Almost every morning I type Christina Stead's name into Twitter to see if anyone has posted a link to a new review or article and this morning for about the millionth time I came across somebody tweeting this quote from House of All Nations, "If all the rich people in the world divided up their money among themselves there wouldn't be enough to go round." It's really a slight misquote but you can say that for most of those lines that get quoted and requoted, "Play it again, Sam," and so forth; people like to sleek down the fluff, a human instinct for tidiness and tool-handiness steps in, and Stead's "amongst" becomes "among" by process of natural evolution. (At least one of the old desert washes under the Las Vegas Strip now feeds into a roadway that slopes down from both sides into the centre -- a street that is also a river -- and either way the rain has a place to rush.)
And I wonder sometimes if the people who post that quote ever want to know how the rest of the words on the page stand around it, the context, the bedding, the rabbit hutch through whose wires that quote's eyes melancholy stare, etc, etc, so I'm going to write down the paragraphs it sits in, on the off chance that anyone out there ever comes searching --
The scene: Michel, an intimate subordinate of the French banker Jules Bertillon, has told his employer that he spent a recent commission on "fifty German Communist books for my library." Then:
"Hey I thought you knew enough already," said Jules, just as suddenly restored to good temper. "I'm surprised at you, Michel, being such a mooch for the Reds. Stalin found out that the workers don't know what to do with money. That's all right. It isn't the Stalins that bother me. They know their game. But a man like you, Michel! A guy makes the money he can. Anyone who doesn't is a bit crazy. If there were the difference of a hair in your brain, Michel, you'd be batty: you'd be standing on soapboxes. That's a tomfool idea to want to try to make everyone rich by confiscating from the smart guys who know how to get out of the tangle early! Why, if all the rich men in the world divided up their money amongst themselves, there wouldn't be enough to go round! It all proves there are constitutional dreamers -- they're sick; you're sick, Michel.
'I say, don't you realize if you gave everyone the same amount of money today, in a fortnight, somebody, some Citroën, some Oustric, some De Wendel would have got half of it back! You're too intelligent, Michel, not to see that! Why, types like me only think in money. Why, take me. When I take off my pants I'm thinking up a gag, when I make water, what the deuce! I'm asking myself why I didn't take a crack at the cheap crook who tried to do me in yesterday. I dream all night and I get up at three o'clock to write down all I've dreamed because there are good schemes among them. When I wake up I think of a check with a big figure if I'm good-tempered, and of petty cash if I'm out of my humor: big or little, but I only think of money. How can the workers beat a man like me?"
House of All Nations, page 102, Scene: Twelve: The Revolution
Angus & Robertson: third printing: hardcover: 1974. First published, 1938.
Bertillon is one of her mad, massive, force-of-nature characters, like Sam in Man Who Loved Children, or Nellie in Cotters' England.
I'm inserting an edit here in early December to say that this is the first time I've seen the quote tweeted in Thai. It looks like this: