Greed Is Not Good, But It Can Help Make Fiction Interesting

We live in an age of greed. Avaricious CEOs, bankers, hedge-fund guys, politicians, lobbyists, corporate lawyers, media moguls, sports-team owners, and others. Many don’t even do a good job for their huge salaries and other compensation. Many exploit their employees. Many price-gouge their customers. Many don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Many…make me think of greedy characters in literature.

Those fictional people can be painful to read about, but greed can drive a novel’s plot and help make the book compelling. Also, readers angry at the greed in a book can always slam it shut with a satisfying “thump” while saying: “That hurts, doesn’t it Mr. Fictional Rich Guy who I just flattened between the front and back covers.” Of course, Kindle users need an alternate plan when trying to crush covetous characters…

One of fiction’s countless greedy protagonists is attorney Mickey Haller of Michael Connelly’s cleverly plotted The Lincoln Lawyer, which I just read. Haller tends to charge a lot — and is very insistent on collecting that money — when defending clients who include many a bad guy. But he has a conscience beneath his materialism and cynicism, illustrating that at least some worshipers of the almighty dollar can also have their good points. Heck, even the profit-obsessed Scrooge experienced an epiphany in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Moving to an equally famous literary work, we have Jay Gatsby amassing a fortune in the bootlegging biz and then flaunting that wealth in a very public way to woo Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I suppose there are worse motives for making lots of money…

There are avaricious businessmen in Emile Zola’s work, too. Greedy coal-mine ownership leads to a dramatic strike in Germinal, and ruthlessly ambitious department-store magnate Octave Mouret is an early Wal-Mart type pushing small neighborhood stores out of business in Au Bonheur des Dames.

Money-grasping politicians also abound in literature, with one example being Tiny Duffy — the lieutenant governor from Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men who’s quite comfortable with corruption and kickbacks.

Speaking of corruption, Joey Berglund in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom becomes a subcontractor in a scheme to supply spare parts for outdated supply trucks during The Iraq War. Greed doesn’t get much worse than when it involves war profiteering.

Heck, wealth-seeking characters commit crimes in many a novel. For instance, drug lord Plato orders the murder of anyone standing in the way of enlarging his fortune in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thriller 61 Hours. Indeed, greedy crooks — often of the white-collar variety — abound in thrillers, mysteries, detective novels, and other kinds of fiction.

Greed can also draw fictional characters out of their hometowns to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Some flocked to New Zealand during that country’s 1860s West Coast Gold Rush in Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. Others raced to the snowy north during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush that Jack London experienced personally and then included in works such as The Call of the Wild.

Or how about marrying at least partly because the spouse is wealthy? That was certainly one reason the vile Gilbert Osmond wed Isabel Archer in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, and why Morris Townsend wooed Catherine Sloper in James’ Washington Square. Also, the intended husbands’ income and “station in life” greatly determined the “romantic” choices made by social climber Undine Spragg in Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country.

A variation of the above is when, in the back story of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Anne Elliot is pressured by her snobby/materialistic father and the status-conscious Lady Russell to not marry the man she loves: Frederick Wentworth, who is “beneath” the Elliot family’s financial level.

One potential facet of greediness is miserliness, and that’s certainly the case with Felix — father of the titular character in Honore de Balzac’s Eugenie Grandet. He is a wealthy man so tight with his lucre that he partly warps the life of his daughter.

Another miser is Silas Marner, but he’s a goodhearted man whose neurotic saving of most of his earnings stems more from being betrayed by a close friend than from any moral flaw. When Marner’s life takes a turn for the better in George Eliot’s novel, he is no longer fixated on money.

Then there are depictions of greedy Jewish characters that have led to accusations of anti-Semitism. Examples include Fagin in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Isaac of York in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, and Shylock the moneylender in William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. Some of those characters are more nuanced than their literary reputations; for instance, Isaac has a kindhearted side — and Scott’s portrayal of Isaac’s daughter Rebecca is quite non-stereotypical for its time.

And what is slavery but a toxic mix of greed and racism? (Some biased cops in Baltimore and elsewhere know all about the latter.) We see this mix in novels such as Alex Haley’s Roots, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Alexandre Dumas’ Georges, Geraldine Brooks’ March, William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, and in a chapter of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

Who are some of the greedy characters you remember most in literature?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

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I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

113 thoughts on “Greed Is Not Good, But It Can Help Make Fiction Interesting

  1. Bebe and Dave, thanks for the compliment, am blushing…. am not sure I deserve it though, it’s just that I had a solitary childhood in time of war and death, started reading by the age of four and was old at a very early age, and so far I have lived many decades in which to think and read.

