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Negotiating money in The Wanderer: lessons from behavioral economics.

Frances Burney's The Wanderer; Or, Female Difficulties (1814) begins with a negotiation. "In the dead of night" a female emigre of mysterious racial origin begs for a place aboard "a small vessel ... preparing to glide silently [to England] from the coast of France" (11). Ultimately identified as Lady Juliet Granville, she spends three-quarters of this very long novel (1) trying to become financially self-sufficient: hence Burney's subtitle for the work, "Female Difficulties" is a direct reference to the troubles Juliet has along the way. Dispossessed both geographically and financially, she resorts to various schemes for making money. Each scheme is temporary and takes her lower down the ladder of gentility: music-teacher, milliner, seamstress, and an old lady's companion. She endures verbal abuse from three women in particular--Mrs. Howel, Ireton, and Maple; faces sexual advances from men like Sir Lyell Sycamore and Mr. Ireton; and creates a generalized sense of anxiety in this neatly ordered, if parochial, microcosm of English society. Through it all, Juliet remains determinedly nameless--she is called, first "L.S." and then "Ellis" by the novel's other characters--while discouraging the romantic attentions of the socially established Albert Harleigh. Ultimately, she is revealed to have been married under duress during the Reign of Terror to an avaricious French commissary who is later conveniently killed off. Juliet finds social and financial restitution when it is eventually discovered that she is English, not French, and that her deceased aristocratic father left her a huge family fortune.

Although published in 1814 at the tail end of the Napoleonic Wars, The Wanderer's preoccupation with events during and after Robespierre's Reign of Terror makes it very much a work of the 1790s, and throughout this essay, I am going to refer to it as such. Burney alludes to as much in her dedication to the novel, saying, "I had planned and begun it before the end of the last century" (4). For most of the nineteenth century, due mostly to the opprobrium of its initial reception, the novel remained largely ignored. William Hazlitt, one of Burney's gentler critics, acknowledges he is "sorry to be compelled to speak so disadvantageously of the work of an excellent and favorite writer: and the more so, as we perceive no decay of talent, but a perversion of it" (338). John Croker, writing in the Quarterly Review, notes caustically that The Wanderer, "which might be expected to finish and crown [Burney's] literary labors, is not only inferior to its sister-works, but cannot, in our judgment, claim any very decided superiority over the thousand-and-one volumes with which the Minerva Press inundates the shelves of circulating libraries" (124). However, in the late twentieth century, literary scholars have returned their attention to the novel, analyzing it as a feminist text in which Burney "poses fundamental questions about a woman's place in society" (Johnson 167). Barbara Zonitch argues that "by attempting to climb the social ladder by her own talents, and thus achieve a respected and perhaps protective identity, Juliet challenges the notion of elevated birth as the only conduit of honor and integrity" (115). Claire Harman suggests, "Burney's real subject (and audience) was that section of English society, which Ellis passes through as 'wanderer,' the new and vulnerable bourgeoisie, particularly its female members, caught between the old regime of dependence and idleness and the increasing necessity to be self-dependent" (311). While each reading mines a rich vein of interpretive possibilities, they collectively bypass what I consider the real issue at stake: how people negotiate.

Existing literary criticism on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century economic life typically posits that money and fiction are comparable and interchangeable systems of representation, both deriving ultimately from social relationships with credit. We encounter this meta-argument in the groundbreaking work of J.G.A. Pocock, Catherine Gallagher, Mary Poovey, Dror Wahrman, Margot Finn, and Patrick Brantlinger, and equally in the economic writings of Defoe, Pope, and Steele. Brantlinger conflates the exchange valuation of money and fiction, describing "money as the fiction of gold or of absolute value; fiction as a commodity, exchangeable for money" (144). Referring to its illusory quality, Poovey calls money "a form of representation" and hence, one that requires "a distinction between fact and fiction" (5). My argument in this essay begins within the context of this intellectual tradition, but pursues its questions in a new direction. While this line of scholarship pays attention to external factors--credit culture, financial institutions and markets, public debt, among others--the role of internal motivations, or why people buy and sell the way they do, has been largely overlooked.

In my reading of The Wanderer, I argue that the novel is an extended study of negotiation, specifically the connection between our inner motivations and our economic behavior. To inquire into Burney's depiction of, what I like to call, the economics of human behavior in The Wanderer, I am going to borrow a series of insights from a field that actually studies this concept, namely the field of behavioral economics. Though a relatively young field--most of its research was produced in the past three decades--behavioral economics draws skillfully from a number of disciplinary constituents, including cognitive and social psychology, sociology, microeconomics, and finance. For the purposes of this essay, I define behavioral economics as a field that questions the underlying normative assumptions of economic behavior and asks: how do real people behave with money? (2)

I borrow four assumptions--I prefer to think of them as insights--that originate in behavioral economics:

* To understand why writers of fiction depict financial plots and subplots in a certain way, we need to examine the internal motivations of fictional characters.

* On a subconscious level, writers knows that financial life and emotional life are connected, whether in fiction or in real life. (3)

* Social and political volatility, characteristic of late eighteenth-century England, finds its way into fiction, specifically in the guise of financial narratives that offer perspectives on handling money. Colin Nicholson points to one reason for this, saying: "Often in radically contradictory ways, the Financial Revolution changed how people lived, thought about, and wrote about their society" (78).

