HARDLY A CHAPTER goes by in novels like Charles Dickens's Great Expectations (1860) or Our Mutual Friend (1864) or Anthony Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867) or The Way We Live Now (1875) without money being invoked. Generations of critics have noted that almost every relationship between characters comes with a pound sign attached. Thus The Last Chronicle of Barset belies its most esteemed and truthful character, Mr. Harding, when he says, “Money is worth thinking of, but it is not worth very much thought” (447; ch. 49). He is correct to the extent that money alone fails to do justice to the complexity of most of the relationships in the novel. In the first place, money is only a component of a broader and more pervasive set of connections that can be described as exchanges of capital. Indeed, as this essay shows in the case of The Last Chronicle of Barset, if one stands back from more than a few novels of the mid-Victorian decades, one can see that the intersections and progressions of fictional lives that they portray are couched within a larger pattern of interaction and exchange of which capital is the protagonist.Such a reading is implicit, if not explicit, in recent studies that analyze representations of circulation, whether of money, gossip, blood, or language itself. I am thinking particularly of Beer, Shell, Smart, and Trotter. If this formulation seems extreme, it is only one step beyond the arguments of recent studies that money is “perhaps the most common theme in nineteenth-century fiction” (Vernon 14) or that “the universal, leveling power of money is a theme intrinsic to, perhaps even definitive of, the novel form itself” (Brantlinger 23). The intensity of the nineteenth-century novelistic fascination with money in particular and capital in general can be explained in part by demonstrating, as Mary Poovey and James Thompson respectively have, that novelistic discourses emerged in eighteenth-century Britain in conjunction with the emergence of the discourses of political economy. Similarly, the fact that the mid-Victorian decades in particular produced such a large number of works organized around exchanges of capital is understandable in relationship to historical developments within capitalism. I have in mind especially the finalization in the 1830s of the long transition from gold to paper – from wealth as treasure to the exchange of capital – and the complete formalization in the first half of the nineteenth century of the central institutions of finance capitalism, namely the joint-stock company and the stock market.I mark this finalization with the standardizing of currency on the Bank of England note in 1833; only in 1844 were other British banks banned from issuing their own notes (Vernon 32). The London Stock Exchange was established in its modern institutional form in 1802 (Baskin 207). Also indicative of the period is that “[t]here were eight million pounds more paper money in circulation in 1825 than in 1823, with no corresponding increase in trade and industry to justify it”; at the same time, “there had developed a vast extension of private credit – the ‘new currency of the age’ – and the market was flooded with bills of exchange, promissory notes, and similar paper” (Russell 45). I of course am not claiming that paper money or stock trading did not exist prior to the nineteenth century. Rather, I am claiming that finance capitalism reached society-wide dissemination in the first half of the nineteenth century and only then took on the institutional forms that still are in place in the twenty-first century. As Ermarth remarks in this regard: “Market-places may be old; but the market-system, which ‘is a mechanism for sustaining and maintaining an entire society’ is a fairly recent invention, as new as the humanist conception of the species ‘man’, as new as ‘the profit motive’, and as new as the idea of gain conceived in terms of capital” (121). These contextual factors set the stage on which mid-Victorian novels in particular struggled to interpret and re-express the meaning of human relationship for a society increasingly organized by and obsessed with exchanges of capital. The first goal of this essay is to describe, more thoroughly and precisely than has been done to date, exactly how capital circulates through mid-Victorian novels, taking The Last Chronicle of Barset as a representative case. The second goal is to demonstrate how exchanges of capital are not only thematically significant but actually constitute the plot structure of this novel. Finally, the third purpose is to challenge certain recent critical arguments that continue to posit – even while critiquing – a separation in the nineteenth century of the domains of the novel and of political economy, a separation that reproduces the Victorian notion of “separate spheres” and underestimates the cultural work of mid-Victorian novels.