The Vulgar Question of Money
Heiresses, Materialism, and the Novel of Manners from Jane Austen to Henry James
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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Preface: Vulgarity, Wealth, and Gender
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When I began working on this book it had become the fashion to introduce academic papers by telling personal anecdotes—a custom initiated, I think, by the epilogue to Renaissance Self-Fashioning, in which Stephen Greenblatt tells the story of sitting next to a man on a plane who is going to visit his hospitalized son who has lost the ability to speak and the will to live. I used to begin the papers that eventually ...
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In thanking the many people who have helped me bring The Vulgar Question of Money to fruition, I have to begin with my colleague Robert Hamm, who has read more drafts of these chapters than anyone should. My other writing groups, which consisted of Daniel Novak, Sharon Weltman, and Pallavi Rastogi and Jacob Berman, Lauren Coats, and Matt Sandler, were also key in helping me finish the book. ...
Introduction Rich Woman / Poor Woman: An Anthropology of the Nineteenth-Century Marriage Plot
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This book explores one of the most common marriage plots in the nineteenth-century English novel: the story of a hero positioned between a wealthy, materialistic, status-conscious woman who might enhance his social position and a poorer, more altruistic, and psychologically independent woman who is the antipode of her rich rival. This bifurcated narrative structure emerges with particular clarity in ...
1. Social Distinction in Jane Austen
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Austen’s plots intertwine what Walter Benn Michaels has famously called romance and real estate. They tell stories of courtship, but those stories are as much about the psychological stances needed to confront the engrossments of wealth as they are about love. They combine economic and romantic concerns by contrasting a negatively depicted rich woman with the novels’ romantic heroines. Through her ...
2. Frances Trollope and the Problem of Appetite
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Though Frances Trollope was only four years older than Austen and grew up in an almost identical social environment, the later novelist did not begin her writing career until the 1830s, a period when England’s dramatic economic expansion as a result of industrialism was fostering a set of cultural anxieties wholly different from the ones addressed in Austen’s novels.1 In the world as it is represented in ...
3. Anthony Trollope’s “Subtle Materialism”
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As we move from Frances Trollope to her son Anthony, we shift to a world where money has become an abstract force. This representational change reflects the economic developments that took place between the 1830s and ’40s when Frances Trollope was writing and the 1860s and ’70s when her son’s career took off. In that period, England ceased to be primarily a manufacturing economy and became ...
4. Margaret Oliphant and the Professional Ideal
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With the novels of Margaret Oliphant, the marriage plot ceases to work as a deep structure that drives the novel’s romances. Oliphant’s characters, as well as her narrators, prove ironically conscious of their involvement in plots whose ideological implications are not only clear to them but also capable of being reversed. We see the beginning of this ironic awareness in Anthony Trollope’s novels and ...
5. Henry James and the End(s) of the Marriage Plot
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In the middle of the preface to The Golden Bowl James describes the anxiety he felt about having to revise his own work when he was preparing the New York edition, explaining that he came to terms with that process by thinking about the meaning of the word “revise.” He reminded himself that “to revise is to see, or to look over, again—which means in the case of a written thing neither more nor less than to ...
Afterword: From Pemberley to Manderley
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The idea that the pattern I have been tracing here comes to an end with the late novels of Henry James makes sense if, as I posit in the introduction, we read the marriage plot as a literary structure that parallels the rise and fall of British economic dominance. In James’s late novels, the heiresses are typically Americans. That representational shift reflects the fact that in James’s period America was replacing ...
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Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2011