* Writing in a world that was increasingly disordered, Burney may be arguing tacitly for the possibility of rising above instability by negotiating money perceptively. The microcosm of English society depicted in The Wanderer provides the perfect textual backdrop for analyzing the practice of negotiation within the context of uncertainty and depleted economic power.

I argue that the act of negotiating provides a narrative trope for Burney to examine the ways in which human behavior elides with economic reward. Further, the complexities that inhere in this elision make this novel an exemplary study in negotiation. I see this as a core theme that remains largely unexplored by Burney scholars who call the novel "essential reading for feminist literary historians as well as for anyone interested in the culture of revolution and reaction" (Johnson 167) and say that it "elaborates a feminized anteriority of practice unacknowledged by Bourdieu ..." (Thompson 967). I am going to complicate these and related readings, suggesting that Burney's creative decision to veil her heroine's past for the greater length of the novel allows her to demonstrate that negotiation is a complex mix of psychology, strategy, and uncertainty.

The overarching argument of my essay is that The Wanderer teaches its readers how to negotiate money, or, if we quibble about the actual effectiveness of its "lessons," at least talks to its readers about negotiating money, largely in the absence of other cultural venues for such conversation. I believe this rhetorical gesture makes the novel a key text for studying late eighteenth-century English society, especially for revisiting this society's valuation of economic resources. The Wanderer's many negotiation situations constitute an indicator of the cultural change of the 1790s; a negotiation, in my reading, becomes a metaphor for the slow but inevitable movement towards a transformed society with new contours. As I argue later, the novel is itself a time capsule of a society that is in the process of negotiating at every level of cultural life.

I lay out this claim in the first part, wherein I discuss the essentials of a good negotiation. The second part elaborates on concepts of emerging out of game theory; I focus, in particular, on the game theoretic framework called "The Prisoner's Dilemma." The third and fourth parts draw conclusions about why we need conceptual models from another discipline, behavioral economics in this case.

1. How to Negotiate Money, or the Mental Model of a Good Bargain

Before I begin my discussion of negotiation, I want to define two main concepts. What is an economic resource and what do I mean by the term "negotiation?" Economics is the study of choice between scarce resources. The key term here is scarcity, because without it, there would be no need to economize. Burney does not suggest money is the only scarce economic resource; in all her works, from Evelina to Cecilia, respect, security, and social power emerge as resources that are aspirational and have real economic consequences. The eighteenth century understood and incorporated the idea that economic resources include more than just money, that they often involve "the inevitable interpenetration of social relations and economic exchange" (Finn 64). Similarly, economists Eldar Shafir and Richard Thaler assert "monetary transactions can sometimes be vague and confusing and can lend themselves to multiple representations" (695). So before moving on to a discussion of negotiation, I want to emphasize that people negotiate because of the need to choose between scarce resources, and that while these resources are not always measurable or even tangible, they always have economic connotations. Thus, in the following exchange, Sir Jaspar Herrington, an elderly aristocrat, explains why Mrs. Ireton, another elderly aristocrat who takes particular pleasure in abusing Juliet, is always so angry and bitter:

"Her story," he continued, "already envelopes the memoirs of a Beauty, in her four stages of existence. During childhood, indulged in every wish; admired where she should have been chidden, caressed where she should have been corrected; coaxed into pettishness, and spoilt into tyranny. In youth, adored, followed, and applauded till, involuntarily, rather than vainly, she believed herself a goddess. In maturity,--ah! There's the test of sense and temper in the waning beauty!--in maturity, shocked and amazed to see herself supplanted by the rising bloomers; to find that she might be forgotten, or left out, if not assiduous herself to come forward; to be consulted only upon grave and dull matters, out of the reach of her knowledge and resources...." (542)

Here we learn age and beauty were once Mrs. Ireton's resources, but they are no longer. She may have used these resources strategically but failed to do so, neither marrying nor reproducing: Sir Jaspar uses the crude terms, "pale, withered, stiff meager hag" (542).

Because an economic resource is scarce, those who do not have it covet those who do. The women in English society, in a response that also makes it difficult for Juliet to negotiate fairly, despise her precisely because she is so beautiful. Mr. Giles Arbe--he will later negotiate determinedly on her behalf- remarks naively that he "can't make out, with that gentle air of yours, and so pretty a face, how you can have made those ladies take such a dislike to you?" (279). There is a paradox at work here: women have more power to negotiate when they are young and beautiful, but these scarce resources also need social ascriptions attached such as status and family name, neither of which Juliet possesses.

I use the term "negotiation" in its broadest sense, as an act of strategic behavior with its goal the creation or expansion of space, both economic and social. I am going to set my economic theorizing on negotiation within the context of two important points in the plot. In this first scene, Giles Arbe and Juliet are discussing her failure to negotiate money from her debtors--Burney euphemistically calls them "scholars"--namely, women who refuse to pay for Juliet's music lessons:
   He looked vexed and disconcerted ... "It i'n't right!--It can't be
   right!--I wish they would not do such things.--Fair young
   creatures, too, some of them.--Fie! Fie!-They've no
   thought;--that's it! They've no thought.--Mighty good hearts,--and
   very pretty faces, too, some of 'em;--but sad little empty
   heads,--except for their own pleasures;--no want of flappers
   there!--Fie! Fie!"

