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Learning finance through fiction: ‘Cecilia’ and the perils of credit

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 November 2023

Joyce Goggin*
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Corresponding author: Joyce Goggin, University of Amsterdam, P.O. Box 19268, 1000 GG Amsterdam, Netherlands. Email:
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This article discusses the rise of modern banking, the invention of credit and a related persistent orientation to the future inherent in credit-based economies, through the example of the novel which, as a literary form, came into being at roughly the same time. As a distinctly commercial genre and as a product of the financial revolution, novels ask readers to ‘credit’ the stories they tell with truthfulness, and to invest them with a particular form of credibility as significant narratives. At the same time, novels invite readers to imagine ‘as if’ scenarios and possible worlds in much the same way that borrowed capital enables people to construct life worlds based on resources not yet realised through investment in a speculative economy. Therefore, by examining how finance and gambling debts circulate in one particular text from the eighteenth century - Francis Burney's Cecilia - as a primary example of how credit and fictionalisation grew up together, this article argues that credit and risk feed into the narrative accounting and recounting of the text and articulate the affective structure of the financialised future that we have now inherited, and which informs how we understand ourselves as subjects, as well as how we interact with finance as a form of entertainment.

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