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Power, Prose, and PurseLaw, Literature, and Economic Transformations$
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Alison LaCroix, Saul Levmore, and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190873455

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190873455.001.0001

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Commerce, Law, and Revolution in the Novels of Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë

Commerce, Law, and Revolution in the Novels of Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë

(p.169) 7 Commerce, Law, and Revolution in the Novels of Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë
Power, Prose, and Purse

Alison L. LaCroix

Oxford University Press

The 1840s and 1850s witnessed the publication of three great “condition of England” novels: Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley (1849) and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848) and North and South (1855). All three novels examine the consequences of the Industrial Revolution in England, and all are critical in their appraisal of its effects on individuals, society, and the national—and even the international—realm. All three focus on the world of commerce and manufacturing, but the realm of law is never far away. Yet there are differences: in Shirley, Brontë delves into the interior lives of two very different female protagonists, while Gaskell’s narratives are more concerned with economic and social injustice. Brontë set Shirley during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, a period of British imperial struggle and ultimate triumph. Gaskell placed the action of Mary Barton a decade prior to its writing, but in North and South she depicted her current moment, with a consequent sharpening of her critique. This essay examines the novels’ treatment of a set of interconnected themes: commerce, law, and revolution, with reference to related questions of politics, gender, and time.

Keywords:   Brontë, Gaskell, Industrial Revolution, manufacturing, commerce, law, revolution, gender

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