chapter  7
15 Pages

Unfriendly thresholds: On queerness, capitalism and misanthropy in nineteenth-century America


Frank Norris is perhaps best known as the author of The Octopus, a 1901 novel that examines the rise of the railroads and the concomitant subordination of agricultural laborers in California during the late nineteenth century. Before he took on the various social and economic perversities that attended the rise of corporate capitalism in the American West, however, Norris might be said to have taken on the corporal perversities that attended the rise of capitalism generally during a slightly earlier period in US history. Specifi cally, in McTeague, his 1899 “Story of Francisco,” Norris tells the tale of a woman’s gradual descent into an embodied form of fi scal acquisitiveness so extreme that she ultimately ends up rejecting her husband’s affections in favor of making love to her savings instead. “At times,” Norris writes of Trina McTeague, the woman in question,

when she knew [her husband] was far from home, she would lock her door, open her trunk and pile all of her little hoard on her table . . . Trina would play with this money by the hour, piling it, and repiling it, or gathering it all into one heap, and drawing back to the farthest corner of the room to note the effect, her head on one side. She polished the gold pieces with a mixture of soap and ashes until they shone, wiping them carefully with her apron. Or, again, she would draw the heap lovingly toward her and bury her face in it, delighted at the smell of it and the feel of the smooth, cool metal on her cheeks. She even put the smaller gold pieces in her mouth, and jingled them there. She loved her money with an intensity that she could hardly express. She would plunge her small fi ngers into the pile with little murmurs of affection, her long, narrow eyes half closed and shining, her breath coming in long sighs. “Ah, the dear money, the dear money,” she would whisper. “I love you so! All mine, every penny of it. No one shall ever, ever get you. How I’ve worked for you! How I’ve slaved for you! And I’m going to get more; I’m going to get more, more, more; a little every day.”1