The Character of Credit: Personal Debt in English Culture, 1740-1914

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Personal credit relations were ubiquitous in English consumer markets, binding family members, friends, neighbours, customers and tradesmen in tangled lines of mutual obligation. In this study of the social history of personal debt and credit, Margot Finn reveals the pre-eminence of social individuals - men, women and children whose ability to engage in credit contracts was contingent upon their dependent social status. Using a wide range of printed and manuscript sources, and paying particular attention to distinctions of gender and of class, Finn examines English consumer culture from three interlocking perspectives: representations of debt in novels, diaries and autobiographical memoirs; the transformation of imprisonment for debt; and the use of small claims courts to mediate disputes between debtors and creditors. This major study of personal debt from 1740 to 1914 will appeal to social, legal and cultural historians, literary scholars and those interested in the history of consumer culture.