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Dickens' Ghosts: Invisible Economies and Christmas Andrew Smith In her The FinanaalSystem in Nineteenth-Century Britain Mary Poovey notes that from the late eighteenth century onwards there was, due to the emergence of a predominately industrial economy, a shift in the perception of wealth. Crucially, whilst wealth had once been associated with land-ownership, it had now become less tangible, less visible, in part due to new forms of economic activity (such as, for example, the emergence of the Stock Exchange) and partly because of the prevalence of paper money. According to Poovey: ... much of the wealth that fueUed Britain's spectacular growth in the nineteenth century was never ava√ľable for its possessors to touch or count, for the gold that composed the wealth was characteristicaUy rendered unnecessary by the paper that represented it, while the capital that wealth signified was typicaUy at work elsewhere, awaiting coUectdon at some future date. (2) The processes of the money market were invisible and money itself seemed to disappear. Gold and Silver were replaced by paper facsimiles . Profit was deferred against future financial speculation, so that the terms under which wealth was previously calculated (such as landownership ) required revision. How to make money visible therefore became an imperative to those debating the importance of these changes, but such debates also confronted the moral significance of such change. As we shall see this issue of the visibility of the economic system and how it relates to morality, is central to Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843). The ethical debate had a particular resonance in analyses of the Stock Exchange which for many commentators appeared to sanction gambling. For 36volume 31 number 2 Dickens' Ghosts Poovey, "Making this system seem trustworthy - making it imaginatively visible - was the work of journalists and novelists who write about financial matters"(3). Visibility is the key issue here as writers struggled with how to represent money in ways which could be morally and intellectually understood. One problem with visibility was created by the vested interests of certain groups, such as, for example, unregulated Stockbrokers, who wished to conceal their practices.1 However, how to make the system 'appear' was not just conditioned by economic subterfuge, it also raised questions about how to communicate the complexities of the economic system to a reading public, because "ordinary Britons could not visualise how the market worked" (4). There was thus a need to find an idiom in which the market could be manifested . However, investigative writings about the financial system could not only be thwarted by those with vested interests, but also by the rapidly changing nature of the markets themselves. Such writing , "was an attempt to understand and interpret something that was only partially visible and constandy in a state of change" (4), which means that even apparendy neutral sources of information such as McCulloch's Dictionary of CommeraalNavigation (1832) "need to be read as interpretative descriptions" (5, emphasis Poovey's), rather than as objective fact. There was thus a two way process at work in which the issue of visibility was closely allied to interpretations of the economic process. Central to this process was fictionality. Poovey notes that critics of the financial system often used fictional devices in order to make their point, such as in Sidney Laman Blanchard's account of counterfeiting in "A Biography of a Bad Shilling" (1851) which is narrated from the shilling's point of view.2 Conversely writers such as Dickens and Collins exploited various stories about the financial system so that, "the line between factual reporting and fiction sometimes proves difficult to establish" (29). This is especially relevant to Dickens who, as we shall see, uses his fiction about ghosts in order to investigate this process of economic invisibility. In this sense A Christmas Carolrepresents a fictional attempt to make money visible. Victorian Review (2005)37 A. Smith The ghost story has a particular relationship to notions of the market via images of invisibility, social and economic power, and ideas about 'ownership' of both the body and its surroundings. Dickens' A Christmas Carolcan be read in this light, as an account of how the system can, and cannot, be seen. Whilst this concern...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 36-55
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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