During the 19th century the U.S. and Britain came to share an economic profile unparalleled in their respective histories. This book suggests that this early high capitalism came to serve as the ground for a new kind of cosmopolitanism in the age of literary realism, and argues for the necessity of a transnational analysis based upon economic relationships of which people on both sides of the Atlantic were increasingly conscious. The nexus of this exploration of economics, aesthetics and moral philosophy is philanthropy.
Pushing beyond reductive debates over the benevolent or mercenary qualities of industrial era philanthropy, the following questions are addressed: what form and function does philanthropy assume in British and American fiction respectively? What are the rhetorical components of a discourse of philanthropy and in which cultural domains did it operate? How was philanthropy practiced and represented in a period marked by self-interest and rational calculation? The author explores the relationship between philanthropy and literary realism in novels by Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Eliot, and William Dean Howells, and examines how each used the figure of philanthropy both to redefine the sentiments that informed social identity and to refashion their own aesthetic practices.