The great belief-producers. Public confidence, the credit economy, and the quarterly reviews (1797-1833)

Start - End 
2016 - 2019 (ongoing)
Department(s) 
Department of Literary Studies
Department of Languages and Cultures
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Additional tags 
Periodical studies
Financial literature

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Abstract

This project studies the relation between early-nineteenth-century British periodicals and the rise of the credit economy. It argues that leading contemporaneous periodicals fostered a cultural acceptance of the new economic mechanisms that sprang from the financial crisis caused by the Anglo-French War (1793-1802). In 1797, Parliament was forced to pass the Bank Restriction Act, which relieved the Bank of England of its obligation to convert banknotes into gold, making Britain the first paper economy. Paper money’s value was separated from the material world and became virtual instead, resting on the authority of Parliament and public confidence. In this project, I examine the different ways in which a new type of prestigious periodical known as the quarterly reviews engaged with this notion of virtual value, ranging from critical essays and polemics on political economy, over financial journalism, to imaginative prose explicating and/or thematizing new economic structures. The quarterlies merged different analytical and literary modes of writing, for example using reviews of novels by Scott and Austen to explain financial innovations, and analysing the cultural ramifications of these innovations through critiques of poems and plays by Keats and Shelley. The project proposes that the quarterlies played a crucial part in the normalisation of the concept of virtual value and helped to establish belief and cultural confidence in the emerging credit economy.

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