Some novelists in the nineteenth century, for example Harriet Martineau and Charles Dickens, used fiction to illustrate the economic behavior postulated by the early political economists and their critics. “Realist” novelists later in this century and into the twentieth examined aspects of the economy as background for their storytelling. This essay looks at the work of two realist novelists who observed economic circumstances in their time with unusual subtlety and perception. Frank Norris in The Octopus, influenced perhaps by Thorstein Veblen, described western expansion in the United States on the new farms and ranches, driven by the railways. Then he examined the Chicago commodities exchange in The Pit as a manifestation of the new global economy. E.M. Forster, a friend of John Maynard Keynes, focused in Howards End on the hazards of unemployment and destruction of the environment in a modern market economy. In Passage to India he demonstrated that the notion of empire and of the white man’s burden was obsolete. Neither of these novelists saw himself as a contributor to economics, but both contributed to the popular understanding of the economy.
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Craufurd D. Goodwin; Observation Through Fiction: Frank Norris and E. M. Forster. History of Political Economy 1 December 2012; 44 (suppl_1): 206–225. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-1631842
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