The Financial Fiction Genre

About this site : Sources, References, Links

The love of money is the root of all evil


Money, as the Biblical quotation above reminds us, is an exceedingly powerful motivating force and therefore it is not surprising that it plays an important role in a great many plots in many types of literature. However while money itself receives a lot of attention in fiction, banks and other financial institutions have received much less. Legal fiction is well-established as a literary genre and has had more recognition than financial fiction. The Financial Fiction Genre web site was created to help to correct that imbalance.

Writers of the calibre of Dickens, Thackeray, Zola, and in our own times, Tom Wolfe, are among those who have set novels in the world of banking and finance. The first three were all best-selling authors in their day. Since then the financial world has changed enormously but the psychology of risk, speculation and fraud has not changed. The motivations of those who work in that world have not altered and nor have its attractions for modern novelists.

My own interest in this field is due to the fact that my sister Linda Davies is a former banker who is now a novelist. I also maintain some web pages on real Financial Scandals, e.g. Barings, BCCI, BRE-X, Credit Lyonnais etc., and also on the History of Money. I am not an expert on English literature nor on any of the authors mentioned in this guide (apart from Linda Davies - and she may dispute that!) - simply a librarian who has investigated what has been written on this subject. If, as Shakespeare's claimed in Hamlet, the function of art is to hold a mirror up to nature, then it may be of interest to compare fact and fiction irrespective of which of these is your primary interest.

References and other Sources Used

  • The Representation of business in English literature introduced and edited by Arthur Pollard. London: IEA, 2000.
    The Institute of Economic Affairs, which published this book, is a British think tank. The IEA was concerned that the way in which business is portrayed in literature adversely affects public opinion and therefore asked a group of specialists in English literature, headed by Professor Arthur Pollard, to produce a detailed report on the subject.
  • Parker, R.H.
    Accounting in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
    Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 12, no. 1, 1999, p. 93-111.
    The article discusses Chaucer's own knowledge of accounting and relevant material in the General Prologue and the Shipman's Tale.
  • Brewer, D.S.
    Chaucer and his world.
    London: Methuen, 1978.
    On page 111 Chaucer is described as "the first and so far the only English poet who was a customs officer and accountant.
  • Alborn, T.L.
    The moral of the failed bank: professional plots in the Victorian money market.
    Victorian Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, 1995, p. 199-226.
  • Novak, Maximillian E.
    Economics and the fiction of Daniel Defoe.
    New York : Russell & Russell, 1976.
    ISBN 0-8462-1789-9.
  • Pavord, Anna
    The tulip.
    London : Bloomsbury, 1999. ISBN 0-7475-4296-1
    This very recently published book on the history of the tulip has plenty of information on tulip mania (or tulipomania as it is also called) - the world's first great stock exchange crisis.
  • Hunt, Herbert James
    Balzac's Comidie humaine.
    London : Athlone Press, 1959.
    Chapter 9, entitled Paris Scenes of 1837-8. Bureaucracy, Business and Banking discusses The Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau and The House of Nucingen.
  • Butler, Ronnie
    Balzac and the French Revolution.
    London : Croom Helm, 1983. ISBN 0-7099-3208-1
    Despite its title this work is mainly about the events during Balzac's own lifetime. Chapter 9, especially pages 225-241, describe the developments in banking, and in the economy in general, that formed the background to Balzac's novels.
  • Ferguson, Niall
    The world's banker: the history of the house of Rothschild.
    London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998. ISBN 0-297-81539-3.
    Balzac is briefly mentioned in a few places in this work which, would be relevant to anyone interested in the connection between Rothschild and the character Nucingen.
  • Dickens, Charles
    Little Dorrit / edited with an introduction and notes by Harvey Peter Sucksmith.
    Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-19-281592-x.
    See the preface in which Dickens mentions two contemporary bank scandals.
  • Weiss, Barbara
    Secret pockets and secret breasts: Little Dorrit and the commercial scandals of the fifties.
    Dickens Studies Annual : Essays on Victorian Fiction vol. 10, 1982, p. 67-67.
  • Evans, David Morier
    Facts, failures, and frauds : revelations, financial, mercantile, criminal.
    New York : Augustus M. Kelley, 1968. - viii,727p. - (Reprints of economic classics) Facsimile edition of the work published in London by Groombridge & Sons in 1859.
    Among the frauds discussed in this book is the case of the Royal British Bank. Over 100 pages are devoted to it.
  • Glendinning, Victoria
    Hutchinson: London, 1992.
    The Way We Live Now is discussed in various places, particularly pages 431-434. Glendinning notes on page 433 that Trollope invented the phrase "something in the City" meaning someone with a vaguely understood occupation involving finance at an institution in London's financial district. However, although Trollope certainly used the phrase in the Eustace Diamonds and The Way We Live Now and may be responsible for its popularity, the Oxford English Dictionary gives examples of earlier uses.
  • Maltby, Josephine
    Accounting and the soul of the middle class: Gustav Freytag's Soll und Haben. Accounting, Organisations and Society, vol. 22, no. 1, 1997, p.69-97.
  • Watanabe-O'Kelly, Helen (ed.)
    The Cambridge history of German literature.
    Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1997.
    ISBN 0-521-43417-3.
  • Sanders, Valerie
    on over passion : Harriet Martineau and the Victorian novel.
    hton : Harvester, 1986.
    I0-7108-1018-0 Webb, Robert Kiefer
    Harriet Martineau : a radical Victorian.
    London : Heinemann, 1960.
  • Richardson, Joanna
    London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978
    ISBN 0-297-77515-4
    On pages 141-145 Richardson mentions Zola's lack of a bank account and discusses the sources he used in writing L'argent (Money).
  • Ray, Gordon N. Thackeray : the uses of adversity, 1811-1846.
    London : O.U.P., 1955.
    Pages 159-160 describe Thackeray's brief involvement with bill discounting. On pages 162-163 Ray describes how bank failures in India in 1833 were responsible for the loss of Thackeray's inherited wealth.
  • Rockoff, H. 'The Wizard of Oz' as a Monetary Allegory.
    Journal of Political Economy vol. 98 no. 4, August 1990, p. 739-60.
  • Evans, I.O.
    Jules Verne and his work.
    London : Arco, 1965.
    On pages 31-41 Verne's early career as a stockbroker and his attempts to combine that with writing are discussed.
  • Chesneaux, Jean
    The political and social ideas of Jules Verne.
    London : Thames and Hudson, 1972.
    ISBN 0-500-01084-6.
    Verne's stockbroking career is discussed on pages 11-12.
  • Butler, Samuel
    Erewhon / edited with an introduction by Peter Mudford. - New and revised ed.
    Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1970.
    ISBN 0-14-043057-1
    On pages 17 and 267 Mudford refers to Butler's influence on George Bernard Shaw.
  • Bellamy, Edward
    Looking backward, 2000-1887 / edited by John L. Thomas.
    Cambridge : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967.
    The 88 page introduction by Thomas contains information on Bellamy's career and his political views.
  • Franch, John
    Robber Baron: The Life of Charles Tyson Yerkes
    University of Illinois Press, 2006.
    Charles Tyson Yerkes (1837-1905) was one of the most influential and controversial public figures in America. Robber Baron is the first biography of the traction magnate who was behind the Chicago Loop Elevated, an investor in the London Underground, namesake of the University of Chicago's observatory, and vilified as Frank Cowperwood in Theodore Dreiser's trilogy trilogy, The Financier, The Titan, and The Stoic.

