You are on page 1of 5

This paper seeks to interrogate the key ideas of “woman”, “author” and

the “marketplace” which Catherine Gallagher studies in her work


Nobody’s Story1. The reciprocal shaping of literature and the socio-
economic milieu of the Western society shall be the main focus of study.
Gallagher observes that it is extremely significant to note that the
emergence of “female authorship” coincided with the emergence of the
“literary marketplace”2. The five writers whom Gallagher refers to in
order to represent different stages of authorship in the marketplace
are Aphra Behn(1640-1689), Delarivier Manley(1663-1724), Charlotte
Lennox(1729-1804), Frances Burney(1752-1840), and Maria
Edgeworth(1768-1849)3. While historians suggested that suggested that
the changes in the changes in the very connotations and organization of
gender and economic transactions were interconnected, feminist
theorists probed the idea of exchange of women by powerful, eminent
men for political purposes in the literary marketplace. Gallagher
combines these historical and theoretical developments and endeavors to
study “…how women writers integrated the changing concept of woman
into their authorial personae, how they connected it to the discourse of
marketplace exchange, and how prevalent notions of authorship were
altered in the process.4”
Gallagher explains at the very onset of her work that the “nobodies” of
her are not silenced, neglected women. Rather, it is reference to
certain “exchangeable tokens of modern authorship”5 that gave an
impetus to a veritable rise in the number of women writers in the
eighteenth century, a trend that continued in the following decades. She
identifies these “exchangeable tokens” as printed books, intellectual
property rights, reputations, authorial personae, incomes, debts and
fictional characters. Through this study Gallagher conflates her theories
regarding the rise of the novel form, rise of women authors and certain
irrevocable economic changes which shaped these phenomena.
The essay titled ‘The Novel and Other Discourses of Suspended
Disbelief’ from the work Practicing New Historicism begins with the idea
of changing belief in religion which in turns translates into changing
faith/belief in the economy and the society and above all in change in
1
. Gallagher, Catherine-Nobody’s Story: the vanishing acts of women writers in the marketplace 1670-
1820, University of California Press(1995), Introduction pp. 13
2
. ibid
3
. ibid (pp. 14)
4
. ibid
5
. ibid
faith invested in various forms of literature. This is illustrated with the
example of the Jewish ritual of the Passover Seder wherein four kinds
of believers are depicted-the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son,
and the son who does not know how to ask6. The focus of this work is
the metaphoric “wicked son” who is a representative of the modern,
bourgeoisie society and displays skepticism and doubt of all doctrinal
forms of knowledge.
Doubt is said to be the major guiding principle of all modern thought.
Marx’s idea about the “fetishism of commodities” reminds us about the
fabricated nature of both civilization and society and prevents us from
believing these to be essential truths.
The principal argument that the work presents is that “modern ideologies
often replaced faith with credit”7. This can be analyzed in close
conjunction with the novel wherein characters and situations are
fabricated but appear life-like. This is analogous to the manner in which
the modern credit economy operates where one invests provisional faith
in something that is not entirely justified or true. Consequently, one may
also withdraw from this investment without much suffering or pain.
Thus, speculation became a habit of the human mind and habit of
temporary investment of faith became an intrinsic part of the new
capitalist economy and the new literary form of the novel.
However, Greenblatt and Gallagher draw our attention to the fact that
in our analysis of the novel and emerging capitalist society, it is
important to remember that though one may be aware that one gives a
particular object/idea its “phantasmatic power”8, this awareness does
not necessarily make the object less powerful. This brings the
speculative mentality of capitalism closer to Freud’s ideas of fetishism
compared to Marx’s9. This is also perhaps the most important principle
upon which the enormous appeal of the novel form rests.
It is thus observed that novels “…activate a fundamental practice of
modern ideology-acquiescence without belief, crediting without
credulousness-while significantly altering its disposition, transforming the
usually guarded wariness into pleasurable expectations.”10 The
temporariness of the concepts of “imagination”, “society”,
6
. Gallagher, Catherine and Greenblatt, Stephen- Practicing New Historicism, Chapter 5,pp. 136, The
University of Chicago Press (2001)
7
ibid, Chapter 6, pp. 167
8
. ibid, pp. 168
9
. ibid
10
. ibid
“consciousness” and “individuality” is not addressed either by ideology or
its critique. In novels however this temporariness is taken for granted
and operates in an even more powerful manner.
In a comparative study between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Dickens’
Great Expectations, the work creates an interesting parallel between
Hamlet’s debt to his dead father and Pip’s debt to the convict
Magwitch. Dickens’ Pip, unlike Hamlet, lives in an extremely reduced
social world devoid of filial ties. The fact that Hamlet’s debt requires
him to murder his uncle while Pip’s debt demands the attainment of a
new, higher class identity depicts the starkly different social milieus in
which these works were conceived.
The narrator of Great Expectations is identified as the metaphoric
“wicked son” and it is observed that “In the wicked son’s novel, the
activity of endowing the productions of the human brain with life is not
hidden to maintain an ideological illusion, but is instead promoted as the
salvific counterpart to society’s expulsions”11. In order to explain the
presence of imagination and “suspended disbelief” in the novel,
Coleridge’s theories on imagination are alluded to, and it is said that the
“involuntary nature of imagining makes belief unnecessary.”12 Thus, no
degree of awareness about the fabricated nature of the novel can
reduce the vivacity of its characters and plot.
Though Marxism warns us against a society wherein inanimate creations
become more powerful than their creators owing to capitalist fetishism,
Greenblatt and Gallagher argue that the powerful nature of the novel
form does not owe itself to the “successful impersonation of reality” but
from “the energy invested in their creation” and are thus “invulnerable
to doubt and demystification”.13
In Nobody’s Story Gallagher asserts that the women authors during the
eighteenth century did not disavow the materialistic nature of their
profession in any way. Rather, they accepted it and then ‘feminized’ it.
While referring to Aphra Behn’s plays and Manley’s scandalous court
chronicles, Gallagher observes that there seems to be a great deal of
similarity between women’s apparent inferior ontological status in relation
to men in a patriarchal society and the “symbolic disembodiment”14 that

