If you overlook the Victorian language and references, The Way We Live Now could have been published this year. It's the Victorian version of Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, which in itself refers back to the serialized satirical novels of the Victorian era. (Round and round and round we go.) The book is a story of financial scandals, Madoff-like frauds, greedy society swells and social climbers, amid a general atmosphere of scandal, dishonesty, and moral decline. See what I mean about it being published yesterday?
Trollope wanted to make a moral point by satirizing what he saw as a society in moral ruin. He said, "If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into Parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel."
|David Suchet as the great Augustus Melmotte|
Trollope apparently agreed about his immoral characters being of greater appeal to the reader. "The interest of the story," he once wrote, "lies among the wicked and foolish people."
Melmotte is a low scoundrel, but he's an entertaining, vivid, low scoundrel. He's a man with juice, and I'd rather read a story about a juicy low scoundrel than a dull and proper man of morals.
I'm looking forward to watching the 2001 BBC mini-series made of the novel, with a great cast (David Suchet, Cillian Murphy, Matthew Macfayden (Mr. Darcy!), and Miranda Otto, among many others).