The Nouveaux Riches in English and American Literature
Wealth and new wealth are pervasive themes in world literature: wherever there is wealth, societies make distinctions between patricians and arrivistes. Modern writings about the newly rich begin with Moliere's classic "The Bourgeois Gentleman," and have continued, on the stage and screen and in fiction, ever since. From eighteenth-century literature, I have chosen Defoe's "Roxana," Sheridan's "School for Scandal," and Burney's "Evelina." From nineteenth-century England, we will study "Pride and Prejudice," Disraeli's "Sybil," Thackeray's "Vanity Fair," and Trollope's "The Way We Live Now." From the fin-de-siecle period, we will read and discuss Wilde's "An Ideal Husband and Wells's "Tono-Bungay." And finally, from the long fascination in American life with arriviste vulgarity, we will study James's "Washington Square," Howells's "The Rise of Silas Lapham," Wharton's "Custom of the Country," and--the apogee of vulgarity-- "Babbitt."