ABSTRACT

Dickens’s novels explicitly critique the disaggregation of economics and morality in speculative capitalism. This article argues that the novels equally condemn the logic of speculation in other forms: speculative knowledge and speculations about other people’s interiors. All these logics depend on a process of distancing from materiality to create wealth: speculation on value is far removed from gold, and a character’s interiority is far from the clothing that one might interpret to signify their feelings. And so, just as to remove morality from economic relationships dehumanizes people, to remove materiality from reading dehumanizes literature. In place of speculative logic, Dickens’s fiction magnifies surfaces. To critique speculative reading in his novels, Dickens creates characters who read texts and people metaphorically for their own social and monetary gain: literary men. Through Arthur Clennam’s speculative gaze in Little Dorrit, Silas Wegg’s disembodied leg in Our Mutual Friend, and Pickwick’s discovery of a very nice rock in The Pickwick Papers, this article argues that the critique of speculation in these texts creates a materialist ethics of reading—one that foregrounds surface over interpretation.

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