What does it mean for a novel, or a nation, to “add up”? Where a number of prominent critics have outlined the ways in which the novel amounts to a persuasive representation of the nation, this essay considers another prominent discourse of accounting—economics—to evaluate the formal and representational means through which national totalities are formulated in late imperial Britain. This essay places Jean Rhys's Voyage in the Dark (1934) in conversation with neoclassical and Keynesian economic theory and policy to specify where both are preoccupied with the notion of “equilibrium” (or the balance of “inputs” and “outputs” to national, economic, or political systems) in the 1930s. Handily demonstrated by Phillips's economic computer, a machine built to literally embody Britain's economy, Keynesian thought in particular is invested in quantifying and containing the nation's components. I contend, however, that Rhys's metrocolonial novel contests such measures through temporal frameworks and a treatment of sexual economies that offer contending models of formal closure, ultimately challenging the pervasive tropes of economic inclusion and exclusion in her late-imperial context. It is my argument here that Rhys's novelistic form works as a technology of national representation to refute techniques of national quantification that would exclude or oversimplify imperial history or colonial subjectivity; more broadly, Rhys's novel exposes the limits of national analyses that rest upon territorial-corporeal imaginings of the nation.
Alissa G. Karl; Rhys, Keynes, and the Modern(ist) Economic Nation. Novel 1 November 2010; 43 (3): 424–442. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2010-023
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