ABSTRACT

Over the course of the eighteenth century, a variety of strategies were used for representing public credit, such as virtuous accounting, credible framing, simulating disinterestedness, and describing various members of the public whose interests are tied together. Part of what is at stake in commitment is the general cultivation of trust in a new system that still seems to threaten traditional social values by the end of the century. And this overlaps with what is at stake in the rise of the novel. Novels do much more than represent individuals: They accommodate readers to a set of practices and outlooks that reflect a changing model of society, which this book has read through public credit in particular and the economic model in general. How does the novel, read alongside a more developed public credit system, continue to transform itself in order to adapt to a restructuring of society? This chapter will consider a connection between public credit and the establishment of realism as distinct from romance, and sensibility as distinct from sentimentality, often associated with the rise of the novel. Tellingly, by the middle of the century, what scholars now consider to be works of fiction only make up about 2 percent of what was published in terms of editions produced. This has caused bibliographers and book historians to question the emphasis on fiction – and especially the novel – in eighteenth-century literary studies.1 As Christopher Flint argues, “the novel represents a rather modest part of the history of publishing in the long eighteenth century.”2 It “was vying for the attention of consumers among a variety of other equally compelling modes of communication in the print sphere.”3 Therefore, when one looks back on the eighteenth century through the novel, one gets a skewed version of things. There is, however, an important reason for this. From the point of view of the present, readers have tended to identify with the ethical worlds as well as the modes of representation inherent to the realism of the later eighteenth-century novel, which is part of the reason literary criticism from the twentieth century onwards has valued the genre so highly, which John Richetti calls a “teleological bias.”4 “The history of the novel has thus been handed down to us as the triumph of an enlightened realism over reactionary romance, the development or evolution of a superior literary instrument,” he says.5