Sunday, April 15, 2018

A digression on Rex Stout's novella, "Invitation to Murder"

As I think I may have mentioned, I've been re-reading the novellas as my "bedtime" reading. And I'm currently re-reading "Invitation To Murder," originally published in 1952 (so presumably set in the Wolfean world as it existed around 1950). We are introduced to the problems of Herman Lewent, the primary of which is that he has been receiving a $1,000 per month allowance from his sister (he was basically disinherited in their father's will)--and she has died. Her husband has continued the allowance, but whether that will go on for much longer, he cannot say. But that's not what I wanted to talk about.

Early on, Herman tells Wolfe (and Archie): "A few months ago I had three mistresses, one in Paris, one in Toulouse, and one in Rome..." Herman is such an unprepossessing figure that Archie at least initially doubts this. But what I have always wondered about is the economics of this. $1,000 per month around 1950 would be the rough equivalent of around $10,000 per month today. And in 1950 the US dollar was "strong" relative to the franc and the lira, adding perhaps 20% to 25% to its purchasing power in post-war Europe. Say 25%.

So his annual income was, then, the equivalent of abut $150,000. Clearly a decent income. But enough to support three mistresses on?

So I did what you would expect an economist to do--I tried to find some actual data. Which has proved to be harder than I would have thought. Which is, for me, a disappointment...I continue to wonder how Herman managed.

The alternative, of course, is that his "formula" for getting on terms with women was such that they paid most of the costs of the relationship. Which might explain why, after some time, one of them attempted to poison him.

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