Vampiric enterprise
: metaphors of economic exploitation in the literature and culture of the Fin de siecle

  • Jane Ford

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis is about the complex network of metaphors that emerged around late nineteenth-century conceptions of economic self-interest — metaphors that dramatised the predatory, conflictual and exploitative basis of relations between nations, institutions, sexes and people in an outwardly belligerent fin-de-siècle economy. More specifically, this thesis is about the vampire, cannibal and related genera of economic metaphor which I argue penetrate many of the major discourses of the period in ways that have yet to be understood. In chapters that examine socialist fiction and newspapers; the imperial quest romance; inter-personal intimacies in the writing of Henry James and Vernon Lee; and the Catholic novels of Lucas Malet, I assess the breadth and variety of these metaphors, and consider how they filter the concept of the conflictual ‘economic man’ inspired by Hobbes and formalised in nineteenth-century economic discourses.

    The thesis builds on Maggie Kilgour’s From communion to cannibalism: an anatomy of metaphors of incorporation (1990), which traces the genealogy – in literature from Homer to Melville – of what she terms ‘metaphors of incorporation’. In basic terms, these are metaphors that originate from a foundational inside-outside binary and involve the assimilation or incorporation of an external reality. Kilgour attempts to demonstrate that with the increasing isolation of the modern individual (signalled by the acts of enclosure and the formalisation of property rights, for instance) acts of ‘incorporation’ previously imagined as symbiotic (early communion), were later conceived as cannibalistic (oedipal rivalry). Representing an appetitive antagonism between aggressor and victim, the figures at the centre of this study – the economic vampire and its cognates – have integrity as metaphors of incorporation. However, deploying a combination of historicist and, at times, Post-Structuralist approaches, this thesis demonstrates that these metaphors refuse to accommodate themselves to a simple unified vision of the kind advanced by Kilgour. Therefore, in this thesis, I map the complexities of these metaphors, explaining how they originate from divergent teleological impulses and how they articulate both simple ideological operations, and more complex feelings of ambivalence about economic realities in the cultural moment of the Victorian fin-de-siècle.
    Date of AwardMay 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Portsmouth
    SupervisorPatricia Pulham (Supervisor)

    Cite this