Women, Literature and Finance in Victorian Britain

Nancy Henry’s book is a bit too academic for my taste, where “academic” is an excuse for neglecting to weave the information into a palatable format and just stuff myriad of facts into our mouths. It defines the cultures that emerged from the stock market opening up to women in 19th century Britain when ladies had few other ways to make money. Citing the ability of male authors (Trollope, Dickens, Gissing) to diss capitalism in a way that women were unable to because of their dependence on the meager returns that their investments made in order to be independent. Let’s not forget that the marriage law allowing women to own their own property after marriage was only passed in 1870. Henry also explores how women authors invested and depicted the economy in their works by way of George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Bronte, Margaret Oliphant, and Charlotte Riddell. She thumbs her nose a bit at the more upper class women (Woolf, Edith Wharton) who were able to take a more passive role in investing and not get as grubby about it.

One interesting takeaway is that the more a writer had been adversely affected by not having enough money growing up or in adulthood, the more of a presence the economy is in their work (Dickens a great example of this). Overall reinforces the idea that women were investing in the Consol (that paid 3-5%), railroads, East Indies and other “dirty” money projects that benefited from slavery.