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.
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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
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