Economic risk in 19th century literary discourse

Tatjana Kielland Samoilow

Abstract


When Ulrich Beck and others other contemporary scholars talk of the risk society, they refer to a culture that is permanently alert to the risks involved in being alive, and that is vainly trying to manage these risks. But while we today endeavour to calculate the risk of, let us say, eating organic versus non-organic food, the notion of risk is quite new. It is bound up with a bourgeois and by that a future oriented society. In that way, risk defines the boundary between modern times and the past. During the 18th and 19th century risk is becoming a dominant discourse, which is being negotiated in literature through topics as speculation and insurance. When speculation is made an object of literary study, it is often examined from an ethical viewpoint alone. My thesis is that literature participates in a much wider discourse. Aside from the ethical perspective, I will show how speculation and insurance are bound up with a secular world view, and how they represent a challenge to a rationalistic understanding of economy, much debated by sociologists and economists at around 1900. My point of departure will be Alexander Kiellands Skipper Worse, but I will give examples from others texts as well, both literary and non-literary.

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