Friday, December 19, 2008

Merdle by Numbers

Perhaps this year, the Dickens book to read is not A Christmas Carol. My first thought when I read about this whole Madoff Ponzi scheme business was of Mr. Merdle, a character in Dickens' Little Dorrit. Throughout the book, he is incredibly wealthy, powerful, and worshipped by society, introduced thusly:
Mr. Merdle was immensely rich; a man of prodigious enterprise; a Midas without the ears, who turned all he touched to gold. He was in everything good, from banking to building. He was in Parliament, of course. He was in the City, necessarily. He was Chairman of this, Trustee of that, President of the other. The weightiest of men had said to projectors, "Now, what name have you got? Have you got Merdle?" And, the reply being in the negative, had said, "Then I won't look at you."
Toward the end of the book, he turns out to have been a swindler, a complete fraud who caused the financial ruin of everyone who invested with him. He ultimately has an attackof conscience and kills himself. Why oh why can't scumbags today have such crises of conscience?

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