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Genres of the Credit Economy

Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain

How did banking, borrowing, investing, and even losing money—in other words, participating in the modern financial system—come to seem likeroutine activities of everydaylife? Genres of the Credit Economy addressesthis question by examining the history of financial instruments and representations of finance in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain.
Chronicling the process by which some of our most important conceptual categories were naturalized, Mary Poovey explores complex relationships among forms of writing that are not usually viewed together, from bills of exchange and bank checks, to realist novels and Romantic poems, to economic theory and financial journalism. Taking up all early forms of financial and monetarywriting, Poovey argues that these genres mediated for early modern Britons the operations of a market system organized around credit and debt. By arguing that genre is a critical tool for historical and theoretical analysis and an agent in the events that formed the modern world, Poovey offers a new way to appreciate the character of the credit economy and demonstrates the contribution historians and literary scholars can make to understanding its operations.
Much more than an exploration of writing on and around money, Genres of the Credit Economy offers startling insights about the evolution of disciplines and the separation of factual and fictional genres.

496 pages | 6 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Economics and Business: Economics--History

History: British and Irish History

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature


Genres of the Credit Economy is a phenomenal accomplishment. Tracking the intersecting and diverging paths of economic, imaginative and monetary genres of writing about (and mediating) value from the late-seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, the book provides a stunningly original account of how the disciplines of literature and economics emerged, what they value, and the critical situation in which literary studies, in particular, currently finds itself. Working within and dynamically expanding the boundaries of the ‘new economic criticism,’ Genres of the Credit Economy both provides a path-breaking study in the history of modern practices of writing and exemplifies a provocative new mode of reading, one which Poovey convincingly argues can help us answer the most pressing questions of the discipline: What is the function of literary study? What is its value? As timely in the questions it raises as it is rich in the history it unfolds, the archive it assembles, and the argument it frames, Genres of the Credit Economy seems destined to become a defining work in the fields of literary and economic study, genre theory, and the history of the disciplines.”

Ian Baucom, Duke University

“Mary Poovey relocates and revives the question of literary value by recasting it as one about kinds of writing in emergent credit-based society. Her placement of literature and its institutions on a huge spectrum along with economics, credit, and political economy aligns it with systems of finance as a vehicle for managing value in and of itself. Poovey joins matchless scope, intellectual vigor, and argumentative force to stunning originality.”

John Bender, Stanford University

“No one with an interest in the current state of literary studies will be able to ignore this book. No one with an interest in the histories of the disciplines of economics and literary criticism will fail to learn from this book. Everyone with an interest in the development of the humanities will be in debt to this book. It lays bare the traffic between money and writing, fact and fiction, literature and economy, and value and knowledge in ways that will alter our understanding of modernity. Its most powerful analytic insights are produced by an extraordinarily brilliant conception of genre which allows Poovey to chart the warps and wrinkles in the development of the Credit Economy, tracking the incommensurability of ways of valuing and representing value. Not since Foucault began to unlock the history of systems of thought through the incision of his concept of discourse has there been an analytic intervention of such power and fecundity. Genres of the Credit Economy will join Poovey’s earlier A History of the Modern Fact in opening up the futures of knowledge production.”

Peter de Bolla, King’s College, University of Cambridge

"Mary Poovey is one of our most influential scholars of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century culture, and this is her most ambitious book. . . . [It is] full of historical detail and complex argument reflecting the major concerns of literary criticism of recent decades, and therefore will provoke criticism as well as praise."

Regenia Gagnier | Victorian Studies

"Poovey’s objective is to shake up our thinking about economic subjects, forcing discussion across disciplinary divides. With this learned, informative, sometimes difficult, yet ultimately rewarding book, she has succeeded admirably."

Deborah Valenze | Journal of British Studies

"Try convincing a mainstream economist that economic theory has something in common with literary theory and you are likely to be met with complete incredulity. Yet this is precisely what Mary Poovey . . . sets out to do in this impressive monogrpah. . . . Her erudition is dazzling, and novel connections are prodigious."

Masrgaret Schabas | English Historical Review

“The backbone of Mary Poovey’s most recent book is a series of learned summaries of key events in the history of modern finance, from the history of the Bank of England forward.”

Modern Philology

Table of Contents

PREAMBLE / Mediating Genres
                        Imaginative Genres
                        Financial Writing
                        Monetary Genres
ONE / Mediating Value
                        Writing about Money in the New Credit Economy
                        The Fact/Fiction Continuum
TWO / Generic Differentiation and the Naturalization of Money
                        Inciting Belief through Print
                        Sir James Steuart’s Principles of Political Economy: Between Fiction and Theory 
                        Money Talks: Thomas Bridges’s Adventures of a Bank-Note
                        The Takeoff in the Book Trade
                        The Proliferation of Bank Paper
                        Differential Forms 

THREE / Politicizing Paper Money
                        The First Currency Radical: William Cobbett Pits Paper against Gold
                        Labor Notes and a Coinage of Pottery: Robert Owen and John Bray
FOUR / Professional Political Economy and Its Popularizers
                        Raising the Profile of Economic Theory: Ricardo, McCulloch, Chalmers, and John Stuart Mill
                        Financial Journalism: Economic Writing for Middle-Class Readers
                        W. Stanley Jevons and the Narrowing of Economic Science
FIVE / Delimiting Literature, Defining Literary Value
                        Literary Value and a Hierarchy of Imaginative Genres
                        Hierarchies of Reading
                        Facts, Fictions, and Literary Value
INTERCHAPTER TWO / Textual Interpretation and Historical Description
                        Reading Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy: Exemplary Interpretations
                        Historical Description
SIX / Literary Appropriations
                        Jane Austen’s Gestural Aesthetic
                        From Gesture to Formalism: Little Dorrit and Silas Marner
                        The Rewards of Form: The Last Chronicle of Barset

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