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  2. I’ve read many of the books mentioned by the commenters, but I cannot recall any particular character for his/her greed; the only books that I quickly thought of were “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand , not so much for any one character, but because of the pervasive theme of the books. When I read them years ago, at first I applauded Ayn Rand’s philosophy, seemingly about independence and self-confidence and individuality vs. collectivism, because it resonated with my own beliefs about individuality as opposed to group thinking; but halfway through “Atlas Shrugged” I finally realized that what she called “objectivism” was just a glorification of selfishness and greed masquerading as individuality. Which explains why her writing is so popular now among conservative politicians.

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    • Well said, Clairdelune!

      I haven’t read Ayn Rand myself. (I should, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.) From everything I’ve read about her and her work, her writings may be tied to greed more than that of almost any other author.

      Yes, there is a reason many right-wing Republicans admire Rand!

      No rich person “makes it” alone. Even if that person didn’t inherit money, so many factors go into success — family influences, luck, government spending on infrastructure any entrepreneur needs, etc.

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  3. I see that Faulkner has already been mentioned, especially as relating to the avaricious backwoods conman, wheeler dealer Flem Snopes. I’m a bit late to the discussion this time but I had to read what had been mentioned so I didn’t bring up something that had already been thoroughly discussed. The Faulkner character that sprung to mind immediately was Thomas Sutpen of ‘Absalom! Absalom!’, the poor white trash who vows that he will gain power and wealth and will never have to enter a rich person’s house through the back door ever again. Through a chain of circumstances, he helped put down a slave uprising, married the plantation owner, but after finding that she, and therefore, their infant son, are of mixed blood, abandons them and flees with his wealth, acquiring slaves, enlisting a French architect and returning to the town of Jefferson to build a plantation and found a dynasty. Needless to say, tragedy ensues. He has conveniently forgotten about that infant son from the Caribbean.

    Also, war profiteering was mentioned. Rhett Butler of ‘Gone With the Wind’ is definitely a prosperous profiteer. But Rhett has moral integrity and immense patience to fall for a shallow tease such as Scarlett O’Hara. He becomes a devoted father, even to children that are not his, as I mentioned in an earlier blog thread and tries to be a good husband to the impossible Scarlett until he finally gives up and decides she is not worth the effort. Scarlett is also driven by greed and, similar to Sutpen, vows not to be hungry or beholden to anyone. The material deprivation contributes to all of these Southern characters, especially in the wake of the devastation of their lives and lifestyles. Regardless of the question of slavery, these Southerners had their entire existences uprooted by the defeat by the North. Of course, Scarlett’s greed was utterly selfish, regardless of the world in which she was raised. She was definitely emotionally greedy and it manifested itself on the material level.

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    • Thanks, bobess48! “Absalom! Absalom!” sounds fascinating, and it’s one of the Faulkner novels I eventually want to read when I finally get to more of that author. Greed depicted by the hand of such a great writer has to be an intense reading experience.

      Excellent thoughts, also, on Scarlett, Rhett, and “Gone With the Wind.” The Antebellum South was built on greed and racism, and many of its once-wealthy residents fully deserved their post-Civil War losses. But of course there was also tons of collateral damaged suffered by more-decent people.

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  4. Dave, since you mentioned Alex Haley’s “Roots”, and with a new remake of the television series in the works, try reading that book side-by-side with Harold Courlander’s “The African” and you will clearly see why Alex Haley lost in court. It’s almost like reading the same book. Speaking of greed, that was very ironic that you mentioned Haley.

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    • Thanks, Eric!

      I had only a wisp of a memory about that 1970s case, and just read a little about it on Wikipedia after reading your comment. There does seem to be evidence backing what you said.

      The one other Alex Haley work I’ve read — “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” book he collaborated on with the civil rights leader — is excellent. I hope everything was aboveboard with that!

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  5. Roald Dahl has two examples of greed (one that relates to wealth and one that relates to appetite) in his most famous book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This is a very charming book about the head of a chocolate candy empire (Mr. Willy Wonka) who held a worldwide contest. Five golden tickets were placed inside the wrappers of all candy bars made at the Wonka factory. The recipients of those special tickets were given a tour of the magical candy factory as well as a lifetime supply of Wonka chocolate.

    Of the five children who found the tickets, little Charlie seemed to be the only one who was deserving of the prize. Two of the children that deserved the greedy label were Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop (lol, best names ever). Veruca was a very wealthy little girl. Her father spoiled her, gave her whatever she wanted. When Veruca didn’t get her way, she threw wild tantrums. When the Wonka contest was revealed, her father made all of his employees stop their duties and search through hundreds of candy bars for a golden ticket.

    Veruca had everything that any little girl could ever want in life, but winning a golden ticket was something she just had to have. Because of her social status, her parents felt she was entitled to a ticket, and they did everything in their power to make sure she got her way. Again.

