Protagonists of Production in Preindustrial European Literature (1700-1800)

Male and Female Entrepreneurs, Craftspeople, and Workers

by Beatrice Schuchardt (Volume editor) Christian von Tschilschke (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 372 Pages
Open Access


What form did the portrayal of business owners, entrepreneurs, peasants, craftspeople and similar ‘protagonists of production’ take before it became the subject of negative assessments in the epoch of industrialization? Focusing on the European Enlightenment movement with a special emphasis on Spain, this volume sheds light on how both male and female figures working in production are represented by novels, plays, economic tracts and in the press. Literary scholars, historians, and economists analyse how those portrayals are related to the history of economic thought, 18th-century economic discourse, and enlightened Political Economy. With an epilogue by Deirdre McCloskey.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Prologue (Thomas Apolte)
  • Introduction: European Enlightenment as the Era of Both Male and Female Protagonists of Production (1700–1800) (Beatrice Schuchardt and Christian von Tschilschke)
  • Section 1 Historical and Theoretical Groundings
  • From otium to nec-otium: Vile Trades, Dishonorable Entrepreneurs. The Case of Spain (Joaquín Ocampo Suárez-Valdés and Patricia Suárez Cano)
  • Poverty Between Dignity and Criminalization in Early-Modern France and Spain: Attempts to Include and Exclude the Poor (Manfred Tietz)
  • The Nation as Economic Agent in Eighteenth-Century Spanish Apologetic Texts (Andreas Gelz)
  • Section 2 Male Protagonists of Trade and Industry: Of Businessmen and Entrepreneurs
  • The Dictionnaire universel de commerce (1723) and Savary’s Mercantilism in the Writings of Carl Günther Ludovici (Christoph Strosetzki)
  • Doing Business in the Spanish Antiguo Régimen: The Case of Juan de Goyeneche y Gastón: Between Profit, Heroism and Political Commitment (Jan-Henrik Witthaus)
  • Business and Businessmen in Eighteenth-Century Spanish Drama (María Jesús García Garrosa)
  • Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, Rousseau’s Emile, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe: The Embarrassment of Choosing a Profession (Claire Pignol)
  • Between State-Managed Reforms and Private Utopia: The Entrepreneurial Projects of Pablo de Olavide (Christian von Tschilschke)
  • Section 3 Female Protagonists of Production
  • Two Women, Two Ways: Economy and Theater in Enlightenment Spain (David T. Gies)
  • Maja’s Labors Lost in Ramón de la Cruz’s sainetes (Ana Hontanilla)
  • Work It, Baby! Economics and Emotions on the Marriage Market in Goldoni’s La Locandiera and Trilogia della villeggiatura (Esther Schomacher)
  • Section 4 Economic Protagonists of Both Sexes
  • Staging Spanish Political Economy as Figural Types: From Civilian Heroes to Male and Female Protagonists of Production (Beatrice Schuchardt)
  • “Spectatorial” Entrepreneurs in the Moral Essays of the 18th Century (Klaus-Dieter Ertler)
  • Section 5 Robinsonades
  • Robinson Crusoe’s Economy (Nils Goldschmidt and Hermann Rauchenschwandtner)
  • The Literary Genealogy of the Working Man: From Early Modern Castaways and Settlers to Robinson Crusoe (Urs Urban)
  • Defoe, Economically Constructed Property, and Reputational Credit (Natalie Roxburgh)
  • Section 6 Protagonists of Agriculture and the Influence of Physiocracy
  • Nature as a Protagonist of Production in Jovellanos’s Informe de Ley Agraria and Diario – A “Measurement of the Sublime” (Susanne Schlünder)
  • Pastoral Economies. Natural vs. Human Productivity in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul et Virginie (Annika Nickenig)
  • An Idealistic, but Failing Protagonist of Production: Claude-François-Adrien de Lezay-Marnésia and His Physiocratic Project in the New World (Anna Isabell Wörsdörfer)
  • Epilogue: The Literary Liberalism of the Bourgeoise (Deirdre Nansen McCloskey)
  • Notes on Contributors

←8 | 9→
Thomas Apolte


Economic agents do not have the best reputation, neither in a broader public nor in the arts. This is somewhat astonishing in light of the fact that we are all economic agents of sorts. It is even a truism among economists that any sort of decision we can conceive of is, inter alia, always and everywhere an economic decision. After all, making a decision implies that we have alternatives to choose from, and choosing among alternatives in a consistent manner is, by an economist’s definition, an economic decision. Still, economic decisions are widely perceived as ethically objectionable in public.

Obviously, economists and most non-economists look at economic processes, economic decisions, and economic actors from a very different angle, and that traces back to the very definition of what an economic decision is all about. Starting from here, the different angles shape our particular perceptions about all sorts of real-world economic phenomena, and that works itself through our epistemic processes, all the way to the point where we reach those agents that instigate and promote industrial production processes. Typically, the modern-day reservations against the protagonists of production are grounded in often exceptionally high incomes, if only of those that became publicly visible, which, at the same time, are those relatively few who turned out to be successful in their economic endeavors. It is quite common to perceive the thus generated wealth of successful entrepreneurs as unjust and rooted in ruthless exploitation of the poor, consistently pursued in a process of cold-hearted economic decision-making. Naturally, then, the world would be a better place if only we limited the scope of economic decisions, and here we come full circle.

