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Personal Business

Character and Commerce in Victorian Literature and Culture
Aeron Hunt


BUY Cloth · 240 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813936314 · $39.50 · Sep 2014
BUY Ebook · 240 pp. · ISBN 9780813936321 · $39.50 · Sep 2014

Choice Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association (2014)

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 Business provides 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.

Reviews:


Aeron Hunt demonstrates that the realm of the often mysterious individual consciousness was itself an economic topic, with its own line of development throughout the Victorian period. Her scholarship is in many ways impressive. She gives us fresh perspectives on all the novels that reveal formerly obscure facets, and she has discovered a large cache of nonfiction writings connecting commerce and character.

Catherine Gallagher, University of California, Berkeley, author of The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel

Aeron Hunt’s Personal Business is an important intervention in the growing critical literature about Victorian finances and literature. Resisting the usual acquiescence in the Weberian idea that the growth of capitalism was accompanied by a vast movement of depersonalization of business, Hunt shows how conditions were and are much more mixed, how ‘character’ figures importantly in business writing and in the very life of business, and how the fields of literature and economics continued to influence each other. She is concerned not with the abstraction, ‘business,’ but with the Victorian experience of it, and she draws on a deep knowledge not only of the great tradition of Victorian fiction but, with genuine originality and scholarly depth, the literature of business itself—the correspondence, the history of family businesses, the language both of public reporting and of actual business documents. When writing about Victorian finances from the perspective of literary criticism, critics will henceforth have to take into account Hunt’s subtle and scholarly arguments.

George Levine, Rutgers University, author of Dying to Know: Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England

About the Author: 

Aeron Hunt is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Brown University.

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