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ENGLISH DRAMA, 1650-1760:

A CRITICAL MISCELLANY




Volume XXXII, Number 2

Fall 1999

 

 

Copyright 1999 Department of
English, Georgia State University

 

 

 

 

 

 

ENGLISH DRAMA, 1650-1760: A CRITICAL MISCELLANY

CONTENTS

i Editor's Comment: Arbitrariness and English Drama, 1650-1760
  Margo Collins

1 The Glory that WAS Rome--and Grenada, and Rhodes, and Tenochtitlan: Pleasurable Conquests, Supernatural Liasions, and Apparitional Drama in Interregnum Entertainments
  Kevin L. Cope

19 Divided Nation, Divided Self: The Language of Capitalism and Madness in Otway's Venice Preserv'd
  Debra Leissner

33 Mary Pix's Ibrahim: The Woman Writer as Commercial Playwright
  Jean I. Marsden

45 "Luck Be a Lady Tonight," or At Least Make Me a Gentleman: Economic Anxiety in Centlivre's The Gamester
  LuAnn Venden Herrell

63 Juba's Roman Soul: Addison's Cato and Enlightnenment Cosmopolitanism
  Laura J. Rosenthal

77 George Lillo and the Victims of Economic Theory
  Polly Stevens Fields

89 The Censorship of Samuel Foote's The Minor (1760): Stage Controversy in the Mid-Eighteenth Century
  Matthew J. Kinservik

105 Theatrical Fielding
  Thomas Lockwood

115 Editor's Response: Promises and Perils of the Anticanon
  Alexander Pettit

 

 

 

 

 

Polly Stevens Fields

George Lillo and the Victims of Economic Theory1

Most analyses of George Lillo's drama either mention in passing or simply ignore the fact that Lillo adapted his plays from extant works written for a popular audience, rather than writing them from scratch or deriving them from loftier sources, as many of his contemporaries and immediate predecessors did. But although Lillo's plots were not original, the material that Lillo chose to adapt and the manner in which he adapted it reveal much about his stance as social critic and his method as a playwright. Lillo's use of "low" subject matter participates in a larger commitment to what we would now call realism, as does, for example, his preference for speech-patterned prose -- often hackneyed by design -- over traditional dramatic verse.2 Lillo, a jeweler by trade and evidently unashamed of it, read his sources through the "lens" of a social affiliiation disavowed by dramatic tradition. A product of and participant in the European capitalist market, Lillo protrayed the victors and the victims of the mercantile system. His specialized knowledge became the wedge by which he opened and entered old texts, investing them with new socio-economic implications.
Lillo deliberately valorizes the ordinary on epistemological, formal, and thematic levels. The principal subject of this essay, The London Merchant(1731), has its origins in humble sources, for example the broadside "The Excellent Ballad of George Barnewll" (1680?) and the moral tract Youth's Warning Piece (1730). Famously, the tragic protagonist, George Barnwell, is a long way from Aristotelian "greatness," the more strikingly given the prevalence of the Aristotelian strain in eighteenth-century dramatic theory. But the play's origins and its anti-Aristotelian bent do not explain Lillo's interest; rather, they facilitate Lillo's expression of them. In what follows, I argue that Lillo, adapting raw material from and lionizing the subjects of the cheap texts that he had obviously read, presents a focussed consideration of mercantile theory in order to argue against the dominant trend in economics most famously explicated in the work of the theorist John Law (1671-1720).

