Culture Literature Politics

Literary Comparisons: The Epstein Saga

The mainstream media often compares convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein to Gatsby. I argue below that there are much more apposite literary comparisons: Shakespeare’s Shylock, and Dickens’ Fagin.

Accounts of Jeffrey Epstein in the mainstream media, often compare the convicted paedophile to Jay Gatsby, the protagonist of the novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald. For example, a recent Financial Times article writing about the TV series “Filthy Rich” starts out with this metaphor.

The comparison is usually justified by the fact that Gatsby was immensely wealthy, and the origins of his wealth were murky, and perhaps because Gatsby also held parties on the premises of his estate for the rich, famous and influential. But this justification should be considered shallow at best. The similarities end there, and the differences are much more essential.

The Great Gatsby chronicles the conflict between inherited (Tom Buchanan) and acquired (Gatsby himself) status and wealth, and is partly about how the former seeks to keep the latter down. One could argue that the end summary of the book is when the narrator, Nick Carraway says to Gatsby, “Jay, they are a rotten crowd. You are worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Can anyone imagine saying this about Jeffrey Epstein?

Literature of the English language is rich in characters, and some could likely be more appropriate for the case at hand. The source of Epstein’s wealth was also murky, but it likely goes back to an old method of making money, which appears in “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare. Shylock did not have “sterile sheep”, but his “ducats multiplied.” This is the economic model on which our system is based. Epstein was a beneficiary of this corrupt system.

Perhaps the most apposite literary character which parallels Epstein is Fagin, from “Oliver Twist” of Charles Dickens. Fagin is the ultimate villain, he exploits children for his own benefit. Fagin was not entirely fictitious either. He was based on the real life character of Ikey Solomon, a British criminal.

Epstein, like Fagin, also exploited children. Epstein was worse though, since he sexually molested his victims. Was this a limitation on the imagination of Dickens? In his times maybe this kind of abuse of children was unthinkable? Had Fagin done such a thing, he would have been, rightfully, stoned to death, even by his criminal neighbors.

Or was it that while the Fagins (or Ikey Solomons) were in their times living on the bottom of society, today the Epsteins are our ruling aristocracy, and this new status gives them the confidence to commit even more extreme crimes than before?

When Fagin’s crimes were discovered, he was immediately executed, while Epstein was barely punished. Fagin did not have the political elite as guests at his abode, and did not have influential lawyers defending him in court. Epstein had all of those things.

This seems to suggest that Fagin as a metaphor for Epstein is limited. But here, the limitations are due to the change in times that occurred between the times in which “Oliver Twist” was written and ours.

Epstein is indeed the Fagin of our age!


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