    Augustus Gloop was a very greedy child…literally. I think he was the 1st or 2nd child to find a golden ticket. Augustus was very fat and ate non-stop. His mother never disciplined him and encouraged his unhealthy eating habits because she believed that overeating was better than being a naughty child. That uncontrollable appetite did get him in trouble at the chocolate factory though.

    Very delightful book. I’m a big fan of Roald Dahl, and I love the collaborations he did with his illustrator Quentin Blake.

    Ok, I seriously want some chocolate now.

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    • Excellent, descriptive comment, Ana! Roald Dahl certainly had a dark side in his writing — showing some pretty bad behavior, including the depressing rich-want-to-be-even-richer thing.

      And I agree — names don’t get much better than Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop!

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      • The sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, is a nice read too. It picked up where Charlie was about to claim his top prize and take over the Wonka factory. The elevator that Charlie, his family, and Mr. Wonka rode on was completely made of glass. This elevator somehow escaped the building (lol) and it ended up in space. I don’t think this book is as popular as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it’s still very imaginative and creative, something that one would expect from Roald Dahl.

        Talking about this yesterday made me want some chocolate. I stopped by the cafeteria during my break and bought an ice cream sandwich. Not exactly chocolate, but close enough. This blog is once again a bad influence on me…SMH.

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        • That sequel DOES sound imaginative and creative, Ana. And I’ll be careful next time I ride an elevator. 🙂

          “Ha!” about chocolate and bad blog influences! I once wrote a post about food in literature; I may have to narrow that down to chocolate in literature. (I’ve read “Like Water for Chocolate,” but found it only so-so despite chocolate being in the title…)

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          • Don’t let a glass elevator intimidate you. You just step through those glass doors proudly and let that elevator know who’s the boss. I would only suggest that you don’t step hard on the floor, lean against the wall, nor look down as the elevator goes up. But other than those rules, you’re good.

            Have you ever read The Chocolate War or its sequel Beyond The Chocolate War? They were written by Robert Cormier.

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          • Just found and read Food for (Literary) Thought on Julia Child’s Birthday. Looking at the date it was posted, this was before my HP days. I would’ve loved participating in that topic. Upton Sinclair, Alice Walker, T.C. Boyle, Margaret Atwood…you included very good examples of food in lit.

            And if you ever do a chocolate in literature piece, just let me know ahead of time so I can prepare myself…

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  6. I’ve read two novels by Tom Wolfe – “Bonfire of the Vanities” and “A Man in Full”. Both of these novels have protagonists that start off as pillars of greed. In “Bonfire of the Vanities” the main character describes himself as a “Master of the Universe”, as he makes boatloads of money by manipulating the stock market. His NYC upper crust life takes a turn as he is forced to deal with the more realistic and seedy side of NYC (an event happens when his car breaks down in the Bronx that triggers a reaction similar to ones we have seen recently in the news). It is a fascinating account of the different worlds experienced by the haves and the have-nots. “A Man in Full” involves a real estate mogul in Atlanta who is on top of the world, but who gets his comeuppance when he is ruined by an even bigger mogul. Both of these novel stress the shallowness of greed as a goal, where the driving force of these men seems to be that whoever dies with the most, wins.

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    • Tom Wolfe! How did I forget him? 🙂 Thanks for mentioning that author, drb19810. “Bonfire of the Vanities” is a quintessential novel of greed.

      I haven’t read “A Man in Full,” but it sounds excellent. It’s certainly not surprising when the super rich do a number on the merely very rich, even as both do a number on the middle class and poor.

      How do the ultra-wealthy sleep at night? Horizontally. One has to have a certain absence of conscience to be ruthlessly focused on getting richer and richer.

      Great comment!

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      • Sorry about the “Anonymous” thing, drb19810. It happens once in a while to various people here for reasons I’m not certain of. I assume regular commenters are automatically logged in; maybe some glitch occasionally “un-logs” them and they have to log in again? 😦 I’m not totally sure.

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  7. Henry Dalton from Native Son championed himself as a saviour of poor people, especially minorities, but many policies he supported contradicted his public persona.

    Mr. Dalton became a wealthy man through his business ventures in the Chicago area. His most profitable business was the South Side Real Estate Company. This company owned the majority of the residential and business properties on the South Side. Redlining and housing discrimination were commonly used, and this is where the perception of Henry Dalton as a progressive benevolent man was shattered.

    His company knowingly charged black residents and tenants 3-4 times more rent than whites. The properties were dilapidated, yet Dalton did nothing to stop these unfair practices. His excuse was “well that’s the way it is”. He was correct, of course. Housing discrimination was an acceptable business policy, but Dalton, with all of his self-proclaimed progressiveness, did not challenge the status quo.

