Thursday, February 11, 2010

Old Money -vs- New Money

Throughout the pages of Howells' "The Rise of Silas Lapham," one gains a sense that there are two main types of wealth, or fortune, held by Howells' characters. First, there is Silas Lapham, a self made millionaire. On the other hand, then, is Bromfield Corey, an aristocrat who has inherited his vast fortune. Consequently, each of these characters has specific attributes which correlate with their social standings. Thus, one may describe, and analyze, the characteristics and attributes of both Silas and Bromfield in accordance with their wealth/equity.
Silas Lapham is different than Bromfield Corey in several ways. Primarily, Bromfield has inherited his wealth, while Silas Lapham has worked most of his life in acquiring his fortune. This fact sets up the next main difference among these two characters. Silas has a passionate air about him. Silas enjoys painting, and has earned a reputable living doing it. Thus, Silas has been made to work his entire life for his money. Consequently, Silas finds gratification in his work. Here lies a key difference between Silas ans Bromfield.
Bromfield differs from Silas in that he has never had to work for his money. As Bromfield was born into his wealth, the idea of work is quite displeasing to him. Unlike Silas, Bromfield views work as something the lower classes MUST do. Contrastingly to Silas, Bromfield finds gratification in not working at all. Furthermore, Bromfield is an un-passionate character next to the passionate Silas.
So then, one may inspect Bromfield and Silas in order to discern some of the differences between old money and new money. Bromfield lacks passion, work ethic, and views his not having to work as an indication of his status. Silas embodies passion and perseverance, he has gained his status through work, not through not working. In closing, which type of money would one rather have? Old money and inaction, or new money and hard work?


  1. The distinction between old and new money is really important, Seth. Bromfield paints, and Silas makes paint, but only one is willing to work at it.

  2. That's an interesting question, which type of money would be preferred. It seems that the moral answer should be new money for the satisfaction of having earned it, for the passion that must be attached to it. But in the Rise of Silas Lapham, Silas' money and character are at great risk throughout the entire novel. He's often questioning his values/beliefs (for example, whether or not he truly wronged Roger) while Bromfield is much more stable internally and with his money. It seems that Tom Corey represents the happy medium between them. That Bromfield could raise a well-adjusted child that does aspire to contribute something to the world proves that old money is not just a depreciation of the internal value of humanity.