16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Wednesday, March 20, 1912: I lost myself in reading a book, and as a result went to bed at a quarter of three this morning. I was awfully sleepy when I woke up.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
Wow, Grandma must have been reading an awesome book if she stayed up until almost three a.m. And, it was even a school night!!
What could the book have been? A mystery? . A romance?
I bet that she wasn’t reading The Financier by Theodore Dreiser.
A couple months ago I wrote a post about books published in 1912 that are still in print—and The Financier was one of them.
In this era of Bernie Madoff and Occupy Wall Street, I wanted to see if a hundred-year-old novel about a crooked financier would still seem relevant.
The book told the story of a man in Philadelphia who misused municipal money to become very, very rich.
Due to unexpected circumstances, the whole scheme unraveled and he went to jail.
I found the details of his financial scheming confusing and boring—but I did get insights into the psychology of someone who might commit financial fraud.
The book also explored social norms, and seemed very supportive of extra-marital affairs and divorce in a era when divorce was very rare—though the characters had to pay a price for finding happiness.
After the financier got out of jail—he did what he was born to do. He moved to Chicago and again became rich as he helped to develop the Commodity Exchange.
Bottom line: The book wasn’t optimistic that human nature will change—and suggested that some people just are born to know how to make money, even if it hurts others.