11
ibid
12
. ibid pp. 202
13
. ibid pp. 204-205
14
. Gallagher, Catherine- Nobody’s Story: the vanishing acts of women writers in the marketplace 1670-
1820, Introduction, pp. 15
all commodities achieve in the capitalist economy when “their essence
appears to be of an abstract value.” In the same way, scandalous court
chronicles and political writings, especially in a “gossipy female form” are
likened to the modern notion of deficit spending.15
A distinction has been made between the actual authors and the
“author-selves”16 in the literary marketplace. Like the fictional
characters of novels which have no embodied truth in the real world,
the “author-selves” were entities that were neither identical to the
writers nor completely divorced from them.
Furthermore, critics have observed that the rise of female authorship in
the eighteenth century coincided with the consolidation of the hegemonic
middle class.
The labor of the authors in the market could be said to merely produce
property but also accumulate credit in the form of greater acclaim and
greater demand for their works. However, the presence of credit also
necessitated the presence of debt as the authors were indebted to the
reading public and the changing credit economy of which they were a
part17.
Thus, Greenblatt and Gallagher trace the origins of the novel and the
modern capitalist economy through the methodology of new historicism.
The intermediate stature of the novel between matter and idea and the
ramifications of the same which influenced the genre and the literary
market have thus been conclusively analyzed.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

• Gallagher, Catherine- Nobody’s story: the vanishing acts of women


writers in the marketplace 1670-1820, University of California
Press(1995), accessed from Google Books, URL:
http://books.google.co.in/books?
id=r7TO8MQ8xY0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=nobody's+story+gallagher&sourc
e=bl&ots=iWPnlzzoOy&sig=S-
6awJELq2CDPizUYHKWhL3Pjv4&hl=en&ei=VflTTbi5D8fqrAeWzpnvCA&sa
=X&oi=book (last accessed 2. 2. 2011)
• Gallagher, Catherine and Greenblatt, Stephen- Practicing New
Historicism, The University of Chicago Press(2001)

15
. ibid
16
. ibis pp. 19
17
. ibid pp. 22