Money, History and Writing

  • Ian F. A. Bell


James’s project in Washington Square marks an interest in certain forms of abstraction and human paralysis detectable in the onset of corporate industry in America during the 1830s and 1840s. His concern takes shape in the very structure of the novel, its extraordinary specificity concerning time and place in the opening three chapters becoming progressively dissolved as the action of the story unfolds from Chapter 4 onwards. The Square itself, conceived as an ‘ideal of quiet and genteel retirement’1 against the commercial turbulence of lower Manhattan, loses its relational context within the city and inhabits a kind of timelessness. Both of these are defining features of the industrial production of commodities. They are equally features of the bourgeois temperament that James is concerned to diagnose in the balanced, rational discourse of Dr Sloper and the vacuous jangle of Mrs Penniman’s impoverished imagination.2 It is these styles, in company with the problematically ‘natural’ style of the socially indefinable Townsend, which compete for the commodified Catherine, worth ‘eighty thousand a year’ (pp. 27 and 29) within the frozen world of market practice.


Commercial Practice Market Practice Bank Note Paper Money Social Artifice 
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Notes and References

  1. 3.
    Millicent Bell, ‘Style as Subject: Washington Square’, Sewanee Review, 83 (1975), p. 23.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    This issue has recently been investigated, albeit rather one-sidedly, by William W. Stowe, Balzac, James and the Realistic Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology, 1970, trans. Martin Sohn-Rethel (London: Macmillan, 1978), pp.56 and 49.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Leo Bersani, ‘The Jamesian Lie’, Partisan Review, 36 (1969), p. 54.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Tzvetan Todorov, The Poetics of Prose, 1971, trans. Richard Howard (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1977), p.150. Todorov’s account of what he terms ‘the quest for an absolute and absent cause’ (p.145) in Jamesian narrative (an account which is little recognised by the commentators) is extremely perceptive about this important topic, but ultimately relies on a primacy of the ‘unreal’ (or psychic reality) over the ‘real’ which marks a distortive and potentially reductive reading of the complex which my present concern attempts to maintain as a more tensile construct.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    My quotations are taken from The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ed. William Charvat, Roy Harvey Pearce, Claude M. Simpson (Columbus, OH: Ohio University Press, 1965), pp.1–3.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Henry James, Hawthorne (1879), ed. Tony Tanner (London: Macmillan, 1967), p. 119.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    Leon Edel, The Life of Henry James, 2 vols (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), Vol.I, p.595.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    Henry James Letters, ed. Leon Edel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975), Vol.II, p.268.Google Scholar
  10. W.D. Howells, ‘James’s Hawthorne’, Atlantic Monthly (February 1880);Google Scholar
  11. reprinted in W.D. Howells as Critic, ed. Edwin H. Cady (London & Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), p.54.Google Scholar
  12. 33.
    I have principally in mind here the models for balance within bourgeois behaviour offered by Roland Barthes, ‘Myth Today’, Mythologies 1957, trans. Annette Lavers (St Albans: Paladin, 1973)Google Scholar
  13. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1947, trans. John Cumming (London: New Left Books, 1979).Google Scholar
  14. 34.
    Marc Shell, ‘The Gold Bug’, Genre, 13 (1980), p. 18.Google Scholar
  15. 36.
    James Roger Sharp, The Jacksonians versus the Banks (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970), pp.5 and 6.Google Scholar
  16. For further discussions of the Jacksonian bank debate, see Bray Hammond, Banks and Politics in America: From the Revolution to the Civil War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957);Google Scholar
  17. Marvin Meyers, The Jacksonian Persuasion (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1957);Google Scholar
  18. Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Bank War (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967);Google Scholar
  19. Peter Temin, The Jacksonian Economy (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969).Google Scholar
  20. 40.
    William Leggett, ‘Equality’, Evening Post, 6 December 1834; reprinted in Builders of American Institutions. Readings in United States History, ed. Frank Freidel and Norman Pollack (Chicago, IL: Rand McNally, 1966), pp. 157–8.Google Scholar
  21. 42.
    At the very beginning of his Bank Veto in 1832, Jackson expresses ‘the belief that some of the powers and privileges possessed by the existing bank are unauthorised by the constitution, subversive of the rights of the States, and dangerous to the liberties of the people’ reprinted in Select Documents Illustrative of the History of the United States 1776–1861, ed. William Macdonald (New York and London: Macmillan, 1898, p. 262).Google Scholar
  22. 47.
    Walter T.K. Nugent, The Money Question During Reconstruction (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967), pp. 16–17.Google Scholar
  23. Irwin Unger, in one of the best discussions of the subject, has argued: ‘In the decade and a half following Appomattox, national finance absorbed more of the country’s intellectual and political energy than any other public question except Reconstruction’ The Greenback Era: A Social and Political History of American Finance 1865–1879, 1964, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967, p. 3).Google Scholar
  24. Unger may be paired with Robert P. Sharkey Money, Class, and Party: An Economic Study of Civil War and Reconstruction, 1959, (Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967) as providing the most detailed and reliable guide to the history of money during the period. Both also offer excellent bibliographies of the massive literature concerned with the subject.Google Scholar
  25. 54.
    Gerald T. Dunne, Justice Story and the Rise of the Supreme Court (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970), pp. 142–3.Google Scholar
  26. 58.
    My quotation is taken from the Riverside Edition of Emerson’s Works; Nature, Addresses, and Lectures, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1894, pp.35–6.Google Scholar
  27. 60.
    James, ‘Emerson’, reprinted in Henry James, Selected Literary Criticism, ed. Morris Shapira (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), p. 114.Google Scholar
  28. 61.
    Henry James, The Notebooks of Henry James, ed. F.O. Matthiessen and Kenneth Murdock (New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 12–13.Google Scholar
  29. for F.W. Dupee, he ‘crudely deserts’ Catherine Henry James, (New York: William Sloane, 1951, p.64); Springer locates an ‘insufficiency of moral character’ (A Rhetoric of Literary Character, p.78);Google Scholar
  30. Stuart Hutchinson, who is generally more sympathetic towards Townsend than most of the commentators, finds that he treats Catherine ‘abominably’ Henry James: An American as Modernist, (London and Totowa, NJ: Vision Press & Barnes & Noble, 1982, p. 19);Google Scholar
  31. J.A. Ward sees him as ‘a conniver and a scoundrel’ (‘Henry James’s America: Versions of Oppression’, Mississippi Quarterly, 13, 1959–60, p.40);Google Scholar
  32. Robert R. Johannsen writes of his ‘devilish charms’ (‘Two Sides of Washington Square’, South Carolina Review, 7, 1974, p. 63);Google Scholar
  33. William Kenney regards him as ‘devious and calculating’ (‘Dr. Sloper’s Double in Washington Square’, The University Review-Kansas City, 36, 1970, p.301); and Bell summarises Townsend’s character as ‘unnatural, unspontaneous, insincere’ with ‘a well-developed sense… of the uses of things’ (‘Style as Subject’, p.25).Google Scholar
  34. 70.
    Norman Sidney Buck, The Development of the Organisation of Anglo-American Trade 1800–1850, 1925 (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1969), p. 16.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ian F. A. Bell 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian F. A. Bell
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KeeleUK

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