Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Todd McGowan

Second Advisor

Hilary Neroni


Most people want to be rich, and the reasons why usually do not require exposition. Despite gospel warnings about the difficulties of the wealthy entering paradise, multitudes clamor for the possibility of facing this dilemma firsthand. Tales from antiquity and mythologies utilize recognizable archetypes such as the profligate spender or stubborn miser that are still employed as rote moral instruction today. In one sense, exchangeability between positions of rich and poor is a staple of social storytelling because of its universal mutual intelligibility across time and place. Modern readers can likely identify descriptors and coding of rich and poor, despite the stark difference in access to economic resources enjoyed today.

Something timeless or universal exists at the core of why identifications of rich and poor retain saliency across monumental shifts in political economy. I describe this creature of fiction as the financial plot. In this project, I show how this creature populates fiction of all stripes in complementary, typically below the surface or in an auxiliary position. I trace the financial plot through the primary texts of Joseph de la Vega’s Confusion of Confusions (1688), Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1853), Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875), Joseph Conrad’s Chance (1913), and conclude with Theodore Dreiser’s The Financier (1912).

Superficial assertions that the resolution of a financial plot is merely a holdover or vestigial handmaiden of morality are easily grasped, but to stop there would be to ignore of how the characters and economic conditions reflect larger attitudes and theorizations of political economy over time. By adding a second layer of analysis using economic history and historicized financial practices of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen, and Joseph Schumpeter, the financial plot unlocks a new way of tracing the development and evolution of economic ideas and the larger structural changes brought about by the infusion and identification of market principles. Beneath the surface, the financial plot can reveal much more about the historical conditions of a text than its prevailing use as a supplemental or derivative element of characterization. By drawing upon economic and psychoanalytic insights, I theorize the financial plot’s ubiquity across time and political order in terms of the effect of death drive’s compulsion towards repetition amplified by a contemporary social circuit.



Number of Pages

80 p.