      Then letting two guineas and a half upon the table, "There, my
   dear," he cried, ha a tone of chagrin, "there's all I've been able
   to gather amongst all your scholars put together! What they do with
   their money I don't know; but they are all very poor, they tell me;
   except Lady Arramede; and she's so rich, that she can't possibly
   attend, she says, to such pitiful claims; though I said to her, "If
   the sum, Ma'am, is too small for your ladyship's notice, the best
   way to show your magnificence, is to make it greater; which will
   also be very acceptable to this young person." But she did not mind
   me. She only said that you might apply to her steward at Christmas,
   which was the time, she believed, when he settled her affairs; but
   as to herself, she never meddled with such insignificant matters."

   "Christmas?" repeated Ellis; "and 'tis now but the beginning of
   April!" (297-98)

The rest of the conversation proceeds similarly, with Giles Arbe stating his failure to receive payment and Juliet expressing her surprise at this failure. Some of Juliet's students forget to pay her because they have "sad little empty heads" and have "no thought ... except for their own pleasures"; some claim to be too "poor"; others, like Lady Arramede, "never meddled with such insignificant matters" because they are "rich." In these responses, we find a number of psychological insights into how men and women--irrational, unpredictable, and emotional--think and feel about money.

We see this unpredictability in the second scene I analyze. Here Juliet and fellow French emigre, Gabriella, have become shopkeepers in London and are managing, nervously and inefficiently, a haberdasher's store:
   Again a new scene of life opened up to Juliet. The petty frauds,
   the overreaching tricks, the plausible address, of the crafty
   shop-keeper in retail, she had already witnessed; but the
   difficulties of honest trade she had neither seen nor imagined. The
   utter inexperience of Gabriella, joined to the delicacy of her
   probity, made her not more frequently the dupe of the artifices of
   those with whom she had to deal, than the victim of her own
   scruples. New to the mighty difference between buying and selling;
   to the necessity of having at hand more stores than may probably be
   wanted, for avoiding the risk of losing customers from having
   fewer; and to the usage of rating at an imaginary value whatever is
   in vogue, in order to repair the losses incurred from the failure
   of obtaining the intrinsic worth of what is old-fashioned or
   faulty;--new to all this, the wary shop-keeper's code, she was
   perpetually mistaken, or duped, through ignorance of ignorance,
   which leads to hazards, unsuspected to be hazards.

      Repairs for the little shop were continually wanted, yet always
   unforeseen; taxes were claimed when she was least prepared to
   discharge them; and stores of merchandize accidentally injured,
   were obliged to be sold under prime cost, if not to be utterly
   thrown away.

      Unpracticed in every species of business, she had no criterion
   whence to calculate its chances, or be aware of its changes, either
   from varying seasons or varying modes; and to all her other
   intricacies, there was added a perpetual horror of bankruptcy, from
   the difficulty of accelerating payment for what she sold, or of
   procrastinating it for what she bought. (622-23)

Juliet's description of life as a shopkeeper is useful for my argument that negotiation, at its most basic level, is the interplay of mental models: our self-perception in an ongoing interchange with the perceptions of others. Thus while Juliet has prepared herself mentally by personally experiencing the "the petty frauds, the over-reaching tricks ... of the crafty shop-keeper in retail," she has not assimilated into this mental model her own "inexperience" and "delicacy," which end up making her "frequently the dupe of the artifices of those with whom she had to deal."

The strategic complexity here is that when negotiating with others, our mental models and our roles in the negotiation are not fixed but change constantly especially in response to unforeseen events. Juliet initially lacks such mutability because she is "unpracticed in every species of business" (623); she has, in her own words, "no criterion" by which to "calculate" the variability of chance. This means she is financially independent in name only, consumed mentally by the "perpetual horror of bankruptcy"--that is, a situation in which all negotiation comes to an end. Negotiation, here, becomes an interplay of managing information ("the difficulties ... she had neither seen nor imagined"), mental perceptions ("perpetually mistaken, or duped, through ignorance of ignorance"), and uncertainty ("repairs were ... always unforeseen," "stores of merchandise accidentally injured") (623).

2. Game Theory and the Prisoner's Dilemma

Sociologists Max Bazerman et al. describe our ability to change roles in a negotiation thus:
   In games with exactly the same economic structure, "a business
   person" and "a friend" will act differently, in ways that reflect
   their different roles. A central tenet of role theory is that
   individuals do not hold immutable roles, rather their roles change
   with the situation. The "business person" and the "friend" could be
   the same person in different situations. (289)

Their use of the term "game" brings me to the next conceptual model I use to study negotiation: the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Imagine this scenario: two prisoners, "A" and "B," are suspects in the same crime. They are being interrogated separately. Each has two choices: to confess to the crime (thereby implicating the other; game theorists often use the terms "defect" or "fink") or to deny it. Crucially, neither knows what the other will do. If A denies while B confesses, B walks free while A gets ten years. If both confess, they get five years each. Finally, if A and B both choose to deny the crime (independently: after all, neither knows what the other will do), they get sentenced to a year each. Hence, the final strategy--cooperating collectively by denying the crime individually--is the best, or "dominant," strategy. (4)

