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Between Maxwell and Micawber: plotting the failure of the Equitable Life

Collins, David; Dewing, Ian; Russell, Peter


David Collins

Ian Dewing

Peter Russell


© 2015 Taylor & Francis. This paper offers reflections on the failure of The Equitable Life Assurance Society. Noting that the collapse of this financial institution precipitated a raft of official inquiries, we provide a detailed analysis and 're-view' of the public inquiry report that was produced by Lord Penrose. The paper observes that Lord Penrose's text presents itself as a factual description of events. Yet we counter that this report remains, at root, a creative product which depends upon narrative strategies of characterisation and emplotment. Analysing the narrative resources and the broader narratological choices that underpin Lord Penrose's account of the Equitable affair, we suggest that this report turns upon a Maxwellian rendering of the drama's key protagonist. Questioning the assumptions, omissions and elisions which underpin this method of plotting the failure of the Equitable, we propose another means of characterising the drama's principal. Building upon a reading of David Copperfield, we proffer a Micawberish alternative to the Maxwellian autocrat favoured by Lord Penrose's text. Readers are invited to consider the relative merits of these contrasting narratives and are, furthermore, encouraged to reflect upon the manner in which the interplay between text, author and reader acts to shape public understanding of accounting, accountability and financial regulation more broadly.


Collins, D., Dewing, I., & Russell, P. (2015). Between Maxwell and Micawber: plotting the failure of the Equitable Life. Accounting and business research, 45(6-7), 715-737.

Acceptance Date Apr 15, 2015
Online Publication Date Nov 11, 2015
Publication Date Nov 10, 2015
Deposit Date Jun 3, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 10, 2015
Journal Accounting and business research
Print ISSN 0001-4788
Electronic ISSN 2159-4260
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 45
Issue 6-7
Pages 715-737
Keywords Equitable Life, Financial regulation, Public inquiry, Genre, Penrose Report, Narrative, Organizational storytelling, Maxwell, Robert, 1923-1991, Micawber, Mr. (Fictitious character)
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Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Accounting and business research on 11/11/2015, available online:


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