Por Holly WilliamsMay 25, 2023
A new wave of books is entering the intriguing inner sanctums of the mega-rich. Why these stories fascinate generations, asks Holly Williams.
The catchphrase “eat the rich,” apocryphally attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau during the French Revolution, has seen a resurgence in recent years as a rally hashtag on TikTok and Twitter, and has been used to describe the wave of movies and shows. of television than to take gleeful revenge on the super-rich. Think Succession (finale this weekend), Parasite, Menu, Crystal Onion, White Lotus, and Triangle of Pain. To what extent these are shootouts in a new class war is highly debatable, but one thing is for sure: we absolutely eat the content.orich. In fact, our hunger for such stories seems insatiable.
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The trend is by no means limited to the screen; curiously, the callslegacy scriptsthey were recently published in book form by the literary publisher Faber. And probably novels are emergency texts for our obsession with opulence and fabulousness. Of course, this is partly because, for the first few hundred years, most novelists had to be wealthy enough to afford such a career. There's a reason so many pre-20th century "classics" are about high society, and it's notFairthat readers find them fascinating.
In Succession, the generational wealth of the Roy clan is at the heart of the drama (Source: HBO)
But that too is something that shows no signs of changing. Consider the megahit books that inevitably became the most brilliant adaptations, like Crazy Rich Asians, Big Little Lies, and even the Fifty Shades trilogy, both rich porn and otherwise. TikTok's recent Dark Academia trend has blended old-fashioned, elite educational settings with a gothic vibe, and is mostly inspired by books – key lyrics include classics like Oscar Wilde and Donna Tartt's The Picture of Dorian Gray.secret historyalong with recent #BookTok bestsellers like Olivia Blake's The Atlas Six and Leigh Bardugo's Ninth House.
I wanted to write about generational wealth, from a generational perspective - Jenny Jackson
Several of the hot novels of 2023 hover around one percent. Sarah Thomas, former private tutor to the children of billionaires, takes us into the world of Russian oligarchs in her debut Queen K, while Ellery Lloyd's new thriller The Club takes place in the ultra-exclusive members' club on an island private and has been selected for the Reese Witherspoon book club. But surely the most hyped novel of the year is Pineapple Street, the brilliant debut from American publisher-turned-author Jenny Jackson, who was named forModaand optional for TV.
The New York Times bestseller tells the story of the Stocktons, a WASP family from Brooklyn Heights who made a sizeable fortune in New York real estate. He walks a fine line between satirizing the Stocktons (sample dialogue: "Oh no! I left my Cartier bracelet in Lena's BMW and she's going to her grandmother's house in Southampton soon!") and inviting us to empathize Some readers might cringe at the thought of it, but anyone who opens Pineapple Street will likely be completely engrossed. He's sharp and compassionate, showing the possibility that even the mega-rich can open their eyes to moral questions about inherited wealth.
If that seems to clash with the latest "eat rich" content, well, it's intentional. "We've seen an environment of filthy rich people and I'm not sure you can do a lot of new digging there," Jackson tells BBC Culture, speaking from New York via video call. He loves shows like Succession, but felt that "it was perhaps more interesting to look at people trying to be good, or who thought they were good, and had to deal with their privilege in different ways."
One of the main inspirations was an article in The New York Times about trust fund kids.giving yoursmoney. Jackson was fascinated by how this recognition of the injustice of inherited wealth is far more common among millennials and Generation Z than previous generations, who can remain baffled, if not downright hostile, to such egalitarian trends.
In Jenny Jackson's novel Pineapple Street, an outsider marries a wealthy New York family (Source: Penguin)
"I'm 43 years old, on the verge of Generation X and Millennials, and my approach has always been this: money seems great, I really wish I had it! Literally so untapped," Jackson admits with airy honesty. "However, if I were twenty now and had a trust fund, I would probably have complicated feelings about it. So I wanted to write about generational wealth from a generational perspective."
Jackson's inspiration was literally at his fingertips: Living on Pineapple Street in Brooklyn Heights, albeit in a modest apartment, he snooped among the wealthier neighbors. "I've always walked past this apartment with these giant windows, a piano and huge Chinese urns, who lives there?"