This classic game of strategy is drawn from game theory, a field that we can trace back to mid-twentieth century economics. (5) The "Prisoner's Dilemma" is important to my reading of The Wanderer because it provides me with a conceptual framework to tie together the intricate relationships underlying negotiation. Game theory attempts to forecast and quantify how individuals will act in situations in which they can compete, collaborate or do both, in the face of absent or inadequate information. (6) A "game" is a term to describe a series of strategic interactions between one or more parties (or "players" as game theorists like to call them) with an economic outcome. I will use three key concepts from game theory that I see particularly salient to The Wanderer:

* Every economic activity is a game with "players" or economic actors (7) on each side; players' "moves" follow specific rules depending on the information they possess at each move.

* The outcome (or "payoff") of a game is not the result of an isolated decision; a game is a complex matrix of moves, wherein each player knows that other players in the game are also making decisions to maximize their own payoffs.

* As a study in negotiation, a game teaches us about the interdependence of player strategies. We might even say a game is a study in strategic behavior and, ultimately, negotiation.

Game theory, especially in its conceptualization of the Prisoner's Dilemma, thus provides a framework for strategic thinking about the thinking of others. Like our hypothetical prisoners, Juliet's economic payoff depends on strategic thinking--deducing what others will think and what others might know--if she is to achieve a financial livelihood. While as "Juliet Granville" she may be (at least according to the besotted Harleigh) "wholly independent; mistress of her heart, mistress of herself" (860), as "Ellis" she needs the cooperation of others.

In my reading, I use the Prisoner's Dilemma for illuminating the central problem in Juliet's negotiations: the problem of trust. (8) Our hypothetical prisoners, A and B, reach their decisions on Whether to "defect" (or turn informant) or deny (thereby unknowingly cooperating), independently. Cooperating turns out to be the ultimately better strategy, but is based entirely on blind trust. I am going to make a cognitive leap here, and apply this idea to money. Trustworthiness ("cooperation" in the Prisoner's Dilemma) and creditworthiness ("payoff" in the Prisoner's Dilemma) are synonymous abstractions. The act of conferring financial assistance (or credit) signals trust; lack of trust might indicate one has a reputation unworthy of credit. We see this roundabout logic in Juliet's inability to receive payment from her creditors: they will not pay her because they do not trust her. To use economic terminology, we might say trust is "social capital." (9)

To return to our framework of the Prisoner's Dilemma, trust is intangible, powerful in influencing public and private contracts, yet ultimately fickle. To the members of this parochial English society, Juliet, who makes an unpredictable entrance into their world disguised as a black woman, is untrustworthy on two counts: gender and race. Her initial racial disguise in "patches, and black skin, and ragged dress" taints, figuratively speaking, her perceived trustworthiness for the remainder of the novel (127). Blackness, poverty and mystery converge almost perfectly, making her a figure who is forever "conclude[d] as open to corruption" (140), "always seeking some subterfuge, always belonging to art" (153). In turn, these attributions reveal that trust is a behavioral response to the personal qualities and the personal history an individual embodies. Mr. Ireton, a louche aristocrat who consistently propositions Juliet, says: "As to me, my dear, I'm a man of the world. Not so easily played upon, I promise you! I have known you from the very beginning! Found you out at first sight! ... So tell me who you are? Will you?" (510). In response, Juliet complicates her own trustworthiness with silence. Consequently, her trustworthiness is decided for her by others: through networks of personal relationships, social sanctions--or what people collectively decide to grant her--and fragments of information that emerge willy-nilly. "Your situation I know not," Harleigh writes, "but where information is withheld, conjecture is active" (343). And he is right; conjecture, wild and uncontrolled, is Juliet's strongest obstacle in negotiating trust and eventually money.

3. The (Risks and) Rewards of Interdisciplinarity

I mentioned earlier that existing economic scholarship on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England often explains the period through conceptual frameworks supplied by credit theory: namely, the growth of public borrowing and lending, the rise of financial institutions and markets, and the influence of private consumption and private credit. This line of reasoning finds support in worthy antecedents from historians to literary scholars and eventually, to eighteenth-century authors like Defoe, Pope, and Steele. (10) Why then do we need to borrow from another discipline when our own discipline of literary studies has been doing a perfectly good job so far? Surely to analyze an eighteenth-century novel through the insights of a late-twentieth-century discipline is an anachronistic exercise? In answer to this question, I posit that behavioral economics opens up new venues for answering the following question: why do we make the economic choices we do? In a departure from literary-critical interpretation that tends to explain economic life in terms of externals, I pursue behavioral economics' focus on characters' internal motivations.

