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Abstract

Scholars of British Romanticism have of late become very interested in the suspension of cash payments, which, from 1797 to 1821, disallowed customers from exchanging notes for coin at the Bank of England and effectively made Britain the first paper money economy in modern history. Like their colleagues in eighteenth-century and Victorian studies, Romanticists in the 1980s and 90s assumed the structural homology between money and language derived from Marx, Freud, and the Cambridge historians (Brewer, Pocock) that made the study of money in literature akin to the general thematic of representation. Recent work, by contrast, has shown that before and during the Romantic period, as commercial value came to replace the social meanings it had once embodied, questions about what money is, what form it should take, how it should circulate, and by whom were more contentious than previously understood. These contentious played a significant role in shaping the dialectical character of Romantic literature. Recent discussions of these debates have also opened up fissures in the field of economic criticism between advocates of “historical description” and adherents of “close reading” that will likely galvanize the field of British Romantic studies.