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2 Responses

  1. Deb Hendrickson says:

    I just want to climb up on my tiny soap box and rant a bit about the connection universally made between the failure of Beaufort’s bank and the Panic of 1873. It seems that all scholars are agreed on this point, at least all the ones I can find on Google. 🙂

    I rant because I don’t think that it’s supported by the text. Wharton gives us a lot of clues to the dating of the novel in the early chapters. There’s the performance of Faust, which opens the book, the performance of the Shaugraun, and the presence of Middlemarch in Newland’s Big Box of Books.

    All of these date to 1874, which puts the failure of Beaufort’s bank in December of 1877.

    How do I get there? Well, Faust opened the 1874 season of the opera the Academy, and the Shauhgraun was first performed in New York in 1874. Middlemarch was first published in a single volume in 1874. So the novel opens in November 1874, Archer and May marry the next spring, 1875, Archer next sees Ellen about 18 months later (summer 1877), we’ve had Thanksgiving, so it’s December 1877.

    And Beaufort’s bank is just one of the many, many bank failures of the pre-regulation era. What got Beaufort in trouble with New York society was not the fact that bank failed, but the fact that the bank continued taking deposits after the officers knew it was going to fail.

    There was in fact such a bank failure in 1877, in San Francisco


    I don’t know if it was a model for Beaufort’s bank failure.

    What about Beaufort’s railroad speculations, which I think points most people to the Panic of 1873 (triggered by the collapse of Jay Cooke’s railroad)?

    1877 was the year of the Great Railroad Strike, a yearlong series of large, disruptive, and frequently violent wildcat strikes (organized unions did not yet exist) that disrupted freight and passenger movement across the country and led to not a few deaths. It also hurt railroad profits, hence the concern about Beaufort. :-

    Of course, with respect to the Panic itself, the depression resulting from it was at it’s worst at the novel’s opening and continues through these years. Not that New York society noticed. 🙂

    Anyway, that’s my take. I’m outnumbered and outcredentialed, but I still think I’m right. 🙂

    • Heather says:

      Outnumbered and outcredentialed, but not-out-impassioned!!!
      ; )

      The only thing I recall offhand is that the Metropolitan Opera (not the Academy of Music where our book’s character’s go) opened it’s doors with Faust in the fall of 1883. But prior to that, from everything I found, it sounded as though the Academy opened with Faust pretty much every year since Gounod wrote the thing in 1859.

      Re–Middlemarch –I’d seen critical comments about the publication date of that novel (in single volume form) before, but it doesn’t say he pulled a “single book of Middlemarch from the box” just that Middlemarch was in the box and that he’d recently been interested by reviews he’d read. I did find info saying it had been serialized prior to the 1874 single volume publication, but I can’t find if that means “serial volumes”–like Jane Eyre–or “serialIZED” like Bleak House (in a magazine)

      Beyond that, you got me. I’d have to go digging again and honestly, I’m just going to sit here and be impressed by you, if that’s okay.

      (Oh, I thought Beaufort’s scandal was that he was (a) a lousy speculator, (b) therefore out of money, and (c) scandalously kept taking money on credit when he knew very well he couldn’t pay it back? Though I may have missed something…)