   The London Merchant concerns the tempatation and fall of the apprentice George Barnwell, who becomes the customer of the prostitute Millwood, a sexual capitalist whose relationship with Barnwell leads him first to commit theft and ultimately to commit parricide. The play considers the impact of ungoverned and unprincipled capitalism on people who, for reasons of gender or birth, were capitalism's victims. Barnwell's story has been told by other critics; my interest is in Millwood's. Through this character, Lillo explores the constructedness of gender and dramatizes the disparity between men and women and the social consequences of women's disenfranchisement from the economic base - more the stuff of Shaw and Ibsen than of (say) Steele and Rowe, with their maidens in distress and their strong male saviors. Millwood's private life, the basis of her forays into captialism, becomes the public and financial motive for the actions that determine the play's outcome. Agency in the play revolves around Millwood, and Millwood is the touchstone for Lillo's thory of economics.
   Oddly, however, not much has been said about Lillo's position with respect to the economic thoriests of his day, although Richard E. Brown and David Wallace have addressed the matter in general terms. We would do well to consider in particular the possibliity of an intellectual relationship between Lillo and Law, one of the most influential economists of the early 1700s and a man who may have been known to Lillo during the latter's tenure as a diamond dealer in his native Holland.3 Law, who had revolutionized economic practices in France and Holland, founded his own bank in Amsterdam and ran it on the principles enumerated in his work, Money and Trade (1709). One of the work's guiding principles is that "money is not the value for which goods are exchanged, but the value by which they are exchanged; the use of money is to buy goods and silver, whilst money is of no other use" (qtd. in Nicholson 136). Setting the "value" for the bank note was the duty of the strong monarchy.
   Law was extremely influential from 1716 to 1720. An early proponent of the wildest sort of free trade, he argued for an economic system with no monopolies, no business taxes, and no recall or demand from the merchants for the coins and jewels deposited, forever, with the governmental bank. Under Law's guidelines, merchants by royal order took all coins and jewels to the bank, in exchange for paper money valued according to the inclination of the monarch. Bank notes, freely available for business loans, could then saturate the market, to great effect and regardless of the amount of gold held by the crown. Theoretically advantageous for trade with colonies, the practice promised feasible methods of free trade among a mother country and her colonies, all using the smae bank notes at the same fixed rate. Buoyed up by his successes in Holland, Law introduced simliar reforms in France, where bank notes, again valued by the monarchy, replaced debased coins. Law's principles prompted the formulation of an economic plan to privatize France's national debt and to flood its coloies with paper money, based or not based on actual gold reserves, as the case may be.
   The system, although aimed at the middle-class merchant's benefit, relied upon an unyielding hierarchy of gevernment; its jurisprudential trimmings are familiar to any student of the means by which capitalism protects its own interests. Because the number of notes in circulation and the rightful possessor of those notes lay at the heart of Law's system, the worst offense against the system was theft. Any discrediting or devaluing of the notes (as by secreting coins to make credit payments) theoretically could contribute to economic ruin. With this in mind, we may begin to see that the connection between theft and social collapse in The London Merchant is something more than over-wrought moralizing; Barnwell's trajectory encodes a fragile but powerful theory of economics that would have been familiar to many of Lillo's contemporaries.
   The play may indeed be a milk-and-water warning for apprentices, but with Law's work in mind we may find in it additionally an echo of Law's belief that apprentices were so many thieving vipers harbored in the great bosom of capitalism. This idea was in the air before Law put pen to paper: A Letter of Advice to the Petitioning Apprentices (1681), for example, refers to insurrectionary apprentices as "Fanatick Pigmies" involved in "Seditious and Scandalous Reflections." Such documents remind us that the operation of "free" workers in the capitalist system were flash-points in a larger debate about capital and property. The alarmist tendencies of Lillo's play may also refer to the dangers to the economic structure presented by economic interlopers trying to destabilize the system articulated most fully by Law.
