ABSTRACT

At the end of his book on political partisanship and representation, which takes on the task of discussing politics, public credit, and the emergent public sphere as interrelated mechanisms that produce “collective fictions,” Mark Knights wonders “whether the later Stuart period may have opened significant possibilities for self-fictionalization and fictional biography. There may be an important link,” he argues, “between party, a concern with the ‘self,’ and the emergence of novelistic prose fiction.”1 This chapter takes up Knight’s suggestion to research the relationship between the construction of the ‘self ’ and the emergent novel through representational strategies used for discussing public credit. In advocating for public credit, the tendency was to align virtue with disinterestedness. What an analysis of Daniel Defoe’s oeuvre suggests is that public credit had to be accommodated to contemporaries by being represented as serving the public good rather than particular interests. Disinterested representation overlaps with other discursive transformations in the period, such as the emergence of politeness and the championing of public knowledge in the form of scientific practice.2 In terms of the way historians have discussed political economy, the emphasis has mainly been on the role accounting played in representing disinterestedness. Andrea Finkelstein points to William Petty’s Political Arithmetick (1690) as a major turning point because, in this work, the practice of using numbers came to be regarded as being more important than the authority of particular political interests, an underlying problem for the tumultuous seventeenth century. Petty’s political arithmetic

described the political economies of England and Ireland the way bookkeeping described the political economy of the business or household. In this sense, seventeenth-century economics was political economics because it described the economy of the polis, the commonwealth, the political community.3