Exploiting Truth, Exploiting Trust: Money, Literature and Lies in an Age of Uncertainty

Rob HawkesMCRm

More than a decade since the global financial crash of 2007-8 and in the midst of a crisis of public trust in mainstream politics, traditional news media and ‘experts’ of all kinds, this panel will examine questions of truth and duplicity, money and trust in literature and culture from the Victorian fin-de-siècle to the age of modernism. What can literature and literary language tell us about the relationships between truth, money and trust? And what light can the decades before and after the turn of the twentieth century shed on our own turbulent political and economic times?

“The power of money is so hard to realise”: Realism, Melodrama, Money and Trust in Gissing’s New Grub Street and Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (Rob Hawkes)

Dr Rob Hawkes is Senior Lecturer in English Studies at Teesside University, UK

This paper will argue that George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891) and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (1895) foreground, interrogate and enact questions of trust by simultaneously activating and undermining the expectations of readers and audiences whilst raising concerns about poverty and exploitation, financial wrongdoing, and the pervasive power of money. Gissing’s realist novel presents literary realism as a spent force in a literary marketplace with increasingly little space for serious art. Meanwhile, Wilde’s melodramatic society comedy engages playfully with questions of sincerity and authenticity. Both texts, furthermore, elicit and challenge the trust of readers and audiences via their differing forms of self-conscious generic uncertainty and, in so doing, reveal surprising connections between literature and money, reputation, manipulation, performance and fictionality.

"To the Machine, Work is Life”: Economic Critique in Lucas Malet’s The Far Horizon (1906) (Jane Ford)

Dr Jane Ford is Lecturer in English Studies at Teesside University, UK

Lucas Malet’s (Mary St Leger Kingsley Harrison) The Far Horizon (1906) offers an important, but now largely forgotten, critique of economic conditions at the end of the nineteenth century. Set between some of the most crushing defeats of the Second Boer War and the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the novel narrates the experiences of a middle-aged bank clerk, the lion’s share of whose professional and emotional activity has been undertaken in the service of a fictional counterpart of the troubled Barings Bank. In this paper, I will map Malet’s contribution to late nineteenth-century debates about the ethics of modern capitalism, positioning The Far Horizon as a unique meditation on what happens to the nobler human instincts of hard work and self-sacrifice in an age characterised by corporate impersonality, secularisation and violent fiscal operations abroad.

Between Literature and Lies: Post-truth in the Modern World (Rod Rosenquist)

Dr Rod Rosenquist is Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Northampton, UK

The paper will examine the blossoming language of duplicity, fraud and scepticism in the early twentieth century, as bullshit (1910), bunk (1916), hokum (1922), malarkey (1923), hooey (1924) and baloney (1928) all enter the lexicon. What was happening at this time to provoke so many different terms for mild-mannered falsehoods and types of deception that aren’t, for whatever reason, offered the simpler label of lies? And how might they be related to our own terms for these phenomenon: post-truth, fake news, alternative facts? The paper will detail the work of modernist writers and artists who were challenged by the emergence of a new inflationary set of values, largely tied to rapid developments in advertising culture – and in turn challenged their audience’s perception of the state of truth in a world governed by ‘bunk’, including by developing the act of ‘debunking’ (coined 1923).

Sun 11:30 am - 12:45 pm