   This is not to say that Lillo and Law come down on the same side of the question. Barnwell's thievery dramatizes both the threat and the pathos of an indiviual's rebellion against orthodox economic theory. To return to my central claim, it is Millwood who hammers the point home. specifically by rejecting the heirarchical and gender-specific practices of the sort with which the male Barnwell initially claims affiliation. Millwood functions as the play's true protagonist, brought to her extra-legal status by a male-dominated society. Millwood is hardly the "girl who can't say no" from the male fund of fantasy; rather, she knows that her only commodity is her body. A superficial interpretation might present Millwood as an Eve-figure, functioning solely as a temptation for men, who would otherwise be pure and perfect -- certainly this suits the ends of critics who favor the uncluttered "moral" reading. But the play concerns Millwood's refusal to be victimized as a woman and a whore. We may meaningfully regard Millwood, not Barnswell, as "The London Merchant" of the title, for it is through her that Lillo expresses his ideas about mercantile theory. From our first view of Millwood as she systematically solicits Barnwell, whom she has already evaluated in terms of his economic potential, we know her to be synonymous with the London economic scene. Her very name signifies both industrial product and position as "wood" for the patriarchal mill -- cannon fodder, as it were. Although her full name is Sarah Millwood, no one refers to her by her baptismal name; she is identified in the masculine way, Millwood, as her professional name.
   When the play opens, Millwood is conducting business, looking for likely customers and strolling outside her dwelling, her "shop." She entices Barnwell with a blunt sales-pitch: "You'll think me bold . . . What then are your thoughts on love?"(1.5.28-30). Standing nearby, the maid functions as her apprentice, perhaps learning the trade as Millwood would have done, by watching an old hand. The maid's role includes another function, that of the interlocutor whose conversations with Millwood reveal Millwood's affluence to the audience and to Barnwell; we learn from her that Millwood possesses fine linens, furniture, and other testimonials to her business acumen.
    Through her entrepreneurial efforts, Millwood's product is paid for with currency at the fair rate; she understands supply and demand. Although she has plenty, she, like the merchant barons, wants more. Millwood also "mirror[s]" Barnwell in having served her apprenticeship among the capitalist baron merchants of London (4.18.6). And, like Defoe's Moll Flanders, she has learned and benefited from the lesson forced upon her by the non-commercial surrender of her virginity. Confronting the successful capitalist Thorowgood in act 4, Millwood recounts her past using a mercantile vocabulary of profit and loss in response to Thorowgood's notice of her "uncommon perfections of mind and body" (4.18.9-10):
I curse your barbarous sex who robbed me of 'em, ere I knew their worth, then left me, too late, to count their value by their loss. Another and another spoiler came; and all my gain was poverty and reproach. . . . Riches, no matter by what means obtained, I saw secured the worst of men from both, I found it, therefore, necessary to be rich. (4.18.11-18)
   Why, then, she asks, can a woman not achieve the same through participation in economic life? Millwood has turned social hypocrisy to her own advantage and sells the only commodity she has. Referring to men as "spoilers," she places the blame on those merchant explorers who, like Thorowgood, pillage new lands (1.3.24-26). No longer colonized by those "spoilers" who would consume her parts without paying, she comes to speak of herself in terms of worth, as a business that she has the right to sell or to withhold until a better price is offered.
   Millwood's speeches reveal that the prostitute has absorbed the language of the bazaar from her customers and that she moves with ease on both sides of the counter, so to speak. A consumer, she has become a purveyor, too, on the same capitalist principles as her customers. Millwood has seen the emperor (in this case, the merchant) unclothed, and her contempt leads her to say, "I hate you all! I know you, and expect no mercy -- Nay, I ask for none: I have done nothing that I am sorry for. I followed my inclinations, and that the best of you does every day" (4.18.40-42). The prostitute puts the theories of supply and demand and participation of a free markeplace to the test at a fundamental level. Using her body for her collateral, she has attempted to become part of the economic system, to gain monetary control, to invest in herself.
   At the play's beginning, we see Millwood as the outsider, the marginal person whose gender places her outside the mainstream economic structure defined by bonds of "love" between men, to use a term employed several times by Barnwell. Millwood defines the loss brought on by the exclusion in economic terms: "What have I lost by being formed a woman! I hate my sex, myself. Had I been a man, I might perhaps, have been as happy in your friendship, as he who now enjoys it" (1.5.46-48) Millwood's early recognition of her place outside the masculine commercial epicenter brings with it the fact that her womanhood denies her even the common markeplace association of which Barnwell speaks. Love, in his terminology, occurs between men; he can think of women only in sexual terms. Barnwell "loves" his master, and he especially "loves" Trueman (1.5.37-38). As for loving women, he has "not thought of it" (1.5.31). This is a strange remark: Barnwell and his master's daughter, Maria, are evidently promised to one another. Maria, therefore, is for Barnwell part of the business bargain, a profit, a perquisite that attends his arrangement as apprentice, perhaps Thorowgood's judicious bribe to retain his services -- just as Barnwell is for Millwood the business bargain, a profit, a perquisite of her commercial life. And it may be that Barnwell's omission of Maria as "love" object says something about Millwood, something that she herself knows. Her "loss," which she discusses in economic terms, arises from what she is, not from what she does, and she knows that she would be marginalized even if she were the most pious of women, like Maria. Literally beneath proper masculine notice, she realizes that she, like Maria, exists outside the charmed circle of masculine "love," a clubbish space defined by a shared commitment to legal financial gain.
