‘We want what you have’: Faustian Finance in The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim and Capital


  • Francesco Di Bernardo




‘We want what you have’ is the most emblematic sentence in Lanchester’s Capital: it is printed on a postcard left in the houses of Pepys Road and evokes the spectre of house repossessions followed by the 2008 financial crisis. Conversely, in literature the repossession by definition is that of Faust’s soul by Mephistopheles. Ian Watts (2006) tracing the origins of the Faustian myth recounts the historical and fictional roots of the myth and affirms that that Faust represents the ‘unrepentant individualist’. Faust’s unstoppable desire to achieve his own interests by any means is eventually the cause of his own ruin and perpetual damnation.

The financial crisis started in 2008 in the UK revealed the fallacy of the “alchemic” dream of the deregulated finance to constantly generating wealth through dubious gambling practices. The result of that individualistic and greedy pursue of wealth is the current economic and social crises. In this paper I will investigate how the parable of greed, success, crisis and final ruin is represented through Faustian echoes in Coe’s The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim and Lanchester’s Capital. I will focus specifically on those characters and sections of the novels that revoke the Faustian parable in the context of the representation of deregulated finance.