L’argent (Money), the 18th in Zola’s massive chronicle of France under the Second Empire, finds Saccard scrambling to get back in the game, trying to put behind him the disasters that came after The Kill. His is a world of financial chicanery – let’s say outright fraud – practiced on a colosal scale, pretty much in the open and with the benevolent neglect of Napoleon III’s ministers, of which Saccard’s brother is one. As with Sebastian Melmotte and Bernard Madoff, the intent is to generate enthusiasm for a stock issue, hysteria if possible, rake in the cash, and put it away before the great crash comes. Sound familiar..?
Saccard waxes grandiloquent as he allays the moral scruples of the adorable sister of the engineer whose great plans for the East he wishes to employ as the basis for his giant house of cards. She is upset that he isn’t following the financial code to the letter. She fears for the “little people” who will be crushed by his scheme, but after all, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, right? In the passage below – no English version on the web – he gives vent to his empassioned devotion to the cause of money, as opposed to the Old Economy of landed wealth.
«Mais, madame, personne ne vit plus de la terre…. L’ancienne fortune domaniale est une forme caduque de la richesse, qui a cessé d’avoir sa raison d’être. Elle était la stagnation même de l’argent, dont nous avons décuplé la valeur, en le jetant dans la circulation, et par le papier-monnaie, et par les titres de toutes sortes, commerciaux et financiers. C’est ainsi que le monde va être renouvelé, car rien n’était possible sans l’argent, l’argent liquide qui coule, qui pénètre partout, ni les applications de la science, ni la paix finale, universelle…. Oh! la fortune domaniale! elle est allée rejoindre les pataches. On meurt avec un million de terres, on vit avec le quart de ce capital placé dans de bonnes affaires, à quinze, vingt et même trente pour cent.» L’argent V
My inexpert translation here:
But, Madame, nobody lives on land anymore!…The ancient estates are an obsolete form of wealth that have lost their reason for being. They just let wealth stagnate, the weath which we throw into circulation with paper money and with all those commercial bits of paper that financiers create. This is how the world will be renewed, but it isn’t possible without money, liquid money that flows about and penetrates everywhere – not the application of science nor universal peace! Oh, those old landed estates! They’ve gone the way of stagecoaches. A person dies with a million in land, but with just a quarter of that, placed to good use, at fifteen or twenty-five percent, he lives!
Saccard is also a jew-hater. Zola treats us to an internal monologue in which he retails all the usual negative stereotypes of Jewish money-men that rattle around Saccard’s brain. It’s an amusing irony because those qualities are precisely the ones that define Saccard himself, while the successful Jews he meets, and resents, are portrayed, at least in the beginning, as gentle and reasonable people.