   Trueman does not appear in any of the early accounts of George Barnwell. In Lillo's adaptation he manifests a great attraction toward Barnwell: his three-way role of confidante, caretaker, and "lover" of Barnwell often places him center-stage as he interacts intimately with Barnwell. Their exemplum of male bonding reaches a state of near-ecstasy when, flinging himself to the floor beside the distraught Barnwell, Trueman says, "Our mutual groans shall echo to each other through the dreary vaults" (5.5.42-43), to which Barnwell replies, "Pour all your griefs into my breast, and in exchange take mine" (5.5.47-48). Our lingering view of the pair, stretched out in an embrace on the floor, includes an intimate clasping of bodies as the two men engage in an "intercourse of woe" (5.5.46-47).
   Trueman's motivation for monitoring Barnwell's activites could be viewd as jealousy of Millwood. At one point, he spitefully says she is not much of a woman (4.17.4). But whatever the true nature of the strong attraction between Trueman and Barnwell, their economic and masculine bond, unlike Barnwell's bond with Millwood, finds acceptance within the hierarchy of capitalist practices. Above all, Barnwell's and Trueman's declarations of love and sharing remain "mannerly," a quality much recommended for apprentices in A Letter of Advice to the Petitioning Apprentices, where, in summing up the rebel-apprentices' offenses, the author calls on God to help them see "the evil of [their] ways, and the unmannerliness of [their] proceedings" (2). Elsewhere, the restiveness of the apprentices is attributed to "ill manners," and the pamphleteer hopes ultimately to find "[a] just shame flowing from the unmannerliness" of their actions (2). In this document, the idea of personal morality, as opposed to behavior dictated by the Apprentice Articles, seems beside the point, just as it does in the case of the shared intimacy of Trueman and Barnwell.
   Trueman also gives us the only appraisal of Millwood, since all we know of Barnwell's attitudes lies in his actions and words toward her. Trueman's cool objectivity precludes any personal inclination toward Millwood's charms, although he remarks about Millwood that she possesses "uncommon perfections of mind and body" (4.17.9-10). This description would seem to make her the mirror image of Barnwell, similarly "perfect" but, interestingly, the site of transgression as Barnwell had not been.
   After their first intimacies, Barnwell himself determines that Millwood will destroy his peace. Without her, he is pure; now that he has met her, she, like Eve, has brought knowledge, specifically the knowledge that his perfect mercantile society is seriously flawed. As we have seen, she is honest about her status as transgressive tradeswoman, and he begins to understand the insight she has revealed: the systems works, but the system claims victims, too. Perhaps it is this shock that makes him uneasy, not just her dangerous sexuality. He says, "I feel desires I never knew before. I must be gone while I have power to go" (1.5.57-59).
   Millwood defines quite differently the evil that Barnwell would attribute to female sexual powers and biological determination. She excoriates society for its male domination and its hypocrisy: "What are your laws, of which you make boast, but . . . the instrument and screen of all your villainies by which you punish in others what you act yourselves. . . . Thus you go on deceiving and being deceived, harassing, plaguing, and destroying one another, but women are your universal prey" (4.18.60-68). The heart of her argument, of course, concerns theis particular aspect of socio-sexual existence. Without preying upon women and the poor, the legal and mercantile systems would cease to function; the mainstream is valid only in its ability to reject those who would enter it. The depiction of Millwood as a (sexual) purveyor whose customers include civic leaders, infallible in their sacerdotal exclusions, gives her inner knowledge of political, economic, social, and moral laws directed against women. She says, "Men of all degrees and all professions I have known, yet found no difference but in their several capacities. All were alike wicked to the utmost of their power. In pride, contention, avarice, cruelty, and revenge the reverend priesthood were my unerring guides" (4.18.22-26). Moreover, Millwood evaluates men only by their parts. In the usual close association of penis and scepter, Millwood's evaluation would, of course, rearrange the hierarchy, for, as she says about men at the top and elsewhere, she has "yet found no difference but in thier several capacities" (4.18.23). One might argue that Lillo's reference concerns mental or physical capacities, but I would not care to do so. Millwood's shrewdness and occupation would make her a prime judge of one specific male capacity, toally unrelated to mind or morals. She refers to her particular tradesman-like knowledge whe she says that sex, "like darkness and death, blackens all objects and levels all distinction" (4.18.31-32).
