Key takeaways from one of the greatest personal finance novels of all time.
Topics covered include:
- Why it is easier to keep doing the same old thing
- Why partners should discuss their finances
- Why debt can be suffocating
- Why leverage can be dangerous
- One of the most satisfying ways to give away wealth
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Welcome to Money For The Rest of Us. This is the personal finance show on money, how it works, how to invest it, and how to live without worrying about it. I’m your host David Stein. Today is episode 375. It’s titled, 5 Financial Lessons from Middlemarch.
When we look back on the COVID-19 pandemic, there are certain sounds, or movies, or books that will always remind us of what it was like. Particularly the spring of 2020, when we were locked down in our homes, the level of uncertainty was incredible. Most of the global economy was shut down. Whenever I hear the desperate and haunting call of the white-winged dove, I remember the pandemic, being locked down in Phoenix; evening walks with LaPriel, our daughter, our daughter-in-law and son, and our aging Shih Tzu. I remember the novels I read, and they remind me of the pandemic. Paulette Jiles’ book News of the World, and the 850-page tome Middlemarch by George Elliot. George Elliot was a pen name for Mary Ann Evans, who lived from 1819 to 1880.
Introduction to Middlemarch
Middlemarch is probably the most financial novel of the 19th century that I can recall. It deals with day-to-day life, debts, trying to figure out what to do for a profession, giving money away, having enough money to live on. In 1856, George Elliot, at age 35 produced a scathing essay about what was wrong with popular fiction of that day. She titled it “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.” She began writing Middlemarch in 1857. It was published in serial form in 1871 and 1872. Novelist Virginia Woolf described it as one of the few English novels written for grown-up people, because it deals with day-to-day grown-up problems. Other prominent writers publishing in the early 1870s include Thomas Hardy, Louisa May Alcott, Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll, and Leo Tolstoy.
Middlemarch is a fictional town in the midlands region of central England. The novel is principally about the life of Dorothea Brooke, a 19-year-old woman who is expected to marry her next-door neighbor, a Baronet, Sir James Chettam. Elliot writes, “How should Dorothea not marry a girl so handsome, and with such prospects? Nothing could hinder it but her love of extremes. She liked to read and do good works.” By extremes, Elliott’s referring to religious extremes. She writes, “A young lady of some birth and fortune, who knelt suddenly down on a brick floor by the side of a sick laborer and prayed fervidly as if she thought herself living in the time of the Apostles, who had strange whims of fasting like a papist, and of sitting up at night to read old theological books. Those extremes,” Elliot suggested, “could turn a man off. Such a wife might awaken you some fine morning”, she writes, “with a new scheme for the application of her income, which would interfere with political economy and keeping of saddle horses. Dorothea doesn’t marry Sir James Chettam. Instead, she marries Edward Casaubon, a man 20 years older than her, who spends most of his time researching for a book, which he never actually writes. He has rows of notebooks filled with research, and he’s constantly trying to condense them, but never actually gets around to writing the book. Dorothea envisions a life of intellectual rigor and goodness, designing and building cottages for the poor, assisting her husband in producing his literary masterpiece.
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