This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.
Weyler, Karen A. “‘A Speculating Spirit’: Trade, Speculation and Gambling in Early American Fiction.” Early American Literature 31.3 (1996): 207-242. Print.
In this article Weyler argues that popular American novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries play an important role in shaping “public economic discourse” (208). These works not only attempt to reconcile competing desires for material improvement with republican values, but also contribute to the “gendering of the American economic system” by figuring trade as a uniquely “masculine prerogative” (208). Weyler therefore draws a distinction between male and female responsibilities in the new nation. She asserts that while women are charged with remaining “sexually and emotionally chaste,” men have to confront the challenge of being “economically virtuous—meaning that they must balance self-interest and public interest” (208). Ultimately, it is this conception that men need to acquire capital through “virtuous trade” that pervades the politco-economic philosophy of early American novels. Weyler asserts that in response to the inherent problems within trade, namely, the selfish individualistic “ethics” it proposes as well as the material “importation of luxury goods,” novelists of the period strove to distinguish virtuous trade from “gambling, speculation, or inheritance” (210, 208). These authors emphasized the importance of “industry” for achieving successful business ventures and represented the “productive fruits of trade” as not only individualized gains, but patriotic symbols of “America’s trading freedom” (223). These qualities, among others Weyler describes, allowed novelists to set virtuous trade apart from the quick, often self-destructive profits gained through gambling, speculation or inheritance. Her article therefore provides unique insight into the way early American novels represent the nation’s role within the international market, but my research on Margaretta; or, The Intricacies of the Heart offers an opportunity to intervene in Weyler’s argument. Whereas she concerns herself with texts in which males dominate the global economy and trade is largely successful for industrious characters, Read’s novel diverges from these conventional narratives. In Margaretta we are introduced to a chaotic and unpredictable international market, in which males, regardless of their diligence or honorable intentions, emerge as victims of trade. Ultimately, it is this masculine colonial economy that our heroine successfully infiltrates to rescue her lover from the whims of the market, thereby implying a vital role for women in the circum-Atlantic world.