Consider, for instance, Burney's critique of instant gratification, her emphasis on the relationship between her characters' emotional life and their spending habits, and her portrayal of financial risk and return. These and related issues--intertemporal choice (more on this later), emotional biases in decision-making, human motivation and irrationality--are also concerns for behavioral economists. So without allegations of pilfering or discipline-envy, I can borrow quite safely a vocabulary that allows me to articulate what I would otherwise be unable to. I am going to go a step further and make another claim, perhaps a controversial one: as long as literary scholars continue to study fictional characters and narratives, we are examining exactly the same thing as economists: human behavior.

Let me make clear what I am not saying here. I am not attributing to Burney the knowledge of economic theory, but I am crediting her with an intuitive sense of the relationship between human behavior and money. Let us consider Burney's description of Juliet's life on the run from her French husband, an episode that takes place over the last third of the novel:
   She was wholly without friends, without money, without protection,
   without succor; and the horror of a licentious pursuit, and the
   mischiefs menaced by calumniating ill wishers, still made a lonely
   residence as unsafe as when her first terror drove her to acquiesce
   in the proposition of Elinor. Yet, though she could not exult, she
   could not repent: how desire, how even support a situation so
   sordid? A situation not only distressing, but oppressive; not
   merely cruel, but degrading. (488)

Juliet is "without friends" but, more significantly, "without money," which presumably results in this lonely predicament with men constantly propositioning her. The fictional narrative becomes an intuitive, if somewhat messy, medium of financial didacticism. Instead of being crudely 'obvious and saying something to the effect of, "You are better off taking money from a woman ('to acquiesce in the proposition of Elinor') than a man because he is sure to have a lascivious intent ('the horror of a licentious pursuit')," Burney identifies for Juliet, and for the reader, normative assumptions about money and then depicts the anomalies or gaps between expectation and actual behavior. She does this especially well in her depiction of intertemporal choice.

The concept of intertemporal choice can be reduced to this question: how do we mentally "weigh" the future against the present? Behavioral economists say that people prefer instant gratification to future gratification; we over-value the present despite the ubiquity of sayings like "save for a raining day" We defer pain but not pleasure: when deciding between a cookie and a salad, we prefer to eat the salad tomorrow. Intertemporal choice becomes a new window from which to view conspicuous consumption in the novel as in this scene, where we meet Juliet/Ellis's "scholars" for her music lessons:
   The fourth scholar that the same patronage procured for Ellis, was
   a little girl of eleven years of age, whose mother, Lady Arramede,
   the nearly ruined widow of a gamester peer, sacrificed every
   comfort to retain the equipage, and the establishment, that she had
   enjoyed during the life of her luxurious lord. Her table, except
   when she had company, was never quite sufficient for her family;
   her dress, except when she visited, was always old, mended, and out
   of fashion; and the education of her daughter, though destined to
   be of the first order, was extracted, in common with her gala
   dinners, and gala ornaments, from these daily savings. Ellis,
   therefore, from the very moderate price at which Miss Arbe, for
   the purpose of obliging her own various friends, had fixed her
   instructions, was a treasure to Lady Arramede; who had never before
   so completely found, what she was always indefatigably seeking, a
   professor not more cheap than fashionable. (232-3)

For Lady Arramede, the appearance of affluence clearly matters a great deal, even when it conceals a threadbare existence. Burney leaves us in no doubt Lady Arramede keeps up appearances firstly, through networks of private borrowing and lending and secondly, by placing herself within a complex matrix of favors disguised as "patronage." Both phenomena are well researched within eighteenth-century scholarship. (11)

We need, however, another conceptual framework to understand why people buy things they do not need--or why Lady Arramede's "gamester peer" husband allowed his gambling addiction to have "nearly ruined" his family, a financial profligacy his widow continues in her spending habits. Burney is depicting, at work, a mental accounting process through which characters choose between immediate and delayed gratification. (12) The term "mental accounting" was introduced in Thaler's landmark article, "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice." In this, he draws parallels between the accounting process used by firms and the mental accounting process used by individuals, defining mental accounting as the set of cognitive operations we use to code, categorize, and evaluate our financial choices. Thus, Lady Arramede's mental balance sheet declares that her daughter's education is "destined to be of the first order" but needs to be paid or balanced against "daily savings" in the guise of insufficient food and clothes that are "old, mended, and out of fashion." The cognitive complexity of such mundane decisions is interesting but also furthers our understanding of eighteenth-century financial life: intertemporal choice, or our preferences within the context of time, communicates much about what men and women value at a certain point in history.

At the beginning of this essay, I mentioned one of the four assumptions I build on is this: to understand why economic decision-making is depicted in fiction in a certain way, we look to look at the internal motivations of literary characters. In this scene, Juliet is a milliner's shop assistant, and Burney's description of the shoppers who consider themselves "superior in the world of fashion" reveals the impulses that underline conspicuous consumption:
   [T]hough they tried on hats and caps, till they put them out of
   shape; examined and tossed about the choicest goods, till they were
   so injured that they could be sold only at half price; ordered
   sundry articles, which, when finished, they returned, because they
   had changed their minds; or discovered that they did not want them;
   still their consciences were at ease, their honor was
   self-acquitted, and their generosity was self-applauded, if, after
   two or three hours of lounging, rummaging, faultfinding and
   chaffering, they purchased a yard or two of ribbon, or a few skanes
   of netting silk. (426-27)

Anyone who has shopped impulsively, or experienced "buyer's remorse," will recognize the patterns--choose, buy, regret--at work here. So intertemporal choice gives me a way to interpret the vast amount of information in the novel about reckless spending and instant gratification.

