Saving The Businessman’s Soul

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“It appeared to him as if the very devil was in it.… [Lapham’s wife] went out of the door, and left him with his tempter … by and by [she] heard him begin walking up and down; and then the rest of the night she lay awake and listened to him walking up and down. But when the first light whitened the window, the words of the Scripture came into her mind: ‘And there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.… And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.’”

Lapham loses his fortune, but he saves his soul. Reading the last chapter, I saw that my case had been smashed beyond repair. For contemporary readers to take Silas Lapham seriously, they would have to take seriously notions such as sin, temptation, penance, and redemption—not to mention the fundamental notion that people have souls that may be lost or saved through their actions in business situations. No, no, I thought, you’ve got to face facts. The book is hopelessly old-fashioned, no point in pretending otherwise. Sorry, Silas.