    Dalton benefitted financially from the system of segregation. He charged higher rents for blacks because he knew he could, and that the laws were on his side. Dalton was already a wealthy man through his other businesses outside of the real estate company. Providing clean, affordable housing to his black tenants/residents would not have hurt his profits, but his greed was too strong to allow himself to do what he knew in his heart was right.

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  8. I need little and what little I need I need little of – St. Francis of Assisi… wonderful motto to live by but did even the good St. Francis actually do so ?. Greed in one way or another is the primary motivator of all things human , the need and desire for more power, praise , love , wealth, fame, knowledge ,Etc.. Unless one is going to go all Hindu searching for a nihilistic Nirvana it seems to me wise to acknowledge and temper greed rather than pretend to be above it. I also think it rare in real life that people pursue of wealth for it’s own sake , it’s a means to other ends . Shylock is a great example , his name has become synonymous with raw inhuman greed and yet the reality was his schemes were directed at nearly the opposite. He was acting out of legitimately wounded pride and dignity which had festered into bitterness. Had he won the pound of flesh he was due it certainly was not going to gain any interest . Of course it’s all relative ” Please sir, may I have some more? ” so if one bowl of gruel was good enough for all the other orphans does that make young Oliver greedy ?

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    • Great comment, Donny, both serious and engaging. Also, memorable words from St. Francis!

      Yes, greed is indeed a motivator for many of us, and perhaps a needed motivator. I guess the issue, as you know, is keeping that greed within certain parameters — i.e., being greedy for things we need and enjoy, but not going overboard about it. Some rich people just don’t know when to stop trying to get even richer — often at the expense of other people and the common good. A prime example is the prototypical corporate leader who amasses huge amounts of money for himself and his company, while underpaying his employees and giving them so few benefits that he not only hurts the employees but taxpayers in general who have to pick up the tab for those employees’ food stamps and so on.

      As you noted with Shylock, greed is not always for greed’s sake, but to fill a hole in one’s life, to act out bitterness, etc. Excellent insight by you.

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      • Agreed Dave but I feel many of us on the left have a bad habit of oversimplifying this we forget that A)people with big bucks can be quite altruistic and liberal ( JFK and FDR ) and B) Just because someone is rich doesn’t mean wealth accumulation is their only goal or motive. One may despise everything the Koch brothers stand for but even there they have literally given billions of dollars to worthy charities and the arts.

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        • Very true, Donny — there are some rich people who are liberal and/or do altruistic things with some of their money, and that’s wonderful.

          But I suspect that some of that altruism is for ego reasons, or to sanitize/put a fig leaf on the awful way that rich person’s fortune might have been made and the awful things most of the fortune might be used for. For instance, there’s the David H. Koch Theater at NYC’s Lincoln Center. If that ultra-right-wing billionaire is so generous, why couldn’t he have donated the money for that theater without having his name on it?

          In my town, there’s a developer who builds housing mostly for the affluent when housing is needed for the non-affluent. And to maximize profits, he has crammed in housing units to such an extent that the town is “uglified.” Also, he tore down a historic building that partly dated back to the 1840s. Meanwhile, he gives a tiny sliver of his money to town causes, and gets publicity for that, and some people consequently think he’s some kind of major philanthropist. More like a PR move.

          End of rant. 🙂

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          • Valid points Dave but honestly speaking I imagine all of us have mixed motives for even our most generous acts to some extent. I’m not defending straight up greed or filthy rich people just suggesting that such a complicated thing is better thought of in less black and white, more nuanced terms than is currently popular, especially as pertains to literature . The so called 1% are not an alien species and certainly not all the same.

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            • You’re right, Donny — many of us have mixed motives for our generosity, and many of us have the need for ego gratification. Also, I’ve met some nice “one-percenters” in my time 🙂 (Though of course people can be nice on a personal level while doing destructive things in their working life. One might call that “The Ronald Reagan Syndrome”!)

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  9. Dave, I’ve been thinking about this column, including your comments about Jane Austen’s protagonists living in a patriarchal society. Many of the female characters I disliked, such as Undine Spragg in Edith Wharton’s “The Custom of the Country” or Kate Croy in William James’ “The Wings of the Dove” understood that a single woman had to have enough money to marry well in order to survive. Just look at poor Lily Bart in “The House of Mirth” to see what happens when one doesn’t. When I came out of college in 1971, I think it was still necessary for a married woman to get her husband’s approval to get a credit card in her name. I know I needed my father to co-sign my car loan. I’m not trying to get a pass for women, because I think there are many greedy women still in this world but there can be some mitigating circumstances.

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    • GREAT insight, Kat Lib! In more patriarchal times, women could indeed be “greedy” for a reason — from necessity — not just for the sake of avarice. You’re right that Lily Bart, who had some principles, was a cautionary tale.