   These words bear yet another meaning when Millwood is sentenced to die for her crime of conspiracy to murder. Underscoring her death, we may see John Law's economic theories with the theft of notes being the most dangerous threat to the economy. Although she does not personally steal the notes in question, she arguably instigates their theft. To the last, in Lillo's adaptation as in the other earlier renditions of the Barnwell story, Millwood is not repentant as men would have her be, and she rejects even Barnwell's pleas to confess before she dies. Lillo treats Millwood's heroism and dignity seriously, and we ought not to ignore the feminism with which he invests this character. Millwood passes on the responsibilities of the feminist economic cause to "future Millwoods" (4.18.78), whom she foresees as refusing to acknowledge economic and social definitions that play into the systematic disenfranchisement of women. Her inclusion of the words "labor" and "ruin" in her gallows speech suggests the bankruptcy of the current economic system. Competition is cutthroat, with men knowledgeable about "a thousand ways" to defeat a competitor trying to get a foothold in the system. Generally interpreted as sexual "arts," the reference here could well be economic "arts" of the marketplace:
Women, by whom you are, the source of joy,
With cruel arts you labor to destroy:
A thousand ways our ruin you pursue,
Yet blame in us those arts first taught by you. (4.18.69-72)
   The death scenes at the end of early versions of the tale, such as the broadside and Youth's Warning Piece, ascribe a similar defiance to the dying Millwood. One is struck with the nobility of her refusal to submit to the prevailing hypocrisy. Barnwell, especially in the broadside, preaches his gallows sermon about sin and consequences, but Millwood won't budge from her refusal to play into the expectations of the crowd around her. No woodcut or illustration of her death occurs in the ephemeral sources that convey the story before and after the date of Lillo's play, except in Youth's Warning Piece, which shows in a tiny last-page woodcut Millwood dead, hanging by her neck, but without the courtesy usually afforded a "decent" woman - tying her skirt around her ankles before she is hanged. My guess is that Lillo would have resented the snub.
   In view of the richness of The London Merchant, we might wonder at the narrow interpretation of the play as simply a conduct piece. By way of contrast, I have been arguing that The London Merchant is not just a morality play about loyalty in the economic system and avoidance of the wiles of loose women but, rather, a play that concerns the woman herself as both capitalistic practitioner and victim of capitalism. The point gains in force when we apply it to Lillo's later play, Guilt Its Own Punishment: or, Fatal Curiosity (1736), first staged at Henry Fielding's unlicensed Little Theater. Fielding promoted the play to the best of his (usually impressive) ability, but in spite of such advantages as the presence of Charlotte Charke in the role of Agnes, the play was not a success.4 I propose that the play failed because it lacked the comfortable superficial morality of The London Merchant and thereby foregrounded the element of protest that was more covert in the earlier work.
   An overview of the plot of Fatal Curiosity demonstrates the similarities between that play and The London Merchant -- both plays create an economic and social reality of decay and rottenness. Another adaptation by Lillo, based on a true story, Fatal Curiosity is set in Penryn, a coastal town in Cornwall where citizens lure ships to disaster in order to steal goods from them and thereby to become a successful part of the mercantile system. A merchant and his wife who have lost all their money, Old Wilmot and Agnes, are ignored by their former friends and, unwilling to accept their fate, live in the shambles of their fallen grandeur, tended to by a single servant. After an absence of seven years, Young Wilmot returns to Penryn as a rich merchant, although he hides his identity from the villagers. Agnes, aided reluctantly by Old Wilmot, kills the young "outsider" in order to obtain his casket of jewels; and, too late, they discover him to be their son.
   While there is no one single image of the established merchant prince such as we find in The London Merchant, Lillo achieves the depiction through a series of characters, most of whom we do not see. Agnes, appearing in worn and unfashionable finery, refers to her rich merchant "friends" who will no longer acknowledge her, and we are permitted to view the wealthy merchant class indirectly through Agnes's eyes:
'Tis Misery enough to be reduced
To the low level of the common herd,
Who, born to begg'ry, envy all above them,
But 'tis the curse of curses, to endure
The insolent contempt of those we scorn. (1.2.109-13)
   Although Old Wilmot takes refuge in philosophy, Agnes remains arrogant, and "her faded dress . . . / As ill conceals her poverty as that / Strained complaisance her haughty, swelling heart" (1.2.98-100). Formed and warped by society and economics, Agnes determines the course of the play as she strives to regain her wealth. The London Merchant only features a jade as a woman character, but Fatal Curiosity incorporates a series of women who portray other feminine roles: wife, mother, maid. Young Wilmot's sweetheart, Charlotte, for example, is identified by her sexual chastity and does not really rise above her image as unsold virgin.
