Character Flaws—The Price of Financial Woes in Literature

A few things are timeless in life: love, family, work and finances. Many famous literary works use money management to illustrate their characters’ struggles and flaws. How can we apply these stories in modern times? What can we learn from these characters’ mistakes? Read on to find the answers.

Emma Bovary (Madame Bovary). From the moment we meet Emma, it’s clear that she is a woman who longs for more. More of what, she isn’t always certain, but her insatiable nature is enough to land her in plenty of trouble. After marrying Charles—a mediocre country physician—Emma soon realizes that she doesn’t love him and begins to soothe herself dissatisfaction with financial comforts, a habit that spirals out of control. She is eventually forced to extend her loans and lie to keep the charade going. Although her troubles increase, she sees little reason to change her spendthrift ways.

  • The lesson: Don’t spend emotionally. Emma shops because she’s unhappy, a trend that exists today in many households. Her overwhelming debt does nothing to increase her happiness; instead, it succeeds in driving her mad and making her problems worse. Don’t follow Madame Bovary’s path. Separate your finances and emotions.

Mr. Wickham (Pride and Prejudice). Wickham is a devious character, full of charm and deceit. Once a trusted and loved member of the Darcy clan, Wickham’s manipulations and demands for money cause him to fall out of favor with his benefactor. This doesn’t stop him from creeping into the lives of the Bennett family, an act that proves disastrous for everyone around him.

  • The lesson: Don’t rely on others for financial support. We’ve talked about the dangers of cosigning, and while it’s clear that Wickham would have no problem leeching off family and friends in modern times, there’s no reason to reduce yourself to his level. While a helping hand is sometimes necessary, you shouldn’t build financial stability on the good graces of others. Create a solid foundation by building a strong budget and relying on your own income. The result will help you maintain good relationships and avoid financial mistakes.
Rebecca Sharp (Vanity Fair). It would be nice to feel sorry for Becky Sharp, but her social climbing antics make it nearly impossible. Born into a low social class, Becky improves her prospects by marrying Rawdon Crawley, a man whose aunt has considerable means. The newly married couple is fond of gambling and cheating their creditors in order to live a life of luxury. Becky takes this strategy too far when she attaches herself to the Marquis of Steyne, a rich but immoral man who threatens her status quo.
  • The lesson: Avoid “keeping up with the Joneses.” Sure, a comfortable lifestyle is preferred, but it shouldn’t be pursued at any cost. Becky’s desire to appear successful eclipses her limited levels of common sense. In today’s world, a similar road will lead to inflated debts, high stress and a certain need for credit repair. Don’t compromise your stability for appearance’s sake; work hard to establish yourself and transform your aspirations into a tangible reality.

Nick and Amy Dunne (Gone Girl).  This modern-day novel has enjoyed reader accolades and a highly-anticipated film adaptation. Without giving away the plot, be aware: Nick and Amy Dunne have problems. Their dysfunctional marriage reaches its breaking point after Nick loses his job and they are forced to relocate to Missouri from New York City. They use Amy’s trust fund to open a bar in their new hometown, a situation Amy finds increasingly stifling. Although we can’t blame the outcome of the novel on the Dunnes’ financial woes, money certainly plays a role in the plot.

  • The lesson: Practice smart planning. Planning may not have worked for the Dunnes, but it can work for you. Creating an emergency fund is the best way to protect yourself from unforeseen bills and lost employment. Saving six months’ worth of funds will help you make ends meet and, you know, avoid ruining your marriage. It’s never too soon to start planning.