      Hard to believe that, less than 50 years ago, women needed men’s approval for certain financial things. 😦

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      • I agree, Dave, when I read things young feminists today are saying, I don’t think that they even know that it was so difficult for a young woman, especially a single one, to survive financially just 40-60 years ago. I may have mentioned this before, but when I applied for a car loan in the late 70s, after having paid off two car loans early as well as having had continuous employment for at least six years, I was turned down because, I “wasn’t stable enough.” My best friend and mentor (male) convinced me to go talk directly to the (my) bank, and I accused them discriminating against me because I was a woman. They reversed their decision and I got my loan. Of course, it’s hard for me to know what it was like to not being able to vote, but I never forget that it took until 1920 or something until women got the vote.

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        • I hear you, Kat Lib. While sexism still hugely exists, things today are better in various ways for young women.

          That car-loan denial was outrageous, and I’m glad you successfully fought it.

          When one thinks about it, it IS shocking that American women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920 in a country founded 144 years earlier. My maternal grandmother couldn’t vote until she was 31!

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          • Canadian women were granted voting rights in federal elections in 1919, but many still couldn’t vote in provincial elections until the 40s. Two of the western/Prairie provinces (Saskatchewan and Manitoba) were the first to grant women the right to vote, I believe, in 1916-1917 somewhere in there. Then British Columbia and Alberta soon followed.

            Next, Ontario and the Maritime/Atlantic provinces began granting provincial voting rights around the same time as the western/Prairie provinces did. But Women in Quebec couldn’t vote until 1940. So American women and the majority of Canadian women had been voting 20+ years before women in Quebec earned those rights.

            On your social justice literature topic, I mentioned a book by Nellie McClung. She led the Canadian suffrage movement, and was responsible for not only helping Canadian women gain the right to vote in federal and provincial elections, but to hold political office and gain equitable rights in divorce cases.

            Just thought I’d add a little Canadian suffrage history to the convo:)

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            • And I’m glad you did, Ana! A lot of great information — most of which I didn’t know. It’s kind of shocking to learn that when it came to voting rights for women, some parts of more-progressive-than-the-U.S. Canada were less progressive than the U.S.

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              • I’ve seen old photos of British Columbia suffragists and women’s political/social organisations, which I was told my great-grandmother was a part of. From what my grandmother has told us over the years, the suffrage movement in Canada was not as volatile as it was in the U.S. The threats, arrests, assaults, and physical violence that American women had to endure were pretty much absent in Canada. Sure there was some push-back and resistance, but opposition to women gaining the right to vote didn’t rise to the level of violence that occurred in the U.S.

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                • Another example of how the U.S. (or at least some of its more right-wing elements) is more violent than Canada, and many other countries.

                  And you had an impressive great-grandmother!

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                  • Calgary has an incredible open air museum called Heritage Park. Lots of exhibits, events, and programs that relate to Canadian history. I don’t know if the community theatre still has this going, but I remember seeing a play on Nellie McClung and her role in the women’s suffrage movement.

                    The performance was really short (less than an hour).
                    There were plenty of details on McClung’s role in helping women secure the right to vote despite the short performance time of the play. I learned more about her and the other four politically active women who all made up The Famous Five. It was great.

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                    • That park and performance sound excellent, Ana! Unfortunately, I’ve never visited Calgary during my Canadian jaunts (to Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Vancouver, etc.).

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        • Kat Lib, I forgot to mention that I’m in the middle of “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” and am finding it fascinating! So different from most novels I’ve read. And with this week’s topic in mind, I just read a section in which Smilla brings a man a tape to be analyzed, and is greedily charged a LOT for his services.

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  10. There Will Be Blood based on a book called Oil by Upton Sinclair. Main character Daniel played brilliantly by Daniel Day Lewis in the award winning 2009 film personified greed,ruthlessness and corruption. Fueled literally and figuratively by black gold he became all consuming, anything to obtain riches,even killing for his obsession.

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    • Terrific example of a greedy character, Michele, and well-described!

      Like a lot of people, the only Upton Sinclair book I’ve read is “The Jungle.” I should read more of them, including “Oil.” Sinclair wrote a LOT during a very long career.

      And Daniel Day-Lewis is indeed a brilliant actor.

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  11. Time appropriate column Dave..greed has taken over the world, the nation not to mention the politicians bought by Koch Bros. Iraq was started in the name of greed by Cheney / Bush makes me wonder who was the real president then.
    Yes and Mickey Hallier the Lincoln lawyer of course.
    I need to come up with other names..and Susan mentioned GWTW .

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    • Thanks, bebe!

