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Raving at Usurers

Anti-Finance and the Ethics of Uncertainty in England, 1690-1750
Dwight Codr
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BUY Cloth · 256 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813937809 · $39.50 · Feb 2016
BUY Ebook · 256 pp. · ISBN 9780813937816 · $39.50 · Feb 2016

In Raving at Usurers, Dwight Codr explores the complex intersection of religion, economics, ethics, and literature in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England. Codr offers an alternative to the orthodox story of secular economic modernity's emergence in this key time and place, locating in early modern anti-usury literature an "ethic of uncertainty" that viewed economic transactions as ethical to the extent that their outcomes were uncertain. Codr’s development of an "anti-financial" reading practice reveals that the financial revolution might be said to have grown out of—rather than in spite of—early modern anti-usury and Protestant ethics.

Beginning with the reconstruction of a major controversy provoked by the delivery of a sermon against usury in the financial heart of London, Codr goes on to show not only how the ethic at the core of the discourse surrounding usury in the eighteenth century was culturally mediated but also how that ethic may be used as a lens to better understand major works of eighteenth-century literature. Codr offers radically new perspectives on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, examining how these novels reacted to emergent financial ways of knowing and meaning as well as how the texts formally bear out the possibility of a truly open and uncertain future.

By reading the eighteenth century in terms of risk rather than certainty, Raving at Usurers offers a reassessment of what has been called the financial revolution in England and provides a revisionist account of the intimate connection between risk, ethics, and economics in the period.

Reviews:


Raving at Usurers pursues an exciting and original project. Its recovery of the ethics of risk is an important contribution to our discussions of morality, literature, and economics in the eighteenth century.

Wolfram Schmidgen, Washington University in St. Louis, author of Exquisite Mixture: The Virtues of Impurity in Early Modern England

Raving at Usurers is a self-declared ‘contrarian’ reconsideration of the financial revolution of the 1690s. It is also a bold, brilliant, compelling account of the way economics and ethics were gradually torn asunder as ‘risk’ was defined as a threat to self-preservation rather than an opportunity to display obedience to God. This pathbreaking book should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the history of capitalism or to see what we have lost in our collective flight from an ethics of uncertainty.

Mary Poovey, New York University, author of Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain

Codr convincingly argues that the evolution of finance did not take place as a sharp break between pre-modernity and modernity, but has to be situated in a long period of transition during which the Christian legacy and ethical concerns continued to influence economic thought.

The Economic History Review

Codr’s ambitious and thought-provoking study is animated by two principles whose importance cannot be overstated: that our understanding of the financial revolution and its aftermath must take seriously the continuing relevance of a critique of usury that has been too easily "medievaliz[ed]," and that we must expand our understanding of what constitutes economic discourse in the early modern period to include "texts not immediately recognizable as belonging to the category of economic literature," particularly spiritual texts. These principles produce strong, illuminating readings.

Eighteenth-Century Fiction

Raving at Usurers offers an important and compelling alternative to economic readings of the eighteenth century. By returning financial discourse to its religious, ethical roots, it recovers perspectives on uncertainty, money, and production that later economists obfuscated or dismissed, patterns too readily followed in literary and historical scholarship.

Studies in the Novel

About the Author(s): 

Dwight Codr is Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut.

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