In fact, Jackson was well placed to envision it: Although she may come from a small-middle-class background in Massachusetts, when she moved to New York, she found herself thrown into a world of editorial parties and fancy luncheons, as well as sharing an apartment with three investment bankers. She now knows her neighbors through her sons' preschool: They recently held a fundraiser where one of the prizes was a child-sized Tesla. Let's say she was taking notes.
And that is certainly a key part of the appeal of the story of the megarics: the pleasure of browsing. Whether we aspire to extreme wealth or find it disgusting, many of us can't resist taking a good look at its excesses, or its carefully underappreciated"quiet luxury".
stories of rich people
At its most basic, the lure of stories about rich people can be an occasion for pure, mindless fantasy: the escapism of imagining what it would be like to be a stinky rich man. There's a reason so many thrilling romances and silliness feature foolishly rich heroes: why not dream of being swept into the lap of not just a lover but luxury?
But there is also somethingespeciallytantalizing glimpse into an elite world filled with mysterious codes or strict hierarchies. Much of Pineapple Street is devoted to watching the outsider character, Sasha, marry into a family and experience "class shame" for making a mistake. Jackson has a theory about why we're interested in the label: "I think we secretly believe we're going to be millionaires one day, so we should probably learn the codes to be ready. It's a crazy idea, partly embedded deep in our psyche." .
Readers have long relished the opportunity to learn about the rules and cruelty of high society, the machinations of who's in and who's out, up or down. Social position becomes a game (which we might secretly think we could win if given the chance). The appetite for this type of drama is being fed everywhere, from reality shows like Real Housewives or Under Deck to Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, Downton Abbey, Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte.
Portrayals of the super-rich also appeared in novels about the 1980s, albeit in a rather ugly and explosive way.
It may also explain why so many high-society novels are told from an outsider's point of view: think Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, Jane Eyre, Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, Rebecca's anonymous narrator, Nick Guest in The Line of Beauty, Richard Papen in The Secret History... Such heroes act as proxies for the casual reader, who might wonder howthey wouldrate in such situations. Who can see all the charm, but also all the problems.
Because the consumption of these stories also has a more vicious side: some readers also love to hate the rich. There is schadenfreude in seeing people who have so much money still sad, bitter, or empty. Seeing the nouveau riche get shunned even though they're pretty is a terrible joy. This is the principled position - this is proof that no one shouldwheneverMay you be so rich! And then there is that presumed moral and aesthetic superiority that makes us imagine if we wereeraso rich, at least we would never be so privileged/ungrateful/boring/unhappy (delete as appropriate).
“The emotion from love to hate is complicated, as is the dominant emotion in this genre,” agrees Jackson. "It gives you a sense of self-righteousness that makes you feel like you've done something good, when really all you've done is sit and watch something."
Seeing hate is comforting because it reminds us that money can't buy happiness. This is a moral principle that has also long been the basis of literature. It warns against lavish lifestyle temptations like Great Expectations and Madame Bovary.Gran Gatsbynow it may be mostly associated with lavish parties, but the book suggests that such excesses ultimately turn out to be empty.
Edith Wharton's classic novel The Age of Innocence focuses on the wealthier societies of New York in the 1870s and was adapted for the screen in 1993. (Source: Getty Images)
In novels about the 1980s, there were images of the super-rich as well, albeit in a rather unpleasant and explosive way. In The Bonfire of the Vanities, Money, and American Psycho, Tom Wolfe, Martin Amis, and Bret Easton Ellis allow their reprehensible heroes to embody the consumer spirit of the age:greed is good– while revealing the chilling emptiness in the heart. Sherman McCoy, John Self and Patrick Bateman can make money on their own, but at enormous cost to their humanity.
So what's next for eminent minority novels? That's the question I ask Jackson, wearing her editorial hat (she's a vice president and managing editor at Knopf). Pineapple Street may have been an attempt to get away from the prevailing "aren't the rich the worst?" narrative, but he doesn't necessarily think of it as the way the wind blows.
"I think as Millennial and Generation Z writers come of age, we're going to see a lot more people approach the subject from Sally Rooney's point of view," he says, alluding to the fact that the best-selling author is a open marxist. who she likes as her characters often privileged from her analyze that privilege or discuss how to overthrow capitalism.
"I think the feet of the rich will catch fire," Jackson concludes, at least in fiction.
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