      Very true about the Koch brothers. They give tons of money to right-wing politicians, and expect (and get) a return on their investment. And, yes, Dick Cheney’s Halliburton company made a boatload of money on The Iraq War. You’re right that Cheney was in effect the president for a number of years until the almost-as-awful George W. Bush started asserting himself a bit.

      “The Lincoln Lawyer” is quite a novel. It was amazing the way Michael Connelly depicted Mickey Haller defending his evil client at that trial while trying to secretly get that client arrested for a previous murder.

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            • bebe, thanks for the video! I did not now that Tagore and I shared a birthday, I missed that bit of information. I discovered his writing when I was 13 years old, and a well-read uncle gave me two small books published in the early 1900’s, “The Gardener” and “Sadhana””, in their Italian translation. It was the start of a life-long love. I still have the books, to which I added the English version, (I believe “The Gardener” was originally written in English). Is there an audio book by Martin Sheen ? I could not find it on Amazon.

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              • Clairdelune what a pleasant surprise, Tagore was well known all over the world but less in America…
                No “The Gardner” and all are written in his native Language which is Bengali. The translation of the poem was done by Tagore himself Martin Sheen was reciting the famous poem.

                “Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
                Where knowledge is free;
                Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
                Where words come out from the depth of truth;
                Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
                Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
                Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action;
                Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

                Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

                So many are available online..there is a book of poem
                ” The Crescent Moon” do look it up beautiful poetry so tender.

                Another one of my favorite

                http://www.brainpickings.org/2012/04/27/when-einstein-met-tagore/

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                • I do have “Gitanjali”, in addition to “The Gardener” and “Sadhana”, which is not poetry but Tagore’s philosophical thoughts, and when I read it at the age of 13 started my life-long interest in philosophy. I believe that Tagore did do some writing directly in English. In later years I added Kahlil Gibran (he was Lebanese) to my library, I really liked his lyrical prose. Unfortunately I lost some of my beloved books during one of my transatlantic moves, so am trying to collect at least some of them hoping to have enough time left to read them again!

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                  • I was going to mention Sadhana to you..i bought the book from Amazon and to my shock…they author was “SIR” Rabindranath Tagore. The whole process tells one about greed ( Hi Dave) ..it is well known Tagore rejected the honor because..(.I went to search engine ).

                    “Your Excellency,

                    The enormity of the measures taken by the Government in the Punjab for quelling some local disturbances has, with a rude shock, revealed to our minds the helplessness of our position as British subjects in India. The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments, barring some conspicuous exceptions, recent and remote. ”

                    Btw..have you read “Gora” one of his complex novel ? I do not know how the translation was done because Tagore has not translated most of his enormous work.

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                    • And I was reading yours with Susan..amazing how much Clairdelune knows. That indecent was a devastating massacre..killing every single one inside including women and children by British ruling.

                      Liked by 1 person

          • That is great Dave..I am so far away from reading anything now, all I want to do is send sometime sitting outside and read a book but that is not happening alwAys some thing is coming up. Latest some chewed up wood downstairs in the computer room. Somehow squirrel dug its way ..from under the deck. I’ll write more tomorrow….if I know myself. 😦

            Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Dave, I’ve just started re-reading “Gone with the Wind” and amazingly I am finding it even better than I remembered. It seemed a very fitting novel to mention in your mismatchy column, however once again, time got away from me. But you mentioned slavery here, and there’s slaves in GWTW, so I’m not off topic 🙂 Though your column could be about sci fi, and life on other planets, and I’ll find a way to mention Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel because it is so good, and I’m enjoying it so very much.

    Another book that I was going to mention under your Mismatchy column was “The Bastard” which is the first book in John Jakes’ series “The Kent Family Chronicles”. It was one of the first ‘grown up’ books that I read many, many years ago, and must have read it 3 or 4 times since then. Each time I read it, it seems to be a completely different story, as I understand so much more, and get something new out of it. The bastard in the story has two very different love affairs with two very different women, and in the end, has to choose between two different lifestyles. But as I’ve missed the boat on mismatched relationships, I will instead mention the protagonist’s mother, a French actress who became pregnant to a Duke. She is determined that her bastard son will claim his inheritance from his father. I’m not sure whether you’d call it greed or obsession, but either way, it doesn’t really end well for her. Meanwhile, the Duke’s wife and legitimate son, don’t want to part with a penny of the money, despite having more than enough to go around

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    • Definitely lots of greed in “Gone With the Wind,” Susan! One of these days I have to reread that novel; it has been so long since I first read it that it might have been before America’s Civil War. 🙂

      As for my previous topic about mismatched characters in literature, aliens are a great addition to that discussion! How much more mismatched can a relationship be than between an alien and a human, or between two different kinds of aliens? Among the countless examples from sci-fi would be the two Earth men interacting with the moon people in H.G. Wells’ “The First Men in the Moon,” and the narrator and Weena the Eloi in Wells’ “The Time Machine” (though Weena is more a far-in-the-future Earth inhabitant than an alien, if I’m remembering right).

