qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

The Great Financier

Book Review: The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope
The subtitle of - and quite a few references in - Empire of the Fund prompted me to seek this one out. In fact, as a few months had passed, I only spotted one of the quotations directly.

It's a long novel, and it's clear that it was written for serialization; frankly it often felt rather wordy. The book starts off with some wearying stereotypes of nineteenth century fiction, marriage and problem gambling. Who is to marry whom, whether the social and financial status of a potential partner is appropriate, and so on. The widowed Lady Carbury can't keep her wayward son Sir Felix in the way he has become accustomed, and can't marry off her daughter to her eminently suitable cousin Roger. Meanwhile, everyone expresses social distaste at the marvel of the age, Augustus Melmotte, despite his apparent riches, because he isn't of the right breeding - or indeed, of any known breeding, suspected of being foreign and with no respectable history. Though, despite all this, his daughter has her suitors, and Lady Carbury encourages Felix to join them, in order to procure an income. It's mostly quite predictable stuff. Melmotte's latest enterprise is the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway, to which he is introduced by the honest but weak Paul Montague, and the questionable but irrepressible Hamilton Fisker. Various characters in the book become directors in the company, though no-one really understands what is going on. There is a turning point, around half-way through the book, where Melmotte's rise stops and his fall begins, and things become more interesting. As you might imagine, by the end of the book, most of the characters have received their just rewards, for good or ill.

There were spoilers in the introduction to this edition, and the first pages suggested not to read the introduction until after the book. But then, why not put it at the end of the book, as a commentary instead? Overall, I enjoyed the book, though the expositions of some of the themes were a bit tedious. Whilst much of the behaviour clearly belongs to another age, there is something curiously contemporary about a man of dubious reputation making a stellar but precarious rise to the very top, being contemptuous to others yet thin-skinned to any criticism himself, and ultimately being exposed as a fraud.
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