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"How to Live Well on Nothing a Year": money, credit and debt in Thackeray's Vanity Fair


Straumann, Barbara (2016). "How to Live Well on Nothing a Year": money, credit and debt in Thackeray's Vanity Fair. In: Puskas, Genoveva; Leer, Martin Hugo. Economies of English. Tübingen: Swiss Association of University Teachers of English, SAUTE, 163-180.

Abstract

The following contribution explores the debt and credit economy developed in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848). Thackeray’s novel offers a satirical panorama of a society obsessed with wealth and status. Seeing through the vanities of others, the protagonist Rebecca Sharp appropriates and subversively performs their social and economic system. It is thanks to her smart social performance that she gains both social and financial credit – without ever repaying her debts. The credulousness of her creditors can be read as an effect of what Jochen Hörisch (2004) calls the “autopoiesis” of money, that is the idea that money is covered by the belief in money. Rebecca can be seen to embody this monetary autopoiesis since she succeeds in making her creditors (falsely) believe that she actually possesses sufficient assets to secure her debts. Thackeray’s text uses the figure of the equally sharp and dazzling social climber in order to expose a snobbish society that is duped by her self-fashioning because of its very own obsession with money and status and is thus made to pay for its vanities. Rebecca, on the other hand, not only remains unrepentant but – unusual for a female literary character of the period – gets away unpunished.

Abstract

The following contribution explores the debt and credit economy developed in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848). Thackeray’s novel offers a satirical panorama of a society obsessed with wealth and status. Seeing through the vanities of others, the protagonist Rebecca Sharp appropriates and subversively performs their social and economic system. It is thanks to her smart social performance that she gains both social and financial credit – without ever repaying her debts. The credulousness of her creditors can be read as an effect of what Jochen Hörisch (2004) calls the “autopoiesis” of money, that is the idea that money is covered by the belief in money. Rebecca can be seen to embody this monetary autopoiesis since she succeeds in making her creditors (falsely) believe that she actually possesses sufficient assets to secure her debts. Thackeray’s text uses the figure of the equally sharp and dazzling social climber in order to expose a snobbish society that is duped by her self-fashioning because of its very own obsession with money and status and is thus made to pay for its vanities. Rebecca, on the other hand, not only remains unrepentant but – unusual for a female literary character of the period – gets away unpunished.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:2016
Deposited On:13 Feb 2017 11:55
Last Modified:13 Feb 2017 11:55
Publisher:Swiss Association of University Teachers of English, SAUTE
Series Name:SPELL: Swiss papers in English language and literature
Number:33
ISSN:0940-0478
ISBN:978-3-8233-8067-2
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Official URL:http://narr-starter.de/magento/index.php/reihen/swiss-papers-in-english-language-and-literature-spell/economies-of-english.html
Related URLs:http://www.recherche-portal.ch/ZAD:default_scope:ebi01_prod010798247 (Library Catalogue)

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