Paul Fyfe, "Accidents of a Novel Trade: Industrial Catastrophe, Fire Insurance, and Mary Barton"(pp. 315–347)

This essay argues for the industrial novel as a form of risk management, in dialog with the insurance business and its particular problems with fire. elizabeth Gaskell's abiding concerns for workplace accidents and compensation in Mary Barton (1848), focused by a spectacular mill fire, contests the definition and "writing"of risk on commercial terrain. At the same time, various fire insurers, scrambling to manage a risk that seemed beyond control, invented hybrid strategies of description that impinged on the domain of novelists. I demonstrate how changing concepts of accident and risk characterize the unstable political landscape of England's industrial north, measure the increasingly material pressures on property and life, and inform diverse practices of writing, particularly those that novelists shared with the insurance industry. ultimately, the "queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary"for which Henry James denigrates the Victorian novel may derive from such historical circumstances in which writers like Gaskell absorb accidents as a practice of the genre.

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