Descriptions and evaluations: The Victorian man of business revisited
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This paper addresses the twin issues of “description” and “evaluation” with reference to Victorian discussions of the business ideal. The first section offers a brief overview of novelistic portrayals of businessmen, notable for their villainy. Scholars have repeatedly commented on the marked anti-business bias, the denigration of business and trade, that is an integral part of the critique of capitalism articulated in many a canonical Victorian novel. Did the same animosity permeate discussions of business in the periodical press? How was the businessman described and evaluated in the pages of Victorian periodicals? My investigation is an experiment in distant or vertical reading: using as database the ProQuest digital archive of British periodicals, I analyze the occurrences of three text segments (“man of business”, “business habits” and “business life”) looking for repeated associations of words and recurrent phraseology. The final section discusses the tentative results of my investigation: although clusters of positive evaluations can be detected, the structural limits of this experiment call for some caution.