Rooting around for more versions of the Money Devil prints, I came across this Vaudeville play, first staged in Paris in December 1820, that dramatises the scene. Sort of. I was initially rather excited to find this, hoping that it would be an interesting, or at least serious take on the demonic aspects of money from an early nineteenth century French perspective. As I ploughed through it, however, even with my very ropy French, it quickly became apparent that it is very, very bad.
While the Money Devil in the prints is a sinister airborne demon shitting coins on everyone, in the play the Diable d’Argent is essentially a financier in a gold suit. Natty, but less than threatening. Most of the action (if that’s not too strong a word for it) focuses less on him than his daughter, the lovely Recette, resplendent in a gold hat and carrying a miniature corcucopia from which spills gold and silver coins. Rather like ‘Dragon’s Den’ various merchants and inventors are trying to pitch their terrible products to the devil and/or trying to win the hand of Recette. She, however, only has eyes for her Italian beau, Belami, an opera buffa singer: handsome but apparently very dim indeed. Apart from some rather attenuated exchanges between the Money Devil, a pamphleteer, ‘Anonymous’ and the old and gross ‘Misanthrope’, the whole thing is rather confused. The only character to have any real appeal is the Devil’s valet, Grossous, but that is mainly because his name translates as ‘Fatpenny’. In the end the whole thing degenerates into a cheesy reflection on comic opera.
So, a little disappointing. However, if the play itself is terrible, at the very least it points to the continued currency, not to say banality, of the subject of the money devil prints. Although it lacks the social critique of the prints, it does suggest that a deep suspicion of money, and a close association of it with the devil, was still prevalent in 1820s Paris. Either that or they just grabbed a convenient subject on which to hang some really bad songs.
Anyway, here’s the thrilling dialogue for anyone with a penchant for crap theatre lot of time on their hands….