I am going to make three immediate observations about the novel and then shift my focus to a wider angle, and see what these observations tell us about fiction in the 1790s. Firstly, human beings have always preferred instant gratification to future gratification: we "discount" the future to pay for the present. Secondly, people are not rational all of the time (as neoclassical economics insists) and our choices about money often reflect irrational impulses. Such irrationality gets even worse during unpredictable historical moments. And finally, our relationship with money is based on appearance and perception far more than we would admit easily; we incorporate information about intangibles (trustworthiness, 'social connections, propitious timing) when we buy or sell. But lest we are moving too fast into the territory of economic theory, let me say I am more excited about what these observations tell us about the novel itself. Is there a larger (or newer) insight that emerges when literary studies and behavioral economics converge?

4. The Economics of History: The 1790s

Two questions emerge here organically: why this novel and why this decade? I am going to begin seeking answers within the context of a claim: a cultural system in a state of volatility reveals interesting, even profound, insights about human nature if we simply observe closely the ways in which men and women behave when they buy, lend, and sell. Historically speaking, I am attributing such volatility to late eighteenth-century England in the form of four phenomena:

* Financial panics and crises from the 1760s onwards (1772, 1778, 1788, 1793) created generalized fears about financial and, ultimately, personal worth. (13)

* Protracted wars with the American colonies and with France reinforced a sense of unease about the unpredictability of the future.

* The initial stages of industrialization caused large-scale urban migration, a demographic and cultural movement from the country to the city. The period's fiction often depicts the challenges in navigating a new society.

* Britain's colonial empire expanded, making the world bigger and even more unknowable for late eighteenth-century men and women.

The impact of these events lingered in the collective consciousness and the zeitgeist of the 1790s. Social, political, and financial turbulence are always mirrored in human behavior; we do not live our lives in siloes, hermetically sealed from the world around us. Behavioral economists have long affirmed that we tend to dismiss outliers--seemingly impossible events--and are blind to probability ("this could never happen to me") in our assumption of risky economic choices. (14) We believe the past will reliably predict the future, and are hence unprepared, even shocked, when hit by extreme events. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who studies randomness in stock markets, describes this behavioral trait as "a problem with the way we construct samples and gather evidence in every domain. We shall call this distortion a bias, i.e., the difference between what you see and what is there" (102). But in the transitional world of the 1790s, there was no longer any way to view, or predict, events through the lens of past experience, because the past often did not match up to the present.

This brings me to the two questions with which I began this section: why this novel and why this decade? I am going to answer them thus:

* The Wanderer conveys financial advice that, while not forbiddingly complex, is still sophisticated. In a departure from existing scholarship, I see Burney's theme not so much as "women's dispossession in English society" (Lawrence 73) as it is an argument for managing one's economic destiny by tactical negotiation.

* This narrative strategy produces a skillfully packaged and culturally acceptable form of political agency.

Money and the relationships it engenders are organic to the meaning of The Wanderer; eliminate this relationship and we do not have much of a novel. Today, with our hindsight of history, we look at refugee poverty, forced migration, and prolonged wars with a certain sense of fatigue. We in the twenty-first century have seen it all before. But Burney's readers in 1814 would have seen their lives restructured by the caprice of history. The French Revolution, the Anglo-American and the Napoleonic Wars, the constant cessation and rekindling of Anglo-French conflict, domestic sedition and treason trials, the anti-slavery movement, the industrial revolution and rural displacement, a series of financial crises in the stock markets, all taken together would have caused something of an avalanche of turbulence, something akin to what Nicholson calls "both an end and a beginning" (184). So we can imagine Burney writing in a magazine or a newspaper perhaps, transmitting financial wisdom in the form of advice columns titled, say, "How to Manage Money in Troubling Times," "Saving for a Rainy Day: How to Invest Wisely and Rise above the Madness," "Advice for the Working Girl: How to Change Professions, Win Friends, and Influence Potential Investors." I am willing to speculate that other literary texts from the 1790s would yield equally to such postulation: of financial instruction disguised within plots and subplots. So I am venturing, quite confidently, towards the hypothesis that in the days before the personal finance industry came to town (books, blogs, Suze Orman, and Dave Ramsey), fiction appropriated this didactic role for itself. I am excited about the possibilities in this hypothesis because I suspect that, at moments of transition or instability, we turn to other voices of wisdom, and in the days before organized advice-giving machinery, fiction fulfilled this role.

