Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The way we live now—and then.

Mr. Wrenn was disturbed by the fact that the swindler heroes robbed quite all the others, but he was stirred by the brisk romance of money-making. The swindlers were supermen—blonde beasts with card indices and options instead of clubs. —Sinclair Lewis, Our Mr. Wrenn (1914)
The Likely Stories blog is delighted that Newsweek selected seemingly fusty Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now (1874) as its top "What to Read Now" pick.

Why? TWWLN features "a swindling financier" and is "scathing in its examination of greed."

Sound familiar, Bernard Madoff and Samuel Israel III?

The prescience and acuity of our predecessors can be quite striking. Look at Trollope's He Knew He Was Right (1868)—obsession, jealousy, and stalking (which Trollope based on Othello), not to mention an early appearance by a private detective. More obsession, jealousy, and stalking in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend (1864),as well as, in the words of Henry James, "a couple of elegant swindlers." Dickens's Little Dorrit (1855–57) also outlines a Ponzi scheme, long before the birth of Charles Ponzi.

For more on the subject, see Erin Wells's "Swindlers and Society in Dickens and Carlyle."

About the photo: Anthony Trollope. New York Public Library.

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