Selling the Story: Transaction and Narrative Value in Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Zola
Selling the Story: Transaction and Narrative Value in Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Zola

Selling the Story: Transaction and Narrative Value in Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Zola

by Jonathan Paine


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A literary scholar and investment banker applies economic criticism to canonical novels, dramatically changing the way we read these classics and proposing a new model for how economics can inform literary analysis.

Every writer is a player in the marketplace for literature. Jonathan Paine locates the economics ingrained within the stories themselves, revealing how a text provides a record of its author’s attempt to sell the story to his or her readers.

An unusual literary scholar with a background in finance, Paine mines stories for evidence of the conditions of their production. Through his wholly original reading, Balzac’s The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans becomes a secret diary of its author’s struggles to cope with the commercializing influence of serial publication in newspapers. The Brothers Karamazov transforms into a story of Dostoevsky’s sequential bets with his readers, present and future, about how to write a novel. Zola’s Money documents the rise of big business and is itself a product of Zola’s own big business, his factory of novels.

Combining close readings with detailed analyses of the nineteenth-century publishing contexts in which prose fiction first became a product, Selling the Story shows how the business of literature affects even literary devices such as genre, plot, and repetition. Paine argues that no book can be properly understood without reference to its point of sale: the author’s knowledge of the market, of reader expectations, and of his or her own efforts to define and achieve literary value.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674988439
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 08/06/2019
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,177,849
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Paine is Supernumerary Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Oxford, and Senior Adviser and former Managing Director at the investment bank Rothschild & Co.

Table of Contents

Notes on Citation ix

Introduction: The Economies of Narrative 1

The Role of Economic Criticism 2

The Importance of the Publishing Context 13

Literature as Transaction 16

The Notion of Literary Value 23

Balzac Dostoevsky, and Zola 35

1 Balzac: Narrative as Business 41

"Phrase-Mongers" (Marchands de phrases) 45

La Torpille: Experiments in Narrative Value 56

Esther: The Prospectus, Production Model 63

Lucien: Deconstructing the Prospectus 79

Vautrin: Vautrin or Vaut rien-Who Decides? 89

2 Dostoevsky: Who Buys the Story? 99

Reform, Experiment, and the Novel 102

How to Write a Novel? 119

The Novel as Prospectus 126

The Rejection of Prospectus 153

Auction: The Return of Commercial Value 156

Speculation 165

3 Zola: The Business of Narrative 183

The Commercialisation of the Book 184

The New Economies of Fiction 191

Zola as Promoter of Story and Book 200

From Promoter to Managing Director 205

La Curée: The Narrative of Business 214

L'Argent: The Business of Narrative 227

Conclusion: Accounts 249

Appendix A Serialisation of The Brothers Karamazov 255

Appendix B The Thirty-Eight Retellings of the Murder of Fedor Karamazov 257

Notes 261

Acknowledgements 311

Index 313

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