Mr Melmotte arrives in London amidst rumours of vast wealth, shady deals and a lack of breeding. It is set in London in 1870 and there are several lordlets in search of an heiress. Melmotte’s wealth is reckoned to be so great it overrides any considerations that he might be a commoner.
One of the lordlets is Felix Carbury whose mother has decided that she will make a living (she has to because her son gambles away her money) writing books. She surmises that it is more important to persuade influential critics to say her books are good than it is to actually write good books. Felix’s sister, Hetta, has an offer of marriage from her cousin, Roger Carbury, who is a model of virtue. But she is in love with Paul Montague, a hapless young man who is manipulated into investing his entire wealth in a transamerican railway and finds it hard to disentangle himself from a previous engagement.
Melmotte is brought in on the railway scam and the share price rises. Melmotte’s wealth is reckoned to be incalculable and his ego is flattered to the point that he is persuaded to stand for parliament. Then everything starts to unravel.
This was originally published as a serial and occasionally there is a bit of recapping. Obviously this is a very old book so there’s not much to say about style – it is of its time. However, I found it highly readable and was completely absorbed. None of the characters really come out well and yet it is hard to say who is really bad.
It was funny in places and is very relevant to the current economic climate. I was a little disppointed by the ending and would have preferred a less fairytale resolution, but that’s a minor point. Overall it was an excellent read and I recommend it.