This is a very early E F Benson novel, published long before his Edwardian and post-First World War triumphs would appear, but it shows signs that the experienced Bensonite can recognise as an indication of future sublimity.
It’s a Victorian novelette, that in any other hands would never have made it out of the cheap weekly magazines. Shallow daughter of a spendthrift mother, who must marry for money, has a fabulously rich fiancé, Percy, who saves his future mother-in-law from the clutches of implacable moneylenders with a single cheque. Percy is starry-eyed with love and full of serious principles, and his oldest friend (a girl) has to stand by and watch while he is in the grip of the shallow girl, since she is sure that Percy is not quite as happy as he wants to be. But then, on the eve of his marriage and on his twenty-first birthday, after presiding over a celebratory banquet for all the tenants and staff, Percy is told the sources of his revenue, inherited from his hard-working grandfather, by the family’s congratulatory lawyers. And Percy promptly renounces everything, because of his principles.
It’s a good twist on a familiar plot, and Benson embroiders it nicely by developing the character of the shallow girl. Even though Percy is no longer fabulously rich, and has a solid middle-class income from rents, she desires the fabulous richness that she briefly experienced while visiting his houses, now sold to others. What is a reasonably-incomed middle-class rentier to do?
The Money Market is about wealth: where it comes from, how it affects people, how it determines lives, and what it does to personal principles. The action doesn’t move out of the strata of the rich, so there are no plummets from high to low estate. Much more interestingly, Benson puts his characters into a thought experiment, to which the readers can apply themselves by using their own situations.
The twist used Bernard Shaw’s technique of – part-way through the narrative – turning the audience around on itself to examine its assumptions, and asking them to reconsider their judgements. Percy’s best friend has many of the good lines, but the real pleasure of the novel is Benson’s constant sly pricking of social pretence and class-related expectations. It’s a minor work but a good one.
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