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  • The Economics of Plot in Burney's Camilla
  • Katherine Binhammer

"Money goes but a little way to make people happy; and true love's not a thing to be got every day"

-Frances Burney, Camilla

By 1796, novelistic rejections of monetary interest, such as this one from Camilla, in favor of sentimental values were cliché. "Riches never made men happy" (Richardson 534), claims Sir Charles Grandison, and novel after novel perfunctorily repeats some version of that commonsense phrase. By the end of the eighteenth century proclaiming a lack of interest in money had become, paradoxically, a precondition of having money in fiction since only wealthy characters demonstrate their virtue through their refusal of financial ambition. Underlying the paradox of this disavowal is the long history of the debate between commerce and virtue (see Pocock, esp. 122). On the one hand, the disavowal presumes that commerce and virtue inhabit separate and opposed realms: the love of money and that of virtue are incommensurable. In this way, the status of the disavowal as fictional convention in the late eighteenth century confirms Mary Poovey's argument that by the 1790s the discursive separation of economic and moral theory was solidified. The so-called "Adam Smith problem"—the perceived contradictions between Smith's The Wealth of Nations and his Theory of Moral Sentiments—succinctly captures this emerging discursive divide (see Tribe and Montes). Meanwhile, the disavowal weaves together, through necessary negation, commercial and moral exchanges and suggests their ongoing mutual constitution. Smith, for very different reasons, optimistically argued that the two exchanges shared a common path, writing in Moral Sentiments that sympathy and self-interest were not opposed: "the road to virtue and that to fortune...are, happily in most cases, very nearly the [End Page 1] same" (74). In Camilla, Frances Burney similarly charts the overlapping roads in order to show that while Smith's claim may hold for men, the opposite is the case for women. The novel plots the course of a young woman setting out on the road to virtue only to discover that it requires her to disperse, not accumulate, her fortune. Camilla insists on the link between commerce and virtue by writing it into the fictional cliché that virtuous characters do not strive for wealth in order to show the residual, now mystified, inter-dependence of economic and moral discourses.

Camilla's journey toward virtue and fortune, and the minefields of gender she encounters along the way, critique the logic behind the disavowal by rendering visible how the refusal of the love of money is, itself, a financial transaction. The explicit rejection of financial ambition for male characters in sentimental novels (for example, Sir Charles Grandison) functions as a form of moral capital in much the same way that Pierre Bourdieu describes symbolic capital as working. While mystified as standing outside the commercial world, virtue like prestige or taste ultimately translates into financial capital through its ability to reproduce wealth (see also Thompson "How The Wanderer Works" ). Burney's novel, I argue, demonstrates an acute awareness of the mystification of virtue's economic roots in order to foreground how the financial gains of moral capital are denied to women. To declare that commerce has nothing to do with virtue, or virtue with commerce, problematically masks the way moral codes, especially for women, are worked out economically. As Camilla horrifically demonstrates, when women are denied positive economic desires they become entangled in socially coercive relationships, of which marriage is only one example. Camilla's rejection of financial ambition may prove her virtue, but it also leads to debt and despair, and, I argue, it motivates the novel's central plot.

Women in eighteenth-century fiction frequently find themselves in Camilla's position where they are required to reject money in order to gain moral value. In what Laura Rosenthal has intricately detailed as Clarissa's "suicidal virtue of refusal" (153) Richardson's heroine refuses all money that could be construed as compensation for her rape and thus starves to death in order to maintain her moral purity. Helen Thompson has noted in relation to The Wanderer that its heroine's "'pecuniary distress' [functions] as a sign of virtue" ("How...


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