Against this background, it is striking to learn that the image of the protagonists of production has not always looked like it looks today. Rather, it was subject to substantial changes over time, and this did indeed come as a surprise to me. In particular, the early industrial revolution and the labor movement that emerged in the course of the rapid and disruptive process of industrialization seem to have played a crucial role. On the one hand, this is not overly surprising. On the other hand, though, assigning a generally positive and negative image of the protagonists of production to the time before and after the first industrial revolution, respectively, would be far too simple-minded.←9 | 10→

An intriguing way to reach a more colorful and informative picture of the evolution of the image of protagonists of production is to dig into the history of literary art and fiction around the industrial revolution, and this is precisely what the project “Protagonists of Production” did. The result was a wonderful conference held in November 2019 at the University of Münster, skillfully organized and hosted by Beatrice Schuchardt and Christian von Tschilschke of the Department of Romance Studies at the University of Münster. Beatrice contacted me earlier that year and asked me if I might consider letting our Center for Interdisciplinary Economics be a partner of the official hosts. It didn’t take much persuasion to convince my colleagues at our Center to gladly accept. As a result, we can today take pride in having been part of a conference that was exceptional and inspiring in almost every respect.

It is of course far beyond the scope of expertise of an economist like me to evaluate the competence and authority of those many national and international participants that stem from philology. Still, from what I saw and heard in their contributions I can only say that I was impressed. On top of that, the organizers managed to win Deirdre McCloskey, the one scholar that must come first to the mind of economists and philologists alike for a conference like this, since she is famous for having contributed widely acknowledged and fascinating insights to both academic disciplines.

The organizers did a wonderful job in conceptualizing and organizing a conference that will remain with all of us as something exceptional. It would have been all the more pitiful if the results of the conference had not somehow been made available to the public. I am hence delighted that the protagonists of the production of this volume can now present the result of their stupendous work to a broad audience of those that participated in the conference and those that could not. The volume is the outcome of an outstanding piece of interdisciplinary scholarship, which is extraordinary not least since it bridges the expertise of academic disciplines that could hardly be more remote from each other in terms of the topics they cover, the methodology, and not least the respective academic traditions. We, the members of the Center of Interdisciplinary Economics, are proud to have been part of this truly remarkable project.

←10 | 11→
Beatrice Schuchardt and Christian von Tschilschke

Introduction: European Enlightenment as the Era of Both Male and Female Protagonists of Production (1700–1800)

1. Why talk about “Protagonists of Production”?

On the literary stage, business owners are primarily shown in a negative light. They seldom appear as protagonists but make particularly common antagonists. Recurrent topoi of this biased literary portrayal are the themes of entrepreneur “in a tight spot”1 and that of the “exploitative capitalist.”2 From a historical perspective, the widespread belief “of the crookedness of bosses, industrialists and business owners”3 is primarily a consequence of the onset of the industrial revolution in the 19th century and of the political ideologies reacting to this development. But what form did the literary picture of business owners take before it became the subject of primarily negative assessments in the epoch of industrialization?

The present volume focuses on this question, which has, up to now, rarely been asked, by concentrating on systematic, diachronic, and comparative research into literary portrayals of business owners and other representatives of the production industry in the literature, press, and economic tracts of Spain, England, France, Italy, and Germany written in the 18th century. In this context, the term “entrepreneur,” which at this time remained semantically unstable, is also to be examined and given greater conceptual clarity. Thus, the present volume intends to offer an interdisciplinary, both literary and economic perspective on pre- and early industrial conditions in 18th-century Europe.

As will be shown, in this heroic and experimental epoch of production, such portrayals of people involved in economic and production processes were not limited to the exploiter-exploited dichotomy but encompassed a much wider ←11 | 12→field, including not only industrialists and the workers they employed, but also craftspeople, the self-employed, farmers and agricultural workers. Before the “specter of capital”4 began to dominate in the literature of the 19th century and beyond, representatives of professions in the field of production became significant social role models during the epoch of the Enlightenment. Business owners, workers, craftspeople and farmers all turned into “economic heroes,” characters who were designed to be looked up to, creating a situation unique in the history of literature. Furthermore, as the gender hierarchy started to change in the 18th century, attention was paid for the first time to female protagonists in their roles as professionals in the field of production.

The eighteen contributions collected in this volume go back to the interdisciplinary conference “Protagonists of Production. Staging male and female entrepreneurs, craftspeople and workers in preindustrial Spanish and European economic tracts, literature and press (1700–1800),” which took place from November 6–9, 2019, at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster (Germany) and brought together numerous literary scholars, economic historians and economists from Austria, France, Germany, Spain, and the USA, researchers who all share the research field of economics and literature.5 Specifically, the conference set out to examine the following leading questions:

1.What caused the discursive upgrading of the production sector in the preindustrial period?

2.Which relationships exist between ideas to be found in economic theory, as seen in 18th-century economic tracts, and the portrayals of protagonists of production in the press and in entertainment media of the Enlightenment such as theatre and the novel?

3.How are the male and, especially, female protagonists of production portrayed in the press, theatre and novels of the 18th century?

4.In what way are the press, theatre and novels used for propaganda purposes by the new political economy of the Enlightenment and to what extent do they resist or question the main discourses of political power?


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2022 (August)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 372 pp., 5 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Beatrice Schuchardt (Volume editor) Christian von Tschilschke (Volume editor)

Beatrice Schuchardt is a scholar of Spanish and French Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Dresden, Germany. Her areas of interests include the anthropologization of enlightened economic theory in Spanish 18th century theatre, Latin American media icons, Postcolonial Theory, trauma and dictatorship in Latin American detective novels, and performance subjects in the genre of Spanish, Latin American and French epistomail. Christian von Tschilschke holds the chair of Romance Literary Studies (Spanish) at the University of Münster, Germany. His research interests include the relationship between literature and media (film/television), theory and practices of intermediality, documentarism and docufiction, French, Spanish and Latin-American cinema, Spanish literature and culture of the 18th century, French and Spanish contemporary literature as well as the Spanish discourse about Africa.


Title: Protagonists of Production in Preindustrial European Literature (1700-1800)
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