The second point I made was that the narrative strategy of disguised financial instruction is itself a culturally repackaged form of a political message. Burney's characters declare who they are by the way they manage (or mismanage) money. I see this, the act of affirming agency through our economic transactions, as a profoundly political statement. Burney may deny such a blatantly political vision and is, in fact, at pains to argue otherwise, emphasizing that readers "who expect here materials for political controversy; or fresh food for national animosity; must turn elsewhere their disappointed eyes" because she holds "political topics to be without my sphere, or beyond my skill" (Preface 4-5). But while Burney is not a Jacobin writer of the 1790s in the guise of, say, Thomas Holcroft or Robert Bage, reading The Wanderer as a text on negotiation discloses a political message: in any society that assigns power only to the rich, negotiating the contours of one's economic space may be the only way to expand the limits of the self. (15) Barbara Zonitch is thus right to call The Wanderer "one of Burney's most distinctly political novels," one that "envisions the incipient possibilities for women's freedom in this pivotal historical moment" (113-14). Now we may claim, with Burney, that the novel has no such agenda at all, whether covert or overt. But given that Burney began writing The Wanderer in 1790s and focuses exclusively on historical events of this decade, we can assume, confidently, that she was aware that the genre of the novel had become a vehicle for populist ideas, something Gary Kelly describes as the "most important social institution for conducting ideological controversy in the 1790s" (285). Through its depiction of Juliet's "wanderings" in English economic life, The Wanderer shows readers how to surmount "difficulties" by negotiating with life itself.

May we, going further, extend this argument to other fiction of the 1790s? And in doing so, might we discover that fictional narratives produced during historical periods of great change have instructional value and a political torch they carry? Lennard Davis endorses this argument, (16) saying, "all novels are inherently ideological and in that sense are about the political and social world. That is, even overtly apolitical novels have embedded in their structure political statements about the world and our organization of our perceptions about that world" (224). I am going to end on the idea of "perceptions" and say that the human mind is not equipped, at least adequately, to handle unpredictable phenomena; hence we must incorporate such unpredictability into our behavior constantly, incorporating new information and new insights as they emerge. This cognitive-behavioral gesture, something we do every day, is a very pure form of negotiating with our place in the world.

Works Cited

Ashton, T. S. Economic Fluctuations in England, 1700-1800. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1959. Print.

Bazerman, Max H., Jared R. Curhan, Don A. Moore, and Kathleen L. Valley. "Negotiation." Annual Review of Psychology 51 (2000): 279-314. Print.

Becchetti, Leonardo, and Giacomo Degli Antoni. "The Sources of Happiness: Evidence from the Investment Game." Journal of Economic Psychology 31.4 (2010): 498-509. Print.

Brantlinger, Patrick. Fictions of State: Culture and Credit in Britain, 1694-1994. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1996. Print.

Burney, Frances. The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties. Ed. Margaret Anne Doody, Robert L. Mack and Peter Sabot. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991. Print.

Croker, John Wilson. "Rev. of The Wanderer, by Frances Burney." Quarterly Review 11.21 (1814): 123-30. Print.

Davis, Lennard J. Resisting Novels: Ideology and Fiction. London: Methuen, 1987. Print.

Defoe, Daniel. An Essay upon Publick Credit. London: n.p., 1710. Print.

Doody, Margaret Anne. Introduction. The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties by Frances Burney. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991. vii-xxxvii. Print.

Finn, Margot C. The Character of Credit." Personal Debt in English Culture, 1740-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.

Gallagher, Catherine. Nobody's Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995. Print.

Harman, Claire. Fanny Burney: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 2001. Print.

Hazlitt, William. "Rev. of The Wanderer: or, Female Difficulties. A Novel, by Madame D'Arblay." Edinburgh Review 24 (1815): 320-38. Print.

Hoppit, Julian. "Financial Crises in Eighteenth-Century England." Economic History Review 39.1 (1986): 39-58. Print.

Johnson, Claudia L. Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995. Print.

Kahneman, Daniel, and Amos Tversky. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk." Econometrica 47.2 (1979): 263-92. Print.

Kelly, Gary. "Jane Austen and the English Novel of the 1790s." Fetter'd or Free?: British Women Novelists, 1670-1815. Ed. Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1986. 285-306. Print.

Lawrence, Karen R. Penelope Voyages: Women and Travel in the British Literary Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1994. Print.

Loewenstein, George, and Jon Elster, eds. Choice over Time. New York: Russell Sage, 1992. Print.

Nicholson, Colin. "'Illusion on the Town': Figuring out Credit in The Dunciad." Literature and History 12.2 (1986). 181-94. Print.

--. "The Mercantile Bard: Commerce and Conflict in Pope." Studies in the Literary Imagination 38.1 (2005): 77-94. Print.

Poovey, Mary. Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008. Print.

Pope, Alexander. Of the Use of Riches, An Epistle to the Right Honorable Allen Lord Bathurst. London: J. Wright, 1732. Print.

Shafir, Eldar, and Richard H. Thaler. "Invest Now, Drink Later, Spend Never: On the Mental Accounting of Delayed Consumption." Journal of Economic Psychology 27 (2006): 694-712. Print.

Steele, Richard. A Nation a Family: Being the Sequel of the Crisis of Property. London: W. Chetwood, 1720. Print.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. New York: Random House, 2007. Print.

Thaler, Richard H. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice." Marketing Science 4.3 (1985): 199-214. Print.

Thompson, Helen. "How The Wanderer Works: Reading Burney and Bourdieu." ELH 68.4 (2001): 965-89. Print.

Zonitch, Barbara. Familiar Violence: Gender and Social Upheaval in the Novels of Frances Burney. Newark, DE: U of Delaware P, 1997. Print.

