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Deficits and Desires

This work examines the effects on literary works of a little-noted economic development in the early twentieth century: individuals and governments alike began to regard going into debt as a normal and even valuable part of life. The author also shows, surprisingly, that the economic changes normalizing debt paralleled and intersected with changes in sexual discourse. In Victorian novels, sex and debt are considered dangerous activities that the young should avoid in order to save and invest toward eventual marriage and a home. In twentieth-century texts, however, it often seems acceptable to go into debt and engage in sex before marriage. These literary representations followed social transformations as both economic and sexual discourse moved from the logic of saving and production to the logic of circulation. In Keynesian economics and consumerism, governments and individuals were actually encouraged to borrow and to spend more in order to increase demand and keep money circulating. In twentieth-century sexual treatises, people were similarly encouraged to indulge their desires, as pent-up states were considered as deleterious to the physical body as they were to the economic.
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Table of Contents

Introduction Part I. Escaping Restrictions: 1. The freedom to borrow in Ulysses 2. The author as consumer: The Financier 3. Legitimate and illegitimate bonds: The Great Gatsby Part II. New Deals: 4. Consumer cooperation, gender cooperation: Virginia Woolf's answer to war 5. Love versus usury: the national cures of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams 6. Cultural autonomy and consumerism: Their Eyes Were Watching God Coda: Accepting Deficits 7. Credit as faith: normalizing debt in the movies of Frank Capra Notes Selected bibliography Index.

About the Author

Michael Tratner is Associate Professor of English at Bryn Mawr College. His most recent book is Modernism and Mass Politics: Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Yeats (Stanford, 1995).


"Tratner has broached a compelling topic and offers fresh readings of modernist texts." - Modern Fiction Studies

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