't even quit their day jobs. Delany bypasses the uncanonical...