This essay explores a particular moment in the history of commodity fetishism by means of an examination of Frances Burney's The Wanderer (1814). The novel, which is explicitly concerned with the social changes facing early-nineteenth-century England, reveals that at this historical moment the commodity inspired emotions of a particular kind: it was idealized and perceived as attractively individualized, aloof, exotic, and changeable, and it elicited a passionate and sometimes even painful form of desire. In The Wanderer Burney explores the human repercussions of this new way of engaging with objects in the marketplace. She reveals, moreover, the extent to which the fetishism of the commodity reflected not just developments within the economy but also political change: under the influence of the French Revolution the charisma once generated by social status was transferred to the economic realm, where, embodied in the commodity, it gave rise to a pleasurable but masochistic reverence. Burney'sargument for the usefulness of economic independence necessarily leads her to appreciate the commodity fetishism she describes: even while she develops a labor theory of value, Burney promotes a mystification of the commodity by insisting on the aloof independence of both labor and its products. Thus, Burney uses the apparent autonomy of things——which Marx decries——as a means to argue for the autonomy of the makers of those things.
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