Kristen Guest
2016 Victorian Literature and Culture  
The emergence of limited liabilityover the course of the nineteenth century was marked by intense and sustained feelings of anxiety. Victorians debated it in Parliament and in the periodical press, anatomized its evils in fiction and drama, and theorized its merits and pitfalls in the nascent discipline of economics. Formalized at mid-century through a series of acts that collectively instituted what Paul Johnson describes as "companification" – "the substitution of an impersonal corporate
more » ... entity for the sole proprietorship or partnership" – limited liability was the means by which a corporation was constituted as a legal individual in order to restrict the responsibility of a company's owners for its debts (106). Early response to the practice was tentative: though hailed by some as a means of promoting economic growth, limited liability also inspired fear among the public, for whom it seemed a threat both to moral character and to responsible social behaviour. Wary that it would promote dishonesty in business and legitimize irresponsible speculation among investors, the mid-Victorians did not initially rush to invest. Despite the fact that by the final decades of the century many early fears had been realized and anxieties about investment continued unabated, however, there was a marked shift towards a culture of investment (Taylor 212–13). Summarizing the effects of the "'Limited-Company' Craze" in theNineteenth Centuryin 1898, one commentator observed that "Personal ownership has ceased to be the controlling power in trade; and when it left it took along with it that personal care, personal supervision, and personal responsibility which made our business great." The result, he suggested, is that "we now have, in thousands of instances, mere 'corporations without bodies to be kicked or souls to be damned'" (Van Oss 734).
doi:10.1017/s1060150315000649 fatcat:2fbvlrjpwrhqfcaiwk73kuayfe