With America’s official yearly tax day yesterday, thoughts turn to tranquilizers…um…money.
Most fictional works touch on money in some direct or indirect way, but of course some focus on it more than others. And it’s quite a topic! What reader can’t relate to making or losing money, not having enough of it, being jealous of people who are affluent, being disgusted with showy or immoral uses of money, being appalled at how heartless some of the rich can be, being heartened by charitable uses of money, etc.?
Some novels with a more-pronounced-than-average money motif? Let’s discuss a few of them.
Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth portrays Lily Bart as she moves in a wealthy social circle while not being wealthy herself. That lack of money greatly complicates her life, especially given that she has the integrity to not marry men (however rich) she doesn’t love.
Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is about various things, and one of them is the get-rich urge of people participating in New Zealand’s 1860s West Coast Gold Rush. Similarly, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is in one way a “dog book,” but it’s also about greed relating to the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the title character gets rich in large part to impress a woman (Daisy) with whom he wants to reunite, while living his shallow existence in Long Island, N.Y., splendor.
The co-protagonist in Emile Zola’s Paris-based The Ladies’ Delight is a 19th-century department-store magnate who ruthlessly amasses a fortune as he drives mom-and-pop shops out of business. Think an 1800s version of Walmart…
A French shopkeeper who stars in Honore de Balzac’s Cesar Birotteau goes bankrupt because of property speculation that involves someone trying to get revenge on Cesar. Much of the novel — which includes several unsavory bankers as secondary characters — focuses on Birotteau’s honest efforts to pay off his debt.
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s novel The Gilded Age (which coined that famous term) also takes on property speculation, including a decades-long effort to sell land in the lust to get rich.
(Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That features a protagonist who painstakingly saves lots of money for a planned retirement on some tropical island, then uses almost all those funds for his wife’s medical expenses in the universal healthcare-lacking United States, and then…
In Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, the ambitious protagonist is always trying to get or save enough money — for the rent, for her education, and more.
The title character in George Eliot’s Silas Marner is a miser in the first part of the book, but it’s more depression than greed that makes him that way.
Then there’s Theodore Dreiser’s The Financier, Terry Pratchett’s Making Money, Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, and Herman Melville’s Wall Street-set “Bartleby, the Scrivener” short story — which is almost long enough to be a novella.
We’ll end with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The title just about says it all.
What are your favorite fictional works with a strong money aspect?
Here’s an April 10 review of, and an April 11 video interview about, my new literary-trivia book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I also write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column is here.