Literary jokes and Hamilton quotes all in one place. How’s that for your one-stop nerd shop?
Today’s literary finance lesson comes from the still-unparalleled queen of high society and New York money: Edit Wharton. Nobody—not even my best pal Henry James—has ever had such a keen eye and razor-edged wit for the ins and outs of the upper class or the not-always-direct relationship between buckets of money and social mobility.
Edith Wharton, social commentator and shoulder-dog aficionado
Each of Wharton’s novels is a masterclass in finance all by itself, but my favorite is notable both for the aptness of its financial lessons and the awfulness of its protagonist: Undine Spragg. If you looked “social climber” up in the dictionary, you would find a picture of Undine Spragg.
American literature is all about money. For one thing, it’s all about making money: in the nineteenth century, writing was one of the few respectable ways for women to earn a living. Fortunately for American ladies, books about romance and strong morals and domestic life–things ladies were supposedly way better at than dudes–were very popular in the nineteenth century. So popular, in fact, that Nathaniel Hawthorne famously complained to his publisher in 1855, “America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash-and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed.”
Portrait of a man who can’t pay his bills and then blames the ladies for it
Maybe because authors were so hung up on making money (Hawthorne sure was, mostly because he was really bad at it), American novels are also pretty obsessed with money. American literature is full of financial advice and cautionary tales. Why listen to what so-called “experts” in the so-called “twenty-first century” have to say about how to stay solvent when the authors of the past offer so much free financial wisdom about the direct relationship between greed and a gruesome, embarrassing death or about the virtues of genteel poverty?
If your main complaint about your high school English class was that there wasn’t enough personal finance, then you’re in the right place. Let the classics of American literature teach you everything you need to know about the do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) of managing your money.