Brian Goldberg, “Debt, Taxes, and Reform in Walter Scott’s Count Robert of Paris” (pp. 343–368)
Walter Scott’s Count Robert of Paris (1831) treats “debt” in a way determined by the author’s response to the Reform Crisis of 1830–1832. Scott’s solution to the reformist impulse was the reintroduction of the income tax. He believed that an income tax would give the nation’s elites an opportunity to acknowledge their duties and contribute their fair share toward the payment of the national war debt, thus stabilizing the economy and eliminating a crucial motive for reform legislation. Count Robert of Paris reimagines this solution by translating the nation’s relationship to government debt into a system of personal indebtedness. While the novel’s main characters, the Anglo-Saxon mercenary Hereward and the Crusader Count Robert, assume their roles in a working hierarchy through the assumption and discharge of debt, these developments take place in a dystopian fictional world that reflects Scott’s apprehensions about reform. In Count Robert’s late-eleventh-century Constantinople, leaders evade responsibility, justice is inscrutable or impossible to achieve, and the city is populated by Crusaders and Byzantines who are unwilling or unable to recognize or pay what they owe.