Those of you who didn’t lose your life savings with Mr. Madoff, and who can think about him with equanimity, may be interested in a very fine novel about his life: Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.
True, the novel is a good deal older than the man, but the Madoff story is all there, told in this made-up tale of financier Augustus Melmotte. There is the forceful personality on whom all confidence rests, the extraordinary gains, the mysteriousness of the source of those gains, the plausible and willingly gullible front men, the crash, the public fury, a suicide, and the inevitable calls for more regulation. But what law can truly protect people from their strong desire to believe, as a Madoff investor told an NPR reporter recently, that a year-by-year ten percent return, in all economic climates, is a safe bet?
This being Trollope there are also several love stories, good and bad characters of all classes and backgrounds, and lots of politics.
Published in 1875, The Way We Live Now is one of the most satirical of Trollope’s books. In his Autobiography he said the writing of this novel was “instigated by what I conceived to be the commercial profligacy of the age,” and he considered it exaggerated in its satire. Readers today may not.