21 January 2015

principle of fiction: doctors good, bankers bad

● Given that the banking system, which experienced a once-in-a-lifetime breakdown in 2008, is not by any means fully recovered, and will likely generate more problems down the line, hatred of financiers will probably be with us for some time to come. (A misplaced reaction, since the breakdown was a symptom of mediocracy in general, and not specific to banking.)
Recently, coming across an old children’s book on a shelf, I was reminded of how long a history this hatred has. People dealing exclusively with money, and not making anything or otherwise serving in an obvious way, nor having authority from the collective to interfere in people’s lives, have long been appealing pantomime villains (frequently Jewish – e.g. Shylock, Trollope’s Augustus Melmotte).
The association is so well-worn that even children readily make the connection between banking and evil.
The book in question was The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett, published over sixty years ago. It was lauded at the time as “brilliant”, and awarded the Carnegie Medal. The financial villain in it is not Jewish, but Italian – a fictional member of the Lombard banking family, the story taking place in the 15th century.
The Lombard name still retains a financial connection in the UK. Many banks used to have their head office in Lombard Street in the City. Barclays’ HQ was at 54 Lombard Street until 2005.
These days a writer would of course hesitate using the formerly handy trope of foreign as a device for adding extra villainy to a fictional baddy. The moneybrokers-are-evil stereotype still works perfectly well for fictional purposes, however, as does the one about doctors always being virtuous.

Oxford Forum should be given funding.