Thursday, March 20, 2008

Luck, Money and Our Mutual Friend

Eight women from one county tax office sharing a $276 million powerball ticket is making big news around here (as is the fact that none of them immediately quit, at least one citing, "well, somebody has to be here to process the tax payments"). Newspapers in West Virginia are quick to equate winning powerball with the height of luckiness, although they usually can't do so without mentioning past WV powerball megawinner Jack Whitaker who has little to show from his $315 million winnings except divorce, drunk driving arrests and court cases revolving around the death of his druggie granddaughter.

Can someone become instantly rich and maintain their good nature? The Mister and I, of course, think that we could. Having never been blessed or cursed with the desire to buy lottery tickets, large sums to gamble or filthy-rich relatives about to die, we are unlikely to ever find out.

The question of the compatibility of wealth and merit underlies Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. The book is a good read. At 910 pages in the Penguin Classics version, it is a bit long to pick up for some quick escapism, but I highly recommend it for those of you who find entertainment in well-described the absurdities of life.* Throughout the book, money, viewed by almost all characters as lucky, corrupts and destroys those who attain it too easily. The nouveau riche and old money are all soundly mocked.

While the misdeeds of the wealthy make for fun reading, I was pleased that Dickens did not place any intrinsic nobility in poverty. In OMF, scoundrels are found at all levels of the social spectrum and for those who are of true merit, money and happiness can co-exist. While riches may be unlucky, as we should learn from Midas, most lotto winners, and Jesus, I feel that people of any means suggesting that poverty is good for others are foolish idiots, and I'm glad Dickens avoids that path.

Our Mutual Friend ends happily (one of the reason I really enjoy Dickens novels. One may not be sure who all of the good guys are but I can be fairly well assured that things will turn out okay for them) with a few unbelievable plot turns. Discerning which plot twist is the unbelievable one: that the good-guy could be quickly corrupted by wealth or that the good guy really wasn't corrupted by wealth, leads straight back to the questions "how unlucky is money?" and "how much money can co-exist with goodness?"

I don't know. Do you?

*I've only read three Dickens novels. A Tale of Two Cities is masterfully plotted and really an amazing book. Great Expectations had neither the humor nor the plotting and I found it tedious. Our Mutual Friend was recommended and lent to me by two of my true intellectual siblings in law, who reminded me to read it slowly, the way that 19th century readers would have, in the Dickens discussions on Wuthering Expectations. 140some years after orginal publication, Our Mutual Friend is still witty, thought provoking and fun, if the ending does leave something to be desired in the way of verisimilitude. Thanks to the sibs for the book.


Irene said...

Mmm, definitely sounds like an interesting read. I wasn't a huge fan of "Great Expectations" but I've always thought I should be familiar with more than one Dickens novel.

stephen said...

Its always hard to appreciate what its like to live in a class-ridden society where the rich have no interest in those in poverty.

It is of course, only a short plane ride to the UK to find out.

Sparkling Squirrel said...

Irene, I'd definitely recommend OMF or A Tale of Two Cities, even if you didn't like Great Expectations (which definitely disappointed me).

Stephen- the planes fly the other way should you need to be in a society where money is a surrogate for luck, worth and class.