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The Body Economic

The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel

Catherine Gallagher
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Body Economic
    Book Description:

    The Body Economicrevises the intellectual history of nineteenth-century Britain by demonstrating that political economists and the writers who often presented themselves as their literary antagonists actually held most of their basic social assumptions in common. Catherine Gallagher demonstrates that political economists and their Romantic and early-Victorian critics jointly relocated the idea of value from the realm of transcendent spirituality to that of organic "life," making human sensations--especially pleasure and pain--the sources and signs of that value. Classical political economy, this book shows, was not a mechanical ideology but a form of nineteenth-century organicism, which put the body and its feelings at the center of its theories, and neoclassical economics built itself even more self-consciously on physiological premises.

    The Body Economicexplains how these shared views of life, death, and sensation helped shape and were modified by the two most important Victorian novelists: Charles Dickens and George Eliot. It reveals how political economists interacted crucially with the life sciences of the nineteenth century--especially with psychophysiology and anthropology--producing the intellectual world that nurtured not only George Eliot's realism but also turn-of-the-century literary modernism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2684-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    There was a time, back in the last century, when most literary critics despised nineteenth-century British political economy. Our disdainful view of it had many sources—the American New Critics, the Leavisites, the Marxists, the early Victorian literati—but it seldom came from any serious encounters with texts by political economists. We preferred to get them secondhand, already packaged as the direct ideological justification of a particularly rapacious capitalism. After all, we had a stake in perpetuating our own image as their humanistic antagonists, the professionals dedicated to the unique, nonfungible properties of things and the autotelic, noninstrumental nature of...

  5. Chapter One The Romantics and the Political Economists
    (pp. 7-34)

    How did political economy come to have such a bad odor among the most prominent literary figures of the early nineteenth century? Answering this question has lately proved more difficult than literary historians previously believed, for they used to be content to generalize about the natural antagonism between “organic” and “mechanistic” ways of thinking, or to gesture toward the rift between “enlightenment empiricism” and “Romantic idealism.” Now literary and intellectual historians, however, are piecing together a complex picture, which relies less heavily on the self-representations of the “Lake Poets,” especially Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey.¹ Instead of taking the...

  6. Chapter Two Bioeconomics and Somaeconomics: Life and Sensation in Classical Political Economy
    (pp. 35-61)

    If political economy had its own peculiar organicism, its own way of imagining society as a vast, living system, and of basing its calculations on the certitudes of vital need, were its critics simply mistaken when they accused it of being “mechanical in heart and mind”? Not quite. The Romantic and early Victorian writers who feared that a moribund system was replacing a vigorous body politic were not entirely deluded, for they were following through on certain insights of political economy itself, which implied that the creation of wealth routinely rendered life and sensation dormant. Political economy’s organicism looked peculiar...

  7. Chapter Three Hard Times and the Somaeconomics of the Early Victorians
    (pp. 62-85)

    There is no joy in the Coketown of Dickens’sHard Times. Its people are unhappy, like the city dwellers in other industrial novels, but the source of their misery is atypical. Their suffering does not seem to derive from uncommonly wretched living and working conditions. Our first walk through Coketown’s deadening regularity contrasts tellingly with, for example, the constantly obstructed passage through Manchester’s chaotic squalor in one of the early chapters of Elizabeth Gaskell’sMary Barton(chapter 6). Whereas Gaskell’s narrator gives us a complete sanitarian’s nightmare—a street soaked with urine, cluttered with rubbish heaps and ashes, and lined...

  8. Chapter Four The Bioeconomics of Our Mutual Friend
    (pp. 86-117)

    Our Mutual Frienddraws on an antithesis that John Ruskin had named inUnto This Last(1862) a few years before the novel appeared: that of wealth and illth. In developing this antithesis, Ruskin began with a question and an anecdote, both of which anticipated in striking detail the opening chapter of Dickens’s novel. Ruskin’s question was, “[I]f we may conclude generally that a dead body cannot possess property, what degree and period of animation in the body will render possession possible?”¹ In the first chapter ofOur Mutual Friend, Gaffer Hexam also insists on the absurdity of the idea...

  9. Chapter Five Daniel Deronda and the Too Much of Literature
    (pp. 118-155)

    When she began her last novel, George Eliot was in a funk. She had never been a truly self-confident novelist; in her private correspondence, she worried throughout her career about not pleasing her readership, about merely pleasing them, about having too little success, about having too much success, about dejection, and about egotistical elation. But the journals and correspondence of the mid-1870s betray an anxiety of authorship unusual even for her. At the apex of her career, after the triumphant reception ofMiddlemarch, she developed a horror of overproduction mixed with a dread of artistic depletion, which led to repeated...

  10. Chapter Six Malthusian Anthropology and the Aesthetics of Sacrifice in Scenes of Clerical Life
    (pp. 156-184)

    Not too long ago, it would have seemed implausible to link the Victorian concepts ofculturewith the name of Thomas Robert Malthus. Although the impact of his thought on a variety of developing disciplines was widely recognized—think, for example, of demographics and evolutionary biology—until quite recently we regarded Malthus’s influence on the nineteenth century’sculturaldiscourses as almost nil. During the last twenty years, though, scholars in various fields have reassessed Malthus’s impact on nineteenth-century anthropological and literary discourses, discovering (as several earlier chapters of this book corroborate) the unwitting conformity of many of his severest critics...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 185-194)

    Looking back over these chapters, we can see that political economists and the British literati were fellow travelers in a long migration that transferred speculations about life, death, and the passions from the realms of theology and moral philosophy to those of biology, comparative anthropology, and psychology. And yet we don’t think of economics today as sharing much with these “life sciences,” so what became of bioeconomics and somaeconomics as economics disciplined itself?

    Unlike their literary contemporaries, the political economists had no ambivalence about developing a “discipline,” and hence they tended to keep track of their changing intellectual environment so...

  12. INDEX
    (pp. 195-209)