Date of Thesis


Thesis Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Michael Drexler


This thesis explores the relationship between money and writing in the novel Arthur Mervyn, written in 1799 by one of the most prominent early American novelists, Charles Brockden Brown. I show how writing in Brown¿s book is closely tied with the world of commerce, being portrayed as a means of earning money, as both physical and intellectual property, and as money itself (paper bills, checks, promissory notes). Moreover, money and texts often accompany each other, and are similar in the way they are circulated and treated: they fail to reach their recipients, they are lost and found, destroyed, and forged. Drawing on poststructuralist theory in general, and on Jean-Joseph Goux¿s theory of ¿symbolic economies¿ in particular, I demonstrate, through close-readings of a number of episodes, that both paper money and written or printed texts in the novel form a symbolic space detached from reality. This detachment facilitates manipulation and fraud, so both paper money and writing are portrayed as unreliable in Arthur Mervyn. I also argue that Brown¿s view of money and textual production is reflected in the form of the novel. I use Roland Barthes¿ idea of ¿contract-narratives¿ and Frederic Jameson¿s theory of genre as a social contract to show how Brown undermines the reader¿s expectations and makes the text of Arthur Mervyn ambiguous and unreliable, just like the texts depicted in the novel. I also view this analogy between writing and money in Arthur Mervyn as a product of the historical configuration Brown lived in. The 1790s saw two interrelated processes: the emergence of individual and professional authorship, and a growth in the use of paper currency. Brown was, without any doubt, acutely aware of these changes in both financial and literary spheres. Despite being born into a family of import-export merchants and forced to join their company, he aspired to become a professional author, making money solely by writing. Hence his sensitivity to the profound analogy between the world of finance and the world of literary production that he registers and explores in Arthur Mervyn.