   Lillo, however, invests his dramatic meaning in Agnes; she is the social scapegoat. At first glance, she does not seem closely to resemble Millwood in The London Merchant, but there are meaningful points of similarity. Agnes, whose "fatal curiosity" dominates the action of the play, steals the jewels, kills her son to regain her status, and knows that only money counts in this society. Like Millwood, she realizes that she is a loser in the economic system, marginalized not only as a woman but as a poor woman with no legitimate way of making money. So far from adhering to the male stereotype of wife and mother, Agnes does not even bother to reject the notion; she no longer sees biology as a limiting factor. Her husband sees her womb as "sterile" (2.3.66), thereby calling attention to the fact that she is past child-bearing, which makes her useless and asexual in the male culture. It is noteworthy that her husband makes the point; Agnes herself does not do so, so we are left to assume that she does not regard it as in any way definitional. Her moral focus is elsewhere, as we learn when she presents herself as capable of committing murder: "'Tis less impiety, less against nature, / To take another's life, than end our own" (3.1.86-87). When Old Wilmot realizes that he cannot distinguish between "the less or greater," Agnes turns on him with her real complaint: "Thou most remorseless, most ungrateful man! / . . . / To drive me to despair, and then reproach me / For being what thou'st made me!" (3.1.131-34). Her complaint is just, and Lillo means us to see as much.
   Neither conscience nor religion plays a part in Agnes's decision to kill and prosper; like Millwood, she subscribes to the merchant ethic of "money at all costs." She refuses to remain a loser and strives to accumulate the capital that she believes will allow her access to the dominant system. The casket of jewels, like the jewels being exchanged in Law's France for bank notes, represents solid value for Agnes. Because she had an opportunity to lay hands on the old, tangible wealth -- the real wealth -- she no longer trusts a system of trade and promises. She could say as Millwood does, "I have done nothing I am sorry for. I followed my inclinations, and that the best of you does every day" (London Merchant, 4.18.41-42).
   The play perhaps cuts a bit too close to the bone by stressing the fact that so much money, in effect earned by the blood of others, accumulates in the hands of so few; a jolt accompanies our encounter in 1736 with the ultimately familiar Dickensian idea that unchecked capitalism grinds down its victims to the point of desperation. And, again, victimage is the lot of the woman, not of putatively "tragic" male characters like Barnwell and Young Wilmot. Indeed, Young Wilmot, the successful merchant son who sneaks back in disguise and tantalizes his parents with jewels, is an unpleasant character, no better than the Cornwall looters. One of the new-breed merchants in the colonies, the son bears the mark of Cain on his dark face: "The hardships you've endured / And your long stay beneath the burning zone, / . . . . / Have marred the native hue of your complexion," his friend Eustace observes (1.3.113-16). Young Wilmot believes that money gives him the right to determine what is best for his inferiors, including his parents. One of the play's strong messages concerns the role of the son in bringing about his own death at the hands of the losers in the system; Lillo's use of an intrafamilial murder -- always a loaded subject -- indicates something of the extent to which Lillo was willing to go to press his point about the desturection not of Young Wilmot but of Agnes herself.
   Agnes is killed in turn by Old Wilmot, who says to her, "Die thou first, / I dare not trust thy weakness" (3.1.243-44). The strange comment bears severaal interpretations, the first being that, like Eve, she is too evil to escape punishment. Second, his words imply that she will not kill herself, and he speaks in cosmic terms, implying that he is God's executioner, for "Heaven" is "incensed" by Agnes's action (3.1.243). He eventually commits suicide and, dying, says, "We brought this dreadful ruin on ourselves. / Mankind may learn . . ." (3.1.300-01). But Agnes already had learned; it is Old Wilmot who doesn't get it -- Agnes, the economic lamb and sacrificial goat, has carried to a logical extension the principles of the Penryn financial base of murder as a business venture. At the end, the murder of their son is caused not by the losers' poverty but by her wit to carry out the local economic practices on a personal scale as well as by her desperation to regain her status in the economic system.
   Critical of the new society -- yet not nostalgic for old traditions -- and a steely observer of the European economic fervor initiated by John Law, Lillo studies social reality by focusing on characters victimized by their gender or class, The London Merchant and Fatal Curiosity examine the forlorn and hopeless state of the detritus of capitalist society, drawing on the sanctioned economic practices of London and the illegal ones of Cornwall and employing female iconoclasts to point up some of the fallacies underlying contemporary economic theory. It is perhaps not surprising that many critics have latched onto comfortable "moral" readings of The London Merchant and shied away from Fatal Curiosity; these plays, preeminently, are uncomfortable, as I suspect Lillo intended them to be.

