University of Mississippi

Corporate Romanticism

Corporate Romanticism offers an alternative history of the connections between modernity, individualism, and the novel. In early nineteenth-century England, two developments―the rise of corporate persons and the expanded scale of industrial action―undermined the basic assumption underpinning both liberalism and the law: that individual human persons can be meaningfully correlated with specific actions and particular effects. Reading works by Godwin, Austen, Hogg, Mary Shelley, and Dickens alongside a wide-ranging set of debates in nineteenth-century law and Romantic politics and aesthetics, Daniel Stout argues that the novel, a literary form long understood as a reflection of individualism’s ideological ascent, in fact registered the fragile fictionality of accountable individuals in a period defined by corporate actors and expansively entangled fields of action.

Examining how liberalism, the law, and the novel all wrestled with the moral implications of a highly collectivized and densely packed modernity, Corporate Romanticism reconfigures our sense of the nineteenth century and its novels, arguing that we see in them not simply the apotheosis of laissez-fair individualism but the first chapter of a crucial and distinctly modern problem about how to fit the individualist and humanist terms of justice onto a world in which the most consequential agents are no longer persons.