Neil Ramsey (UNSW, Canberra) on War, Wealth, and the Navy in the Early Nineteenth-Century Novel

Join us for the first CuSPP Seminar of 2021

Thursday 25 February, 4.30 pm, AD Hope Conference Room, First Floor, AD Hope Bldg.

Dr Neil Ramsey (UNSW, Canberra), From Mode of Production to Hegemonic Regime: War, Wealth, and the Navy in the Early Nineteenth-Century Novel

In this paper I propose a critique of the commercial view of literary history by drawing attention to elements of militarism in the formation of the early nineteenth century novel. The prevalence of the navy in literature of this period has been noted by numerous critics, most notably with reference to Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818). This paper seeks to better theorize this naval dimension by turning to the world-systems thought of Giovanni Arrighi and reformulations of his work via the neo-marxist approach of Jacques Bidet. Questions of finance have loomed large in recent literary analysis, much of which has drawn on Arrighi’s understanding of the historical power and vicissitudes of global finance. I draw attention to a second dimension of Arrighi’s thought, which has been almost wholly ignored by literary critics – that he locates financial power alongside territorial power as an essential conjunction in the historical formation and evolution of capitalism. To elucidate this conjunction I follow Jacques Bidet’s neo-marxist adaptations of Arrighi’s thought to conceptualise how financial and territorial power act as two distinct yet intersecting logics of power, consisting of modes of production and modes of government, that have historically shaped a series of shifting hegemonic regimes within capitalism. Sketching a reading of these ideas in relation to Persuasion, I argue that the literary fascination with the navy in this period reveals how the novel attempts to express and manage the contradictions that historically formed between these competing logics of power of financial markets and biopolitical organisation. I argue that to read the novel in relation to Bidet’s concept of hegemonic regimes helps us to extend and redefine the commercial orientation of Marxist analysis reliant simply on reading in relation to modes of production.

Dr Neil Ramsey is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at UNSW Canberra. He works on the literary and culture responses to warfare during the eighteenth century and Romantic eras, focusing on the representations of personal experience and the development of a modern culture of war. His first book, The Military Memoir and Romantic Literary Culture, 1780-1835, was published by Ashgate in 2011. His most recent, a collection co-edited with Gillian Russell, Tracing War in British Enlightenment and Romantic Culture, was published by Palgrave in 2015. He is currently completing a monograph on military writing of the Romantic era, the research for which was funded by an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship. He is convenor of the Conflict and Society Research Group in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Image: Georg Cruikshank, Midshipman Blockhead, The Progress of a Midshipman exemplified in the career of Master Blockhead in seven plates & frontispiece, 1835


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