“The Ghost in the Account Book” claims that the imperial fiction of Joseph Conrad and William Faulkner rejects accounting as a totalizing logic and, by extension, questions the English novel's complicity in propagating faith in that false logic. Accounting, which had remained unobtrusively immanent to realist novels of empire such as Mansfield Park and Great Expectations, surfaces to the diegetic level and becomes available for critical scrutiny in high modernist novels such as Heart of Darkness or Absalom, Absalom! Drawing from writings by Max Weber (on guarantees of calculability) and Mary Poovey (on the accuracy effect), this essay attends to the dandy accountant of Heart of Darkness, the accretive narrative structure of Nostromo, and Shreve's recasting of Sutpen's life as a debtor's farce in Absalom, Absalom! If Conrad bluntly equates accounting with lying, Faulkner reveals secrets elided in rows of debit and credit one by one as sensational truths; to those ends, both writers invoke Gothic conventions. By dispatching the totalizing technique that had been invented by early modern merchants and finessed by realist novelists to generate faith in a stable fiduciary community, Conrad and Faulkner impel the invention of newer forms and figures with which to express the new imperial (and later, postcolonial) world order.

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