Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland

By Gordon Bigelow | Go to book overview

Conclusion

In these chapters taken together, I have tried to chart the total reorientation of economic concepts which took place in the nineteenth century. The first section of the book presented a case for seeing the dominant theoretical model of contemporary economics, which emerged out of this shift, as an analogue to modern linguistic philosophy. The book's second section considered discrete examples of texts that contributed to this reorientation of ideas about the market and society. Given their direct engagement with theories of political economy, the treatments of the Irish disaster discussed in chapter 4 make this shift especially clear. There, books by Asenath Nicholson and Shafto Adair, both in different ways, are drawing from old and new modes of economic thought, blending these into distinctive theories of economic progress through inward exploration of character. But the novels by Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell discussed in chapters 3 and 5 likewise confront in clear ways the chaotic or threatening dimension of expanding capitalist markets. While they theorize the damage inflicted in the process of capitalist rationalization, they imagine a metaphysical compensation for these material losses, emphasizing images of home, nation, and character. In this way I have suggested that these fictional and nonfictional texts are engaged in the same enterprise. They are connected not simply through common metaphors, but through a common, though at this point still loose, set of assumptions. The major works I discussed here are all texts of protest, railing against the cruelty that could be justified by a mechanistic and rigidly progressive theory of capitalism. But the humanistic grounds of their critique helped to solidify the central assumptions of modern, neoclassical economics: the unique integrity of the subject and the authenticity of its behavior in the market.

I assemble these readings here in order to argue for a critique of the unexamined subjectivity of the consumer, as it structures the contemporary theory of capitalism and the current push toward economic globalization. Because at a basic level this study argues for a critique of the unified theory

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