Devjani Roy

University of Kentucky


My sincere thanks to Lisa Zunshine for her invaluable feedback on earlier versions of this essay. I am grateful to the anonymous reader from Style for detailed and thoughtful comments.

(1) In his anonymous piece for the Edinburgh Review, William Haztitt articulates frustration with the meandering plot, saying, "The reader is led every moment to expect a denouement, and is as constantly disappointed on some trifling pretext" (337).

(2) These normative assumptions find expression in the neoclassical concept of homo economicus, or economic man. This man (the gendering is both infelicitous and inaccurate) is always self-serving, consistently rational, and would never consider an act of charity. In other words, homo economicus is unlike anyone we have ever met.

(3) Colin Nicholson advocates this when he argues: "Often in radically contradictory ways, the Financial Revolution changed how people lived, thought about, and wrote about their society" (78).

(4) In this essay, I use the term "strategy" to mean a plan of action. A plan is "strategic" if it is a choice between two or more actions, each with different outcomes. A dominant strategy exists if one choice of action is always best regardless of others choose.

(5) While its origins are in mathematics, game theory was quickly appropriated by a number of other disciplines, most notably economics. Although human beings have used game theoretic principles in evaluating strategy within situations of interdependence--politics, war, contractual agreements--since the dawn of history, as an academic discipline, game theory's origins go back to 1944, when John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern published Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, wherein they examined "zero-sum" games: strategic interactions in which both parties (or "players," as game theoreticians call them) competed with one another with only one outcome--victory or loss. More realistic to human society, however, is an outcome that involves rivalry but also common interest and collaboration. Hence, beginning with the 1950s, economists John Nash, Reinhard Selten, and John Harsanyi, among others, proposed mathematical frameworks to forecast the outcomes (also called "payoffs") and "moves" (or actions) of complex multi-player games.

(6) Economists call this "asymmetrical information": a situation in which one party has more (or less) information than the other.

(7) The game theoretic terms "player" and "economic actor" build on the neoclassical concept of homo economicus, or economic man. Homo economicus possesses complete and fully defined preferences or tastes, perfect information, and no limit to his abilities to calculate advantage and disadvantage. Following this, game theory's "economic actor" or "player" has three salient qualities: unbounded awareness (all the information needed to make decisions), unbounded rationality, and unlimited self-interest. Behavioral economists question these assumptions.

(8) The literature on trust is vast and has been studied at length by economists, both behavioral and mainstream. There is no covering the literature in its entirety in a single essay, but I hope to make some salient connections with The Wanderer.

(9) Leonardo Beccheti and Giacomo Degli Antoni term "social capital" as a complex, if abstract, concept that includes at least five dimensions: trust, trustworthiness, willingness to pay for public goods, civic sense, and trust in institutions. My point here is that Juliet needs to earn trustworthiness before she earns a livelihood; where the first is social capital, the second is financial capital.

(10) At the beginning of the century, Daniel Defoe describes credit as "a Consequence, not a Cause; the Effect of a Substance, not a Substance; 'tis the Sunshine, not the Sun" (9), a lyrical description of its insubstantiality that finds echoes in Pope's Epistle to Bathurst: "Blest paper-credit! Last and best supply! / That lends Corruption lighter wings to fly" (69-70). Richard Steele, writing in the aftermath of the South Sea Bubble, admonishes: "[T]he Publick is loaded with Debts, and the generality of the People extremely necessitous, while private Persons, to the Disadvantage of the whole Community, are immoderately Rich, and every Day growing richer..."(15).

(11) For an extended discussion, see works by Mary Poovey, Catherine Gallagher, and Margot Finn.

(12) Economist George Loewenstein has written prolifically on our mental accounting of buying and selling. See Choice over Time.

(13) For extended discussions on financial crises and English economic life, see Ashton, Fluctuations, and Hoppit, "Financial Crises." Here I can speculate, confidently, that events of the early 1790s suggest that money was on Burney's mind as it was on that of the English population. A bad wheat harvest in 1792 exerted inflationary pressures on the British economy since "prices rose to nearly 25 per cent above the previous year" (Hoppit 55). In November of that year, the number of bankruptcies increased, culminating in a financial panic, and then a full-blown financial crisis in 1793. In the same year, France declared war against England, affecting "confidence at every level in public, private and ... corporate finance" (Hoppit 55). Speaking chronologically, then, the novel's period of composition corresponds with changed frames of reference in English society, and The Wanderer reflects such changes by showing how they restructure financial kinship between people.

(14) For more on how we evaluate risk, see Kahneman and Tversky, "Prospect Theory."

(15) Burney's father Charles Burney had well-known anti-Jacobin loyalties, and Burney is often gushing in her admiration for Edmund Burke. But I am inclined to agree with Margaret Doody's argument that the novel "offers a detailed exploration ... of the political nature of personal life" (xiii).

(16) I want to affirm here that this is not Davis's central argument in Resisting Novels; rather it is the claim that, as a genre, the novel is reactionary, "by and large preserv[ing] the status quo and defend[ing] against radical aspirations" (225). But, as I see it, Davis complicates his own thesis by statements such as the one above.
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Date:Mar 22, 2013
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