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Victorian Literature and Finance$
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Francis O’Gorman

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199281923

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199281923.001.0001

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Literary Realism in the Wake of Business Cycle Theory: The Way We Live Now (1875)

Literary Realism in the Wake of Business Cycle Theory: The Way We Live Now (1875)

(p.133) 7 Literary Realism in the Wake of Business Cycle Theory: The Way We Live Now (1875)
Victorian Literature and Finance

Tara McGann

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers not indifference to the well-being of financial institutions but another fictional instance of the 19th-century financial rogue — and asks if he really was one. Augustus Melmotte, the financier of Trollope's 1875 novel The Way We Live Now, has an occasional hint of Jewishness, adding a racial stereotype to the financial. However, it argues that the novel is in fact divided between replaying an all-too familiar stereotype of the fraudulent financier (Jewish or otherwise) and acknowledging a modern economic idea. Business cycle theory proposed that business cycles — movements from peak to trough, boom to bust — were not comprehensible in terms of moral judgement, moral reward, or individual financial impropriety but were, simply, cyclical, a natural part of the economic life of modern capitalism, of the way we live now. Melmotte's ruin and suicide exposes a division in Trollope's realism (with ‘realism’ meaning here an empirical faithfulness to the shape of modern thought).

Keywords:   finance, Victorian literature, Britain, business cycle theory, Augustus Melmotte, The Way We Live Now, fraud, capitalism, realism

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