      And thanks for your very interesting thoughts about “The Bastard,” and how that novel could fit in with both the mismatch and greed topics!

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  13. Hi Dave… Stephen King’s “Needful Things” comes to mind. It’s a deliciously creepy little story about the lengths people will go to in order to protect their most beloved material “things”.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Dave, I think that greed has become endemic in our society, and I say that as someone who lives in a condo development that was once a luxury apartment forty years ago. Most owners have upgraded certain things, as have I, but I think some owners are judging those of whom haven’t done as much as we should have. I decided that I wouldn’t replace anything that wasn’t functionally necessary or wouldn’t cause me to get a fine. I agree with several of the people you pointed out in your article, such as Undine Spragg, but most notably Silas Marner, the best-known miser, Silas Marner who fell in love with little Eppie who changed his life forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Greed is indeed endemic, Kat Lib, and a lot of people — many of them rich right-wing Republicans, aka “the 3 R’s” — appear to be quite proud of it. Sickening. Yes, wanting more money if one is quite comfortable, or spending just for the sake of spending, seems morally wrong.

      Silas Marner’s relationship with his adopted daughter Eppie is one of the most wonderful things in literature!

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  15. Dave, we can’t forget how people thinking someone is greedy results in poor treatment, especially when they aren’t. Will Ladislaw in “Middlemarch” suffered that fate for most of the book. And the greedy character got off with very little bad happening to him, he simply left town.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great angle on this topic, GL! Some people are indeed wrongly tarred as greedy, and Will Ladislaw is an excellent example. The supposedly exemplary Edward Casaubon was a much more negative personality than his young cousin Will in George Eliot’s classic novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Let’s not forget Flem Snopes, the central character in William Faulkner’s trilogy, The Hamlet, The Town and The Mansion.

    Greed is a manifestation of lust. It is lust for money and the characters infected by it, lust for almost everything else as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is a lot of Faulkner I still need to read, Almost Iowa, but I think your point about greed and lust having some similarities is an excellent one, and well said. Thank you.

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  17. Greedy coal-mine ownership leads to a dramatic strike in Germinal

    The genius of Germinal was the depth of Emile Zola’s research. He had a fine sense of who owns what and it is not who you think. The owner’s of the worst mine depicted in Germinal were a pair of cat-loving spinsters who lived rather modestly. They had no idea of what was being done with their money.

    Little has changed in the last 100 years. It reminds me of the civil servants (like myself) who are devoted to social justice – but love that rate of return on their pension. They have no idea that as an aggregate, they own 25 cents out of every dollar invested in the country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terrific comment, Almost Iowa!

      Emile Zola did indeed do his research — on mining for “Germinal,” on alcoholism for “The Drinking Den,” on art for “The Masterpiece,” on trains for “Beast in Man,” etc. Yet, as you know, his novels were still very readable, and contained interesting characters, in addition to having those “themes.” Also, as you note, he was quite capable of surprising readers.

      And I agree that, in a way, little has changed since the 19th century when it comes to social injustice and how some good people knowingly or not so knowingly are part of “the injustice system.”

      Like

  18. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are some of the greedy characters you remember most in literature? —

    Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the title character in a handful of John Updike’s works — “Rabbit, Run,” “Rabbit Redux,” “Rabbit Is Rich,” “Rabbit at Rest” and “Rabbit Remembered” — may not be as memorable as James Gatz of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” but the bedroom scene in “Rabbit Is Rich” with Harry, Janice and the 30 Krugerrand is priceless.

    Salve Dis Pater!

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, J.J., for your usual funny and elegantly written comment!

      I confess to never having read any of John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels, so I am now resolved to try at least one of them in 2015. Your line about the 30 Krugerrand would certainly capture the interest of any curious reader. 🙂

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      • — I confess to never having read any of John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels, so I am now resolved to try at least one of them in 2015. —

        If you choose to do so, then I would recommend doing it sequentially (i.e., “Rabbit, Run” this year). Because I began reading the saga about 45 years ago, I was forced by their publication dates to read the works that way, but I am happy this was the case. On its own, each is fine, but finer as a thread in a resplendent seamless garment obsessively woven over time.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Excellent advice, J.J. I prefer to read “series” in sequential order — and almost always do so unless my local library doesn’t have a book. (I put “series” in quotes because I realize Updike’s “Rabbit” novels were so far apart in publication dates that they were more like every-decade-or-so sequels.)

          Sometimes the sequential thing gets tricky. For instance, if one reads James Fenimore Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels in order of when they were published, they wouldn’t be in chronological order in terms of how old Natty Bumppo was in each one. 🙂 “The Deerslayer” (my favorite) was published last but Natty is the youngest in it.

