Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)

Document Type



The nineteenth-century novelists studied in this dissertation used tragic form to investigate economic and social changes taking place around them. Honoré de Balzac’s Le Père Goriot (1834), William Dean Howells’ The Rise of Silas Lapham (1884-1885), Giovanni Verga’s Mastro-don Gesualdo (1888), Benito Pérez Galdós’s Miau, (1888), and Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks (1901) reflect the interest of writers in France, the United States, Italy, Spain, and Germany in questions concerning how money in an evolving capitalist society not only had a major role in shaping the behavior and personalities of specific individuals but also affected such institutions as the family. Under these changing social conditions, these writers developed a new tragic model: a middle-class individual destroyed by social and economic change involving the role of money in a capitalist society. In their novels, the businessman or bureaucrat replaced the nobility as a subject for a tragedy, which could consist of an entire novel or a tragic narrative imbedded in a novel. One aspect of the role of money which these novelists chose to investigate was how bankruptcy, either the catastrophe itself or the fear of it, could lead to tragedy. Caught up in the struggle to prosper, the individual man, and in the novels studied here it is always a man, became alienated within his family and society as relations based on the need to make money replaced traditional bonds based on family and social ties. The lives of the main protagonists revealed similar characteristics related to how money affected their function in society and gave the novelists the tools they needed for an investigation of the new capitalism. These novels parallel work being done by the writers’ contemporaries who were analyzing the same social phenomena and developing ideas which would become modern social science. The tragic figure in these novels could easily be seen as being caught in Max Weber’s ‘iron cage’, the result of allowing capitalism’s ethic of money-making to become too important in his life. Georg Simmel’s writing on the function of money, tragedy, exchange theory, and gratitude are also important in understanding these novels.



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Committee Chair

Joseph Ricapito