  • Lehan, Richard
    Theodore Dreiser : his world and his novels.
    Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.
    Contains a good survey of the sources Dreisser used in writing the Financier, the Titan, and the Stoic, and of parallels between the career of Charles Yerkes and that of Henry Worthington Cowperwood, the principal character in those novels. The University of Chicago Alumni Magazine in February 1997 had a long biographical article about Yerkes, and the website of Chicago's Rapid Transit System also has a lot of information about him.
  • The encyclopedia of science fiction : an illustrated a to z / general editor Peter Nicholls ... [et al.].
    London : Granada, 1979.
    ISBN 0-246-11020-1
    This encyclopaedia has articles on economics and money in science fiction, and some of the individual authors mentioned there are also the subject of more detailed biographical articles.
  • Hyde, H. Montgomery
    John Law : the history of an honest adventurer.
    Home & Van Thal, 1948.
    This biography was published a year before Rafael Sabatini's historical novel about John Law.
  • Murphy, Antoin E.
    John Law : economic theorist and policy-maker.
    Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1997.
    ISBN 0-19-828649-x
    A more recent biography for people wanting information about one of the most colourful characters in the history of economics.
  • Hailey, Sheila
    I married a best seller
    Garden City, N.Y : Doubleday, 1978.
    ISBN 0-385-12337-x
    For information about Arthur Hailey his wife's autobiography is a natural source.
  • Sutherland, John
    Best sellers: popular fiction of the 1970s.
    London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1981.
    ISBN 0-7100-0750-7
    Chapter 4 is entitled the novels of Arthur Hailey.
  • Harvey, Robert
    Cochrane: the life and exploits of a fighting captain
    London: Constable, 2000.
    ISBN 1-84119-162-0
    Harvey has quite a bit to say about how Cochrane was the model for the hero of Patrick O'Brian's nautical fiction, Jack Aubrey, and there is also good coverage in the book of Cochrane's trial for an alleged stock exchange fraud.
  • West, Brian P.
    On the social history of accounting: The Bank Audit by Bruce Marshall. Accounting History vol. 6, no. 1, 2001, p. 11-31.
    An article about what Marshall's book can tell us about the image and status of accountants in the 1930s, the period in which it is set.

Cents and Sensibility A literary history of money by Gary Kamiya. An article published in Salon, the online magazine, in October 1997 discussing the way money has been portrayed in literature from the time of the writers of Ancient Greece and the Bible to Scott Fitzgerald.

Charles Dickens Gad's Hill Place has information about the novels of Dickens and a large collection of quotations grouped into various categories, one of which is money.

Information about many contemporary authors can be found on the web. A list of authors of financial fiction is maintained by Kokomo Howard County Public Library Indiana, USA.

The Japanese Business Novel, a resource for giving finance an international flavor by Susan White, R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland.

KIP Notes, a website devoted to business and management history, has extensive lists of books on that subject, including one on Business Fiction.

As the plots of most works of financial fiction involve fraud or other criminal activities this genre naturally overlaps with legal fiction. Anyone interested in the history of that genre should consult Collins to Grisham: A Brief History of the Legal Thriller.

Forensic Accountants appearing in the Literature is an article by D. Larry Crumbley, a professor in the Department of Accounting, Louisiana State University, who has written a series of novels with an accountant who solves crimes as the main character. He has also described how he uses these novels as a means of explaining accounting concepts.

For background information on financial history see the web site on the History of Money, especially the annotated chronology, or the book by Glyn Davies on which the web site is based.


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Last updated 20 February 2010.