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          • — I took out “Rabbit, Run” from my local library today. —

            Ay caramba! You do not let the grass grow under your feet!

            — I’ll let you know what I think of it! —

            Coolio. Of course, it is good to keep in mind the saga gets better over time.

            Liked by 1 person

            • “…the saga gets better over time” — that can indeed be the case with series (such as Zola’s Rougon-Macquart novels and even “Harry Potter”), but, as we’ve discussed, reading things chronologically just seems right. 🙂

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        • I agree with J.J. that the ‘Rabbit’ books are really one multi-volume work. Definitely read them sequentially. Each one focuses on the final year of a decade. First one 1959, second 1969, third ’79 etc.so they provide very specific windows of the time period in which they take place. Updike did extensive research. Of course, I suspect that as he was particularly observant about the world around him that once he realized he would revisit the characters every ten years he would focus on that time period intensively. Living through all of those decades and being cognizant in most of them about what was going on around me (in 1959, at the age of four, I wasn’t terribly concerned about the outer world that I lived in, mainly getting my immediate needs and sensations met) I can definitely see each one as a time capsule.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Great thoughts, Brian! The “time capsule” nature of those novels does sound appealing. Can’t wait to read the first one; hopefully I’ll like it enough to eventually move on to the sequels!

            I’ve somehow never read John Updike — but, ironically, I did hear him speak once, at a National Cartoonists Society gathering in 1990. (If I’ve told you this story before, sorry. 🙂 ) Updike was getting an award for having done some cartooning in his younger years, but of course the main reason he was invited by the cartoonists was to have someone famous appear. Other years, they gave the same award to Tom Wolfe, Denis Leary, Al Roker, and probably a couple of other people I’m forgetting.

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      • Howdy, Almost Iowa!

        — Loved that scene. —

        John Updike’s comedy in the “Rabbit” saga typically strikes me as more covert than overt, but that scene was what my young droogies on the Internets would call LOL-funny.

        Humorwise, the Updike of the “Rabbit” series is comparable neither to the Joseph Heller of “Catch-22” (A Joke on Every One of Its 453 Pages!) nor to the Joseph Heller of “Something Happened” (A Joke on Exactly One of Its 576 Pages!), but somewhere in the middle, which is a place I suspect Updike quite liked being.

        J.J.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Claire, for mentioning the great Theodore Dreiser! He was an expert at depicting greed, class differences, and so on. There were also some memorable greedy characters in his “An American Tragedy.”

      I’ve read, and was very impressed with, “Sister Carrie.” I will try to get to “The Financier” when I can. The title alone has greed written all over it. 🙂

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  19. Dave, when I think about greed in Jane Austen’s novels, the first ones who come to mind are the Dashwood daughters and mother who are basically left with nothing because everything goes to the son from the first marriage, and that son doesn’t honor the father’s wishes to take care of his wife and daughters from a second marriage. How cold and heartless is that! There’s also the terrible position the five daughters of Mr. Bennet are put in for not having a male heir in the family, which leaves the entire estate entailed to the odious Mr. Collins.Then there is the poor Fanny Price who is taken in by her rich family, yet lives in a room without a fire, and is treated as a servant.

    A few sad moments this week, such as B.B. King going into hospice, the death of Ben E. King, and the death of one of the all time great mystery writers, especially her great Inspector Wexford series, Ruth Rendell. I am especially lousy at linking to other sites, but there was a lovely song of Tracy Chapman singing “Stsnd By Me” singing that song on the request of Dave Letterman two weeks before King died, and this message was done as a lullaby.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, a lot of greed exists — and is tweaked — in Jane Austen’s novels. You offered several excellent examples, Kat Lib. And, as you note, some of that greed was enabled and worsened by the patriarchal society Austen lived in and wrote about.

      I agree — some notable people died or were reported as very sick during the past few days.

      I’ve only read one Ruth Rendell novel (“Shake Hands Forever”), and that was a LONG time ago. I know you’re a mystery buff, so I’m not surprised you know Rendell’s work well.

      Tracy Chapman is great — as was your comment. 🙂

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      • Yes, I think I’ve read all of Rendall’s Wexford’s novels, although there may be one that came out recently I may have missed. She wrote many novels under the name of Barbara Vine, some of which I loved and others that I didn’t. The important thing is that her best known novels were very well written, and her Inspector Wexford was a model of a policeman, who was happily married and the father of two daughters — it’s hard to see how this man had any questions as to his veracity

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks, Kat Lib! So many books on my list, but I should try that author again. Interesting that Inspector Wexford was so “together”; that kind of character can be few and far between, because happiness doesn’t always equate to drama. But Ruth Rendell seems to have done quite well with her novels. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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