Trade Secrets: Georgic Poetry and the Rise of Finance
O'Briain, Katarina Louisa
MetadataShow full item record
“Trade Secrets: Georgic Poetry and the Rise of Finance” reads neoclassical verse alongside artisanal manuals and works of political economy to argue that the language of craft labor provides a privileged medium through which to grapple with crises of the Early Enlightenment, from struggles over the Glorious Revolution to the aftershocks of the South Sea Bubble. Critics have long cast georgic, with its focus on agricultural labor, as an instrument of scientific improvement or mode of reactionary nostalgia for landed elites. But these accounts have overlooked a crucial, if perhaps quieter, story of georgic poetry, which lies in its heightened attention to craft understood as both material fabrication and formal workmanship. For John Dryden and Alexander Pope, the reticence of artisanal knowledge provides a strategy for dealing with the market pressures facing poetry and the other arts. It also allows these oppositional poets to make seditious claims without explicitly having to state them. By the time of Jonathan Swift and John Gay’s mock iterations of the mode, however, craft is less a salutary means of evading censorship than a well-worn method of political deception — craftiness, so to speak — practiced by politicians and financial projectors alike. Taking up and reinscribing the Machiavellian poles of virtù and fortuna, or skill and chance, which were foundational to Enlightenment British Republicanism, these writers look to georgic as a mode through which to meditate on the paradoxical relation between careful craft labor and the vagaries that remain beyond one’s control. In this respect, my project recovers a surprising antecedent to contemporary responses to environmental, social, and financial crisis, which continue to manifest, or attempt to overcome, that same melancholy combination of resistance and inevitability. The project ends with a coda on the role of accident in Frances Burney’s novels, which provide a crucial alternative to moral arguments for craft labor in the period.