By Fraser, H M

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32 As Dowell insists, Edward understands fluctuating stock prices and can thus reap quick profits in this period of a diversified and expanding capital market. But he also holds on to a feudal estate and its “collectivist” associations despite falling prices and rents. 33 Leonora’s response to Edward’s diminishing estate is to raise tenants’ rents and reduce household costs in order to build capital reserves, to sell the valuable art in the family possession and, while Ford withholds details, to invest those savings conservatively in well-trusted stocks.

At the same time, however, the novel engages in its own impressionistic speculations on the nature of twentieth-century investment capitalism. Like The Good Soldier, Chance also suggests that capitalism is inherently speculative, but Conrad’s market fiction also takes a more radical position: the fictional world of Chance lies at the intersection of legitimate investment and unregulated speculation, where both are driven by fantasies of endless economic growth. As such, the novel offers a powerful critique of the fantasies and anxieties underpinning a laissez-faire environment of investment capitalism during a period of rapid reorganization, from the late-Victorian era until just prior to the First World War.

Exceeding bourgeois social decorum and capitalist production ethics, his romances register the expenditures and losses that many writers across the modernist period—from novelists to political economists— understood to drive economic activity, including those that focus only on the acquisitive aims of investment. We might think, for example, of Georg Simmel’s sense that “sacrifice” is “the inner condition” of valuemaking, that I only value something because of its relationship to what I’ve sacrificed for it;40 or of Bataille’s insistence that bourgeois reserve defines itself precisely against the wild, rollicking losses of an economy of expenditure without reserve.

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Apocalyptic Vision Modernism by Fraser, H M


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