Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A little Dickens is a great place to go to sharpen your financial acumen

Illustration for Nicholas Nickleby by Hablot Browne
With the holiday season almost upon us, I can't help but try to unite my two loves: writing and making money. So to bring these two worlds together in an article, I've decided to enlist the aid of Charles Dickens.

Now, I don't know much about Charles Dickens' personal life, but from having read several of his stories, the man must have been the equivalent of a C.P.A. because he understood the integral relation between a person and their money. To elaborate, lets look at how this famous writer used money to wreak havoc in the lives of characters. In Great Expectations, Dickens delivers a story where Pip receives a windfall from a mysterious benefactor who turns out to be a criminal. To contrast this with Nicholas Nickleby, the title character's troubles begin after his father loses his life savings in a bad investment (Bernie Madoff anyone?)

Now a question for you Dickens fans out there: have you ever wondered how often the plots in his written works turn on making bad financial decisions? How many of us wanted to save Pip from squandering his money? And poor Nickleby and his family could have been spared financial doom with just a little diversification, but that was probably an ugly word back then, right? Dickens is where many of us can get our first experience with the "Swindling Financier" character, and it would behoove us as critical readers to pay close attention because these "swindling financiers" are real people and they want nothing but to separate you from your hard-earned money. I can't help but think maybe a few people could have been spared financial ruin at the hands of Madoff if they'd just bothered to read a little Dickens.

Now, you may not agree with me (and that's fine) but I think money tends to dissolve concerns about a person's background and overall character. I'm not sure why this is, but I've just noticed it a lot in my life. Maybe the illusion of having money and wealth and not being a stinking poor person breeds "trust." And Dickens warns time and time again against this kind of thing: never ever judge a person by their appearance or by the things that they own.

And of course, any conversation about Dickens that centers around his view of money would not be complete without touching on Ebeneezer Scrooge. A Christmas Carol is the ultimate story that shows you a vast difference between "saving" and "hoarding." As many of you know (perhaps with first-hand experience) hoarding is dysfunctional and unhealthy. I wonder if they even had a DSM in Dickens' day. If they did, they could have used his thoughts on "hoarding" and put it in there as a  mental illness so that others who have this disorder could get help in order to pursue more productive lives.

In short, a little Dickens is a great place to go to sharpen your financial acumen, and that's all I've got to say about that. Have you noticed any nuggets of financial wisdom tucked away in the fiction you read? If so, please share in the comments.

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I'm going to take a short blogging break. May you all have a great Thanksgiving, and I'll see you in December for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Gobble Gobble and all that :).

17 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

So Charles Dickens was the Jim Cramer or Suze Orman of his time? He probably should have gone around to hotel conference rooms with motivational speeches and such. But clearly there's an opportunity to write a book called "The Charles Dickens Guide to Making Money."

Stephen Hayes said...

I read that Dickens' dad was sent to the poor house for debt, and back then this meant the entire family was sent to debtor's prison. I think this traumatized the future writer so badly that the theme of "money" figured prominently in his work. Happy Thanksgiving.

Elise Fallson said...

Not a fan of Dickens works but it is interesting how our personal lives can seep into our writing. Have a great Thanksgiving, Michael. Eat lots of turkey for me. (:

Susan Kane said...

Dickens was a society changer. Brilliant and a little odd, but one with great vision.

Helena said...

A fellow Dickens lover! I love Dickens and how he had to leave school at an early age because of his father's sudden loss of middle class wealth, and go to work in a factory with other poor kids. Biographers point out that because of these experiences we now have all these wonderful novels by Dickens, while if he had remained comfortably middle class or wealthy all his life, we would today have a bunch of books by him about fox hunting.

Oh, and I love how Bleak House opens with a years-old civil trial with heirs fighting over money, and by the book's end the trial is over because the lawyers have used up all that money in the legal battle, so the heirs get nothing.

Cally Jackson said...

Don't bury a bag of money in the sand while you go have a swim at the beach. The Australian movie, Two Hands, taught me that. Fun post. :-)

Julie Flanders said...

I'm trying to learn more about investing so maybe I should re-read some Dickens books. I need all the help I can get.

Happy Thanksgiving, Michael. :)

Adam said...

Today I saw at least 3 Christmas carol parodies. Ah the holiday season

David P. King said...

Love Dickens. Got a nice printed collection of his stories, actually. And yes, the man knew his money. You know he wrote A Christmas Carol on a whim to pay some bills? Who knew it would become such a classic, eh? :)

J.L. Campbell said...

Enjoy thanksgiving. You know, I had a period in high school when I read everything Dickens because we used one of his books for lit, but darn if I can remember anything I read back then.

Brinda said...

It's been a long time since I read any Dickens. I enjoyed the post and it's timely during the holidays. I hate the monetary ties to festivities right now.

Liz Blocker said...

That's a great insight - you're right, money DOES tend to breed a weird kind of trust sometimes. That's a good point, and now that I think about it, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

I loved the Dickens theme today :) It's perfect for the holidays. Enjoy your break!

Em-Musing said...

Have a great break and happy Thanksgiving.

Liz A. said...

Ever noticed how much more our time seems to be like Dickens'? They made all these laws so that things wouldn't get so bad, but over the last 30 or so years, they've managed to chip away at those safeguards until they're gone.

Ah, the pendulum of life.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Michael .. I've never looked at Dickens that way - I'll have to have a rethink ... but so often hardship sends authors off to write their best books ...

Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the break - cheers Hilary

Misha Gericke said...

I never thought of Dickens that way. Makes sense, though. Have a good time away. :-)

Jay Noel said...

Dickens...hmmm....I have a love/hate relationship with him. I have to work very hard to get through some of his work. So verbose.

BUT, I do believe he was motivated to not make the same mistakes his father made. I think being poor is a great motivator. Didn't Stephen King write his books late at night after substitute teaching? And I thought he lived in a trailer.

Maybe I should go live in a van, down by the river.