California and the Fictions of Capital

George Henderson
Book Cover

PB: $31.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-198-3
Publication: Feb 03

304 pages
6.125 x 9.25
11 tables 7 maps 7 figures 6 halftones

The development and meaning of agriculture in late-19th century California

Read the Introduction and an excerpt from Part I (pdf).


In part a tour of California as a virtual laboratory for refining the circulation of capital, and in part an investigation of how the state's literati, with rare exception, reconceived economy in the name of class, gender, and racial privilege, this study will appeal to all students and scholars of California's—and the American West's—economic, environmental, and cultural past.


"From its first wonderful line—'although he was already dead, Frank Norris had a good year in 1909'—to its final question about the role of literature in social change, California and the Fictions of Capital is a brilliant book." Antipode

"George L. Henderson harnesses two subjects that would pull an ordinary book apart. On the one hand, California and the Fictions of Capital is a work of criticism with its purpose fixed on a number of pastoral novels set in California...On the other hand, it is a work of geography and economic theory, asserting that the circulation of capital through agriculture is the best way to understand the rise of a modern industrial countryside in California...the two work together to form a convincing picture of place...Henderson reads with an eye as sharp as any I have seen." The Journal of American History

"It is the best historical geography of regional agricultural development available... It finally fulfills the promise of putting theories of space and spatiality at the center of literary criticism, adding a new level of sophistication to the burgeoning cultural studies interest in the relationship between space and representation. And it makes a vitally important contribution to California Studies by providing a means to understand the complex relationship between 'race,' general regional culture, and political economy. On top of that, Henderson writes with admirable clarity and a great deal of panache." Antipode

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Alchemy of Capital and Nature
Why the Late Nineteenth-Century Countryside?
The Discourse of Rural Realism
Why Rural Realism, Why the Novel?
Stalking the Interdisciplinary Wilds

Reference Maps

Part I: Making Geographies

1. Rural Commodity Ragtimes: A Primer
The Logics and Illogics of Production: The Shift to and out of Grain
The Regime of Specialty Crops
A Wider Division of Labor: The Country in the City

2. Nature and Fictitious Capital: The Circulation of Money Capital
Capitalism and Nature: The Agrarian Nexus
Axis One: The Mann-Dickinson Thesis, Nature as Obstacle
Axis Two: Exploiting the Natural Obstacle
Keeping Capitalism Out or Letting Capital In? Marx on Circulation
Blurred Boundaries and Fugitive Bodies
Nature and Circulation
Capital, Nature, and the Space-Time of Agro-Credits in the United States
Capital, Nature, and the Space-Time of Agro-Credits in California
Conclusion: Reading the Landscape of Fictitious Capital

3. Toward Rural Realism: Variable Capital, Variable Capitalists, and the Fictions of Capital
The Way to Get Farm Labor?
The Ever-New, Ever-Same, 1: Continuity of Wage Labor and Changes in the Wage Labor Market
The Ever-New, Ever-Same, 2: Resistance and Reaction
Racializing the Working Body and Multicultural Racism
Toward Rural Realism: An Agrarianism without Illusions?
Variable Capitalists All: Capitalist Laborers and the Fictions of Capital in Country and City
Coda: The Labor of Fiction

Part II: Excavating Geographical Imaginations
Many Countrysides
The Trials of Capital and Narratives of Social Space
The Narrative of Social Space in Rural Realism

4. Mussel Slough and the Contradictions of Squatter Capitalism
The Commodification of Mussel Slough: Railroad, Speculators, and Squatters Converge in the Tulare Basin
Blood Money and the Anatomy of Development
The Country and the City: From Transgression to Similitude
The Octopus and the Bourgeois Sublime
Bourgeois Discourse and the Uses of Nature

5. Reality Redux: Landscapes of Boom and Bust in Southern California
Where Is Southern California?
From Ranchos to Real Estate
The Boom of the 1880s
The Southern California Boom Novel
Conclusion: Production, a Necessary Evil

6. Romancing the Sand: Earth-Capital and Desire in the Imperial Valley
The Problem
Engineers and Entrepreneurs
Producing the Imperial Valley
What a Difference a Flood Makes
Imperial Valley Representations, 1: Promotion and Its (Dis)Contents
Imperial Valley Representations, 2:
The Winning of Barbara Worth and the Erotics of Western Conquest
Conclusion: Engineering Rural Realism

7. Take Me to the River: Water, Metropolitan Growth, and the Countryside
Designer Ducts
Los Angeles and the Owens Valley
San Francisco and Hetch Hetchy Valley
Rural Eclipse:
The Water-Bearer and The Ford
Wither Rural Realism?


About the Author(s)

George L. Henderson is Professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota.


In the Series

  • Place, Culture, and Politics edited by Neil Smith

    Place, Culture, and Politics series is edited by Neil Smith, Graduate Center, City University of New York. Many of the most pressing political issues today are widely understood to occupy the nexus between place, culture and politics. Books in this series will make clear the pivotal role of space and place in questions of politics and culture. The series is interdisciplinary, ranging freely between the social sciences and humanities and, to a lesser extent, the physical and life sciences. The primary aim of these texts will be to influence public opinion more than to increase the purely academic stock of knowledge. Books will be explicitly political; they will have a point of view, multiple points of view, and will engage current events and ideas.