$$$Classic Novels About Money$$$

21Feb10

 

Dear Money, my new novel, has, as the title suggests, a lot to do with money.  I became interested in the topic as extreme wealth rose all around me in the heady days of mortgage-backed securities.  Money is a glorious and dirty topic and, it seems, everyone has something to say about it.  While writing the novel I looked to the Victorians for fun and inspiration, among others.  They were obsessed with money and used it as a lens through which to see the hypocrisy and foolishness of their society.  I tell my students that a writer writes and a writer reads.  These are the novels I was reading, all brilliant on money. 

The Bronte Sisters — to borrow from my sister, Jenny: “The Bronte sisters tackle the problem of money, what it does to you if you have it, what it does to you if you don’t.”

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope.   I especially love the aging, matronly novelist, struggling with her desire for success and her income.  Her desperation. 

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope 

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray 

The Financier by Theodore Dreiser 

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton 

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton 

The Great Gatsby.  Fitzgerald’s obsession with money lead to so much of his best writing.  (I borrowed the title Dear Money from him.  He discarded it.  “Where Do Titles Come From?” 

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe.   (When I asked the bond trader who helped teach me about his world to recommend books, the first was Bonfire.  The others were Market Wizards: Interviews With Top Traders and Frank J. Fabrozzi’s The Handbook of Mortgage-Backed Securities — heavy lifting, definitely not a novel.) 

In my reading and thinking, I was most interested in the female characters of Lily Bart, Undine Spragg, Scarlett O’Hara (though I didn’t re-read Gone With The Wind), Becky Sharp.  I often wondered who those women would be today.  How would they have acted had they found themselves in the 21st Century? 

Novels about money that I haven’t yet read but want to read: 

New Grub Street by George Gissing which Jenny loved.  She says, “It is entirely about the terrible compromises a writer must make for the love of money.”  

Money by Martin Amis 

And now there are two new novels, published right now, for my list: 

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee 

Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett 

Please add to the list.

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4 Responses to “$$$Classic Novels About Money$$$”

  1. 1 Roxandra Antoniadis

    Hi Martha! Almost anything Balzac wrote — think of the great ones we all know: Pere Goriot, Illusions Perdues, La Cousine Bette, Eugenie Grandet…Money was his central metaphor and in his view, the symbol of the modern, meaning: everything he felt was wrong w the times in which he lived. He was, as we know, hounded, whipped to a frenzy, for the perpetual lack of it…Lacking it, of course, made him write — and write — and write!! Don’t dare contribute more to the Balzac argument –for one, I would have to reread the novels — and for another, it will derail me from what I’m supposed to be doing, e.g. preparing to lead a short course in memoir & personal essay and presenting Ted Kooser to another group. This is what I mean by facebook making me crazy: there’s so much one wants to say and think about b/c of it, in addition to one’s current load of mental activity, including, always, getting through the day. And I’ve only been on facebook for 48 hrs!! Congratulations on your novel and on all you do…

    • 2 marthamcphee

      Thanks for writing. I promise I won’t contribute any more to the Balzac argument. But I do appreciate that you bring him up, adding him to my list. He should absolutely be on there. Yes, social media is a time suck, but once you figure out how to measure your doses, it can be fantastically rewarding.

  2. I am putting “Dear Money” on my ‘to read’ list. I think you are tackling one of the great literary themes and it’s brave of you to do so. I agree that hard cash drives the plot engine of many of the great novels. Such books are often incredibly painful and uncomfortable to read, but ultimately very memorable. I have only read “The House of Mirth” a couple of times and could not bear to read it again in a hurry… The same with Gissing’s “New Grub Street.”

    Another you might want to look at is “They knew Mr Knight” by Dorothy Whipple, about a family in 1930’s England wrestling with money issues. Published by Persephone Books. Also falls into the painful but memorable catergory.

    • 4 marthamcphee

      Thank you for writing and for putting my novel on your “to read” list. Such a thoughtful reply. I appreciate it enormously and will certainly read “They Knew Mr. Knight.” Yes, “The House of Mirth” is incredibly painful. Each time I read it, I find myself wishing (as if I could make a difference, as if Lily Bart were real) that she’d make other choices. Again, thank you.


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