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Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland


  • Page extent: 244 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.368 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521035538)

We think of economic theory as a scientific speciality accessible only to experts, but Victorian writers commented on economic subjects with great interest. Gordon Bigelow focuses on novelists Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell and compares their work with commentaries on the Irish famine (1845–1852). Bigelow argues that at this moment of crisis the rise of economics depended substantially on concepts developed in literature. These works all criticized the systematized approach to economic life that the prevailing political economy proposed. Gradually the romantic views of human subjectivity, described in the novels, provided the foundation for a new theory of capitalism based on the desires of the individual consumer. Bigelow's argument stands out by showing how the discussion of capitalism in these works had significant influence not just on public opinion, but on the rise of economic theory itself.

• Sheds light on the connection between the study of language and the study of economics • Gives an alternative reading of Bleak House as a response to the commercial crisis of 1847 • Shows that descriptions of the Irish famine, 1845–52 and English fiction of the same period anticipate central features of modern economic theory


Acknowledgements; Introduction; Part I. Origin Stories and Political Economy, 1740–1870: 1. History as abstraction; 2. Value as signification; Part II. Producing the Consumer: 3. Market indicators: banking and housekeeping in Bleak House; 4. Esoteric solutions: Ireland and the colonial critique of political economy; 5. Toward a social theory of wealth: three novels by Elizabeth Gaskell; Conclusion; Notes; Bibliography; Index.

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