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Personal Business

Personal Business: Character and Commerce in Victorian Literature and Culture

Aeron Hunt
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Personal Business
    Book Description:

    In recent years the analysis of the intersection of literature and economics has generated a vibrant conversation in literary and cultural studies of the Victorian period. But Aeron Hunt argues that an emphasis on abstraction and impersonality as the crucial features of the Victorian economic experience has led to a partial and ultimately misleading vision of Victorian business culture. In contrast, she asserts that the key to understanding the relationship of literary writing to economic experience is what she calls "personal business"-the social and interpersonal relationships of Victorian commercial life in which character was a central mediating concept.

    Juxtaposing novels by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Margaret Oliphant with such nonfiction works as popular biographies, periodicals, and business handbooks, the author builds on and extends the insights of the "new economic criticism" by highlighting the embodied, interpersonal, and socially embedded interactions of everyday economic life.

    Hunt analyzes the productive and disciplinary roles that character played in the Victorian economy and traces the proliferation of different models of character as literary writing and commercial discourse responded to the challenges and opportunities presented by personal business. She suggests that the dynamic interchange between forms of character employed in the everyday practice of business and those imagined in literary writing helped shape character as a crucial mode of power in Victorian business culture and economic life. Ultimately,Personal Businessprovides new ways to understand both the history of the Victorian novel and its implications in middle-class culture and the turbulent experience of nineteenth-century capitalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3632-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    In charles dickens’s 1847 noveldealings with the firm of dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail, and for Exportation, Uncle Sol, the proprietor of a small shop selling maritime instruments—or, rather, not selling, since the shop transacts exactly no business over the novel’s many hundreds of pages—bemoans his sense of being out of step with the new commercial world. “Tradesmen are not the same as they used to be,” he complains. “Apprentices are not the same, business is not the same, business commodities are not the same. Seven-eighths of my stock is old-fashioned. I am an old-fashioned man in...

  5. PART I Reading Character across Business Contexts

      (pp. 33-68)

      At the end of june 1846, charles dickens sent a letter from Lausanne to his friend John Forster, bearing the good news that he had commenced work on his first long novel in two years:

      I have not been idle since I have been here…. I had a good deal to write for Lord John about the Ragged schools. I set to work and did that. A good deal for Miss Coutts, in reference to her charitable projects. I set to work and didthat. Half of the children’s New Testament to write, or pretty nearly. I set to work...

    • 2 Routinized Charisma and the Romance of Trade: THE STORY OF COMMERCIAL CHARACTER, 1850–1885
      (pp. 69-104)

      “In a few days my brief and stormy career will finally close,” a weary voice proclaimed in the pages of the July 1876Blackwood’s. “I can calmly, and even thankfully, contemplate this premature extinction of an existence which has ruined reputations, shattered fortunes, and carried want and misery into hundreds of humble homes.” The conventions of criminal autobiography are on full display in this opening: the penitential attitude; the promise to deliver excitement along with lessons in “the thrilling story of my life”; self-defensive gestures toward misbegotten origins and the influence of a corrupt society; and professions of fear that...

  6. PART II Locating Character in Commercial Representation

    • 3 Reading Ruin: FAILURE AND THE FORMS OF CHARACTER, 1849–1865
      (pp. 107-141)

      The opening tirade of the troubled speaker in alfred, lord Tennyson’s 1855 poemMaudattacks the notion that his was an era of stability and prosperity.¹ “Civil war” is a more apt description of the national state of affairs, he fumes, though the sword has been replaced by commercial competition (27). The immediate impulse for this bitterness is personal: “a vast speculation had fail’d,” and the speaker’s father, ruined in the event, has died under indeterminate circumstances (9). A torrent of questions follows as the father’s ruin seems to shatter the possibility of knowledge, from matters of fact (“Did he...

      (pp. 142-172)

      One of the most enduring myths of the victorian business life story is captured in the concept of self-help. Despite business biographies’ recognition of the influence of family origins and assistance, and despite the very real roles that context, relationships, and institutions played in molding an actual life in business, in the Victorian cultural imagination the self-made businessman enjoyed pride of place. With his creation of the commercial fabulist Josiah Bounderby, the Coketown manufacturer inHard Times, Dickens trained a parodic focus on this quality of self-making and the stories that enabled it to be taken for granted. It is...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 173-180)

    “Should c.e.o.’s read novels?” thenew york timesopinion writer David Brooks wondered in a column in May 2009. “The question seems to answer itself. After all, C.E.O.’s work with people all day. Novel-reading should give them greater psychological insight, a feel for human relationships, a greater sensitivity toward their own emotional chords.” But Brooks went on to suggest that this apparently self-evident confidence in the benefits of novel reading for developing an “ideal personality type” for corporate leadership was misguided. Instead, he argued, “recent research” had demonstrated that doggedness and organization were more important to business success than the...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 181-202)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-216)
  10. Index
    (pp. 217-226)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-228)