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Face Value: Representations of Money in American Literature, 1896-1944

Key, Laura ORCID: https://orcid.org/0009-0000-7249-2778 (2012) Face Value: Representations of Money in American Literature, 1896-1944. Doctoral thesis, University of Manchester.

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This thesis analyses the significance of socio-historical conceptions of money in relation to the development of American literary modernism from 1896 to 1944. Taking as its starting point Jean-Joseph Goux's contention that there was a correlation between the end of gold-backed money in France and the birth of French modernist literature, this study considers how far this claim is tenable in the American case. In 1896, the key debate surrounding the presidential election was over whether money should be backed by gold or silver specie, which became a major public issue. Faith in the gold standard was challenged, raising the possibility that the source of monetary value was negotiable. Subsequent policy changes, financial panics, the Depression and the World Wars all affected public conceptions of money, until the Bretton Woods Agreement instituted an international gold standard supported by the gold-backed U.S. dollar in 1944, effectively re-establishing a firm relationship between gold and money. Since the 1990s, New Economic Criticism has sought to understand the ways in which money and literature converge throughout history. Although several studies of money and American literary realism have been undertaken, the relationship between money and American literary modernism specifically has largely been overlooked in scholarship. Analysing the works of Robert Herrick, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Dos Passos, this thesis contends that a certain strand of American modernism developed as a series of reflections upon the relationship between money, value and realistic representation, in which the limitations of realism are exposed. Calling for a re-historicisation of the relationship between money and literature, this study argues that particular socio-historical moments in the story of American money emphasised the fluidity of money, sending social conceptions of value into flux in a society in which money functioned as the general equivalent by which all values were measured. These moments when accepted face values were called into question offered American writers the language and structure by which to consider and challenge the limitations of existing literary forms by comparing money with literature. Both paper money and literature, forms of representation which function via the inscription of words upon paper, contain an inherent duality; they have both a material value, in terms of their composition from paper and ink, and a deeper capacity to represent a certain value in the society in which they circulate. Modernism is concerned with such a duality, emphasising the materiality of the text and exposing the text's status as a representation that can never equal the reality that it represents. The authors discussed here confronted the discrepancy between written language as a reflection of the real world and words as material constructs in themselves through the metaphor of money, manifesting in both textual theme and structure, where the boundaries of realist representation are broken down via the use of unconventional forms. Utilising the method of close textual analysis and situating the texts examined within the wider socio-historical contexts of which they were born, the thesis focuses upon four different moments in the story of U.S. money and literature. This historically contingent approach facilitates the argument that these literary texts function as sites at which to examine and come to terms with contemporaneous social issues, helping to broaden both the purpose and structure of American literature in the early-twentieth century.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Status: Unpublished
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
School/Department: Academic Development Directorate
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/8089

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