The Woman Proprietor in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s The Silent Partner: Social Reform Novel as Paradigm of John Stuart Mill’s Liberal Political Economy

  • Julia P. McLeod
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Culture and Economics book series (PSLCE)


Phelps’s 1870 The Silent Partner portrays a businesswoman who engages with John Stuart Mill’s liberal political economic theories to question the prevailing laissez-faire conditions of American industrialism, offering an original worldview and a moral and ethical vindication of new roles for women wishing to participate fully in the late-nineteenth-century’s business (rather than the culturally prescribed domestic) sphere. The novel seeks to educate middle-class readers in the injustices of industrial capitalism and to propose a possible, if ultimately faltering, alternative to exploitive capitalism based on Mill’s ideas of individual development and empathy to accomplish collective good. By demonstrating women’s interest and capacity for business enterprise, Phelps’s novel pioneers the social and industrial inquiries later launched by the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century.


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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia P. McLeod
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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