Narrating ‘finances’ after John Law: Complicity, critique, and the bonds of obligation in Duclos and Mouhy
Attending to the peculiar significance of finance(s) and the financier in Old Regime France, this article analyzes narratives that rehabilitate both, circa 1740-1755, in their political, social and biographical contexts. Positive representations are not thought to have been common. Yet following the Law debacle, restoration of traditional court finance resulted in effective administrative practices, universalizing policies and opportunities for merit, combined with money, to drive advancement, competing with hereditary privilege. Across genres, Charles Pinot-Duclos and Charles de Fieux, the Chevalier de Mouhy, depicted how upstart elites enact virtue, philanthropy and patriotism through finance. Their depictions reflected State policies and served common interests of writers and their protectors and patrons. Yet by emphasizing tensions in mid-century society, their texts also challenged readers to reflect critically on relations among finance, politics, society and indebtedness, anticipating a later focus on political economy as such. For today’s readers grappling with dilemmas of modern finance, society and obligation, they provide provocative precedents.
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