Finance and folly: The speculative investor in nineteenth-century British history and literature

Raymond L. Baubles, Fordham University


As the development of Britain's financial institutions--the Bank of England, the Stock Market, the Money Market--becomes more complex and sophisticated in the 18th and 19th centuries, a new class of speculative investor emerges and gains increasing importance in society and literature. Money matters acquire a new prominence, and economic concerns alter established class relationships as well as social and moral values. Detached from conventional sources of value, the disembodied quality of money and monetary instruments casts suspicion on the character of those who would deal in those commodities. The portrait of the speculative investor in the novels of the period illustrates how and why this concern with money corrupts moral character and relegates the Victorian captains of finance to the fringes of society.^ The minor novelists, particularly those of the 1840s, show how this new emphasis on money challenges the traditional notions of value. The new financial entrepreneur's concern with profit threatens to displace the establishment's concern with productivity. As a result, a growing antagonism develops between the landed and the monied classes.^ Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope explore more fully the consequences of money's insidious allure. For Dickens, the desire for profit deprives the individual of his humanity, turning him into a disposable object to be used and discarded when he has served his purpose. But it is the individual who is primarily at fault rather than the world in which he lives. For Trollope, economic corruption is far more extensive, infecting society as a whole. By the last decades of the century, financier and aristocrat are alike corrupt in their scramble for pounds. The old order becomes willing to compromise its moral and ethical values because of economic opportunism.^ For the novelist, the speculative investor is an intriguing figure because the enterprises in which both are engaged are remarkably similar. Financial entrepreneur and novelist construct companies and entice the public to invest in their enterprise; but what distinguishes them and makes the novelist a more respected and respectable figure is the degree to which he maintains the integrity of the economic and linguistic contract. ^

Subject Area

European history|Economic history|English literature

Recommended Citation

Baubles, Raymond L., "Finance and folly: The speculative investor in nineteenth-century British history and literature" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9403292.