 

Notes

1 I would like to thank Fred Michels and his colleagues at the Shouldice Library, Lake Superior State University; Suzanne Tatian, Stephen Tabor, and their staff at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, UCLA; and, for her contribution to my work on Lillo's Millwood, the late Josephine Roberts.
2 Henry Fielding's prologue to Fatal Curiosity emphasizes Lillo's adaptations and celebrates his technique in The London Merchant: "From Lower Life we draw our scene's distress. / Let not your equals move your pity less. / Virtue distrest in humble State support . . ." (11-13).
3 See also Beckerman 209-28, Burke 347-66, and Pedicord 401-02. For Lillo's treatment of female characters, see, e.g., Wallace, who mentions in passing that "for Millwood's sexuality has a purely instrumental function: it is the means by which to realize socio-economic goals" (136). See also Booth vii-xiii, Drucker 42-43, Fein 17-25, Flores 91-102, Hammer 81-94, and Laura Brown 86-88. For detailed accounts of Law's economic theory, see Wood, Nicholson, and both parts of Davis's essay.
4 Davies accounts for the play's lack of success by noting that it was "brought on in the latter part of the season, when the public had been satiated with a long run of [Fielding's] Pasquin"; but he adds that "it is with pleasure I observe that Fielding generously persisted to serve the man he had once espoused; he tacked the 'Fatal Curiosity' to his Historical Register which was played with great success in the ensuing winter" (1: xxxv).

 

Works Cited

Beckerman, Bernard. "Schemes of Show: A Search for Critical Norms." The Stage and the Page; London's "Whole Show" in the Eighteenth-Century Theatre. Ed. George Winchester Stone. Berkely: U of California P, 1981, 209-88.

Booth, Michael. Introduction, Eighteenth-Centurey Tragedy. London: Oxford UP, 1965, vii-xiii.

Brown, Laura. Ends of Empire: Women and Ideology in Early Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993.

Brown, Richard E. "Rival Socio-Economic Theories in Two Plays by George Lillo." Tennessee Studies in Literature 24 (1979): 94-110.

Burke, Helen. "The London Merchant and Eighteenth-Century Law." Philological Quarterly 73 (1994):347-66

Davies, Thomas. "Some Account of the Life of Mr. George Lillo." The Works of Mr. George Lillo. Vol. 1. London, 1775, ix-xlviii.

Davis, Andrew McFarland. "An Historical Study of Law's System Part I." Quarterly Journal of Economics (1887):289-318.

_____. ""An Historical Study of Law's System Part II." Quarterly Journal of Economics (1887):420-52.

Drucker, Trudy. "Lillo's Liberated Women." Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research 1 (1986): 42-43.

Fein, Mara "George Lillo's The London Merchant and Feminist Debate." Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research 6 (1992): 17-25.

Flores, Stephan. "Mastering the Self: The Ideological Incorporation of Desire in Lillo's The London Merchant." Essays in Theatre 5 (1987):91-102.

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