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The Miser's New Notes and the Victorian Sensation Novel: Plotting the Magic of Paper Money Tamara Silvia Wagner What makes a murderous miser in Mary Elizabeth Braddon's sensation novel Aurora Floyd (1862-63) is "a roU of crisp notes: so crisp, so white and new, that, in their unsulUed freshness, they looked more Uke notes on the Bank of Elegance than the circulating medium of this busy, money-making nation" (230). It is not simply money that makes him kill, not its exchange-value, not even the allure of glittering gold. Instead, it is wads of paper, and the very magicality, at least in the eyes of an imbecile stable-boy who, in his youth, feU on his head, that can transform them into something of such importance, into something that makes him commit murder. Money may not be intrinsicaUy dirty and start out in a neat, crisp, unsullied freshness that is corrupted only when handled, but if this coins a startling innocuousness , it also capitalises on paper money's lack of any intrinsic value. Not aU that glitters may be gold, but hoarding banknotes can only be, Braddon's novel makes abundandy clear, the desire of a madman or an imbecile. If this condemnation of miserliness abides by mid-Victorian moral economies so closely as to recycle a much circulated theme, the banknotes figure in a pecuHarly fascinating way that first invests in and ultimately runs away with an expected plot. Only if they re-enter the market, can they be traced; their numbers mapping out the novel's detective-plot. The fruits of laborious extortion , they kiU in more than one way and, more significandy stiU, do away with established inheritance-plots. A banker's meticulousness catches a thief (and murderer) in a new twist of mid-century cultural myths of money that strikingly redirects Victorian representations Victorian Review (2005)79 T. Silvia Wagner of bankers and banknotes. Objects of desire, intrinsically innocuous, and clues to a sensation novel's mysteries - the notes become Aurora Floyds plot. Money is not as interesting as a theme as it is as the driving -force of the novel's speculation on the credit economy's narrative potentials. The novel genre invested heavily in changing financial fictions, but its interest in ways of working them out in new forms achieved new poignancy in the second half of the nineteenth century. If emotional investment and, conversely, moral bankruptcy became tied up with fiscal exchanges, in a replication of moral discourses on credit and debt, the very intangibiUty of paper money also formed a pool of plots. Sensation fiction of the 1860s was peculiarly interested in indeterminacy, snubbed as it was for its "effervescence" (94), as a hack-writer in one of Braddon's most self-reflexive sensation novels, Charlotte's Inheritance (1868), puts it, as he hunches, miser-like, over a stack of papers made up of his own writing and the deposit receipts he wishes to turn it into: "How he gloated over the deposit receipts in the stillness of the night [and] looked at them, as if the poor little bits of printed paper had been specimens of virgin ore from some gold mine newly discovered by [himself]" (93-94). This juxtaposition of true gold, or virgin ore, and paper fictions flows through Braddon's representation of speculators of various kinds. In Aurora Floyd, it propels the plot. The novel revolves on financial speculation as a supplier of new plots, new or redefined villains, new benchmarks for moral economies. It shows this perhaps most compellingly when it dismisses a bystander's gloomy philosophising on "unlucky speculators " as "dreary platitudes and worn-out sentimentalities" that only bespeak his chagrin over being "scratched for the matrimonial stakes" (151). The novel engenders, I shall argue, a remarkable redirection of "paper fictions" that fascinatingly drive narrative speculation on a murderous miser. The miser's new notes brilliantly bring out this fascination with the changing currencies of paper and the ways in which it puts a new spin on inheritance-plots. All the papers circulating in Aurora Floyd - distorted newspaper reports, anonymous letters, a marriage-certifi80volume 31 number 2 The Miser's New Notes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 79-98
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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