Day: February 10, 2021

When fiction tries to change the facts on the ground

The great French novelist Gustave Flaubert offered some famous advice to writers: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Thomas Lawson evidently never got the memo. For a brief period, around the turn of the 20th century, he was one of the most controversial stockbrokers and muckrakers in America, publicizing Wall Street finagling even as he was participating in it. Lawson was one more thing as well: a novelist. His 1907 Wall Street melodrama Friday, the Thirteenth, a gripping if overwrought page-turner, exemplifies the many works of “panic fiction” that erupted from the financial earthquakes that regularly shook Americans in those days. The book is about — what else? — Wall Street, which is where the author intended to create an earthquake of his own.

Far from following Flaubert’s advice, Lawson led a life that was neither regular