The Afterlife of Property

The Afterlife of Property: Domestic Security and the Victorian Novel

Jeff Nunokawa
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    The Afterlife of Property
    Book Description:

    InThe Afterlife of Property,Jeff Nunokawa investigates the conviction passed on by the Victorian novel that a woman's love is the only fortune a man can count on to last. Taking for his example four texts, Charles Dickens'sLittle DorritandDombey and Son,and George Eliot'sDaniel DerondaandSilas Marner,Nunokawa studies the diverse ways that the Victorian novel imagines women as property removed from the uncertainties of the marketplace. Along the way, he notices how the categories of economics, gender, sexuality, race, and fiction define one another in the Victorian novel.

    If the novel figures women as safe property, Nunokawa argues, the novel figures safe property as a woman. And if the novel identifies the angel of the house, the desexualized subject of Victorian fantasies of ideal womanhood, as safe property, it identifies various types of fiction, illicit sexualities, and foreign races with the enemy of such property: the commodity form. Nunokawa shows how these convergences of fiction, sexuality, and race with the commodity form are part of a scapegoat scenario, in which the otherwise ubiquitous instabilities of the marketplace can be contained and expunged, clearing the way for secure possession. TheAfterlife of Propertyaddresses literary and cultural theory, gender studies, and gay and lesbian studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2463-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    This book begins with the fears entertained in and beyond the Victorian novel about the powers of the commodity as they are embodied in four representative works written during the quarter-century Eric Hobsbawm calls the age of capital:¹Little Dorrit(1855),Dombey and Son(1848),Daniel Deronda(1876), andSilas Marner(1861). As Bella Wilfer knows, the terrible fascination of money is inseparable from the fascination of its conquests. Plots such as those I will survey here to restrict the grasp of the commodity are plots to limit the expansiveness that is the most common source of anxiety about it.²...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Domestic Securities: Little Dorrit and the Fictions of Property
    (pp. 19-39)

    Rousseau’s famous story of the origin of ownership is actually two stories: If the formation of property brings about the maladies mentioned in this passage, property is in turn invented by an act of acquisition—the founder of civil society must first claim a plot of land in order to make it his. While Rousseau asserts that the founder of civil society engages in an act of theft when he appropriates something that previously did not belong to him, since “the fruits belong to all and the earth to no one,” the liberal conception of property that R. H. Tawney...

  6. CHAPTER THREE For Your Eyes Only: Private Property and the Oriental Body in Dombey and Son
    (pp. 40-76)

    A familiar passage inDombey and Sondescribes the limitless contours of the “one idea of” capital, the conviction that all parts of the universe are comprehended by the shape of the commodity, that the site of the “system” of capitalized exchange is pervasive.

    The earth was made for Dombey and Son to trade in, and the sun and moon were made to give them light. Rivers and seas were formed to float their ships; rainbows gave them promise of fair weather; winds blew for or against their enterprises; stars and planets circled their orbits, to preserve inviolate a system...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Daniel Deronda and the Afterlife of Ownership
    (pp. 77-99)

    Daniel derondadescribes the most familiar idea of what it means to own in its first impression of the extraordinary estate of Sir Mallinger Grandcourt Mallinger, a property not only prodigious, but also unencumbered. The unentailed estate of the “only child” is also available to the woman he marries: Grandcourt’s recessiveness charms Gwendolen Harleth with the prospect of wealth without a catch. An aura of freedom bathes in the softest light all of Gwendolen Harleth’s premonitions of her coming enfranchisement, her acquisition of the title that her suitor embodies: “Adorably quiet,” Grandcourt

    seemed as little a flaw in his fortunes...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Miser’s Two Bodies: Sexual Perversity and the Flight from Capital in Silas Marner
    (pp. 100-121)

    InSilas Marnerthe exodus of property from marketplace to household is as easy asABC; the avenue of this exodus, elsewhere a circuitous route available only through elaborate pains of detection, here seems the straightest of paths.Silas Marneris the abridged edition of a story whose complicated details we have seen sprawled across the Victorian novel: when a girl’s golden hair replaces a miser’s lost gold, the complex lines of flight through which estate migrates from the formal economy to the household are simplified to the scheme of a fairy tale.

    And even the generations of schoolchildren assigned...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 122-124)

    Again and again, the story is the same: nothing gold can stay. Like the inconstant woman in whom it is typically engrossed, the figure who rises from “the glowing fire” or “from the darkness of night,” only to disappear again, the luminous shapes of capital advertised in and beyond the Victorian novel disappoint expectations of endurance, great and small.¹ Slipping through the fingers of even the tightest grip, capital is more like a volatile gas than a solid property: As often as night follows day, or what is repressed returns, the miser’s hoard is taken from him; the gains of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 125-142)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 143-149)
  12. Index
    (pp. 150-152)