Money (1840) along with The Lady of Lyons (1838) are his most successful plays. Money was first produced at the Theater Royal on December 8, 1840 and at the Old Park Theater in New York on February 1, 1841.
Act I: The play opens with Sir John Vesey discussing with his daughter Georgina the matter of a her Uncle Mordaunt's will, which will be read to them in the afternoon. Sir John expects that Georgina will be the primary heiress of Mordaunt's India fortune, and decides to tell his daughter a "secret"--that her father wasn't very rich. Indeed, Sir John's precepts are: "First, men are not valued for what they are but what they seem to be. Secondly, if you have no merit or money of your own, you must trade on the merits and money of other people." Eventually, the relations pour in--Lady Franklin (sister to Sir John) and Clara (a poor orphan cousin), Evelyn (a poor scholar cousin that many of them exploit the services of), Sir Frederick Blount (a "man of fashion" who pronounces his r's as w's), Benjamin Stout (a "great political economist"), and Lord Glossmore. With the exception of Evelyn, Clara, and Lady Franklin, they all eagerly expect to gain from the will. Evelyn reveals that his old nurse is dying, and needs charity; Sir John wiggles out of this but Georgina takes down her name and address, thinking that she would give the money if she ends up being an heiress. The poor Clara immediately plans to help Evelyn anonymously. In conversation, Evelyn reveals that he loves Clara, but she refuses him because she doesn't want to worsen the burden of their mutual poverty. As Stout and Glossmore come in, they demonstrate the hypocrisy in their "liberal" principles--Stout embodying reform bill views of the poor as "ignorant," and Glossmore refusing to give to the poor because he thinks it good to force the parish to do so. Mr. Graves, the executor (whose tyrannical wife has died and who now goes around talking about her as a saint), and the lawyer, Mr. Sharp, arrive and read the will. Mordaunt insults them all (for example, leaving Sir John the empty bottles of "Cheltenham water" Sir John had sent to win his favor), and leave Evelyn most of his fortune. To herself, Clara thinks that her hopes of marrying Evelyn are even less, as she would not want to bring him down.
Act II: Painters, architects, horse dealers, silversmiths, and tailors all want to do business with Evelyn. Stout and Glossmore push Evelyn to support their candidates in a local election (Stout's candidate is for the "enlightenment" and Glossmore's for "the constitution"--Evelyn mocks their empty rhetoric). In conversation with Sharp, Evelyn laments the world's hypocrisies, and confesses his failed love with Clara. He thinks maybe he should marry Georgina, and thinks that it is probably her who gave the money to his nurse. He nevertheless pretends that there was a codicil in the will leaving twenty-thousand pounds to Clara to take care of her. Clara talks to Lady Franklin about Evelyn--she is proud and doesn't allow Lady Franklin to tell Evelyn she gave the money to his nurse because she says, "he would have guessed it had his love been like mine." Meanwhile, Lady Franklin has designs on Graves, successfully jolting out of his miserable demeanor by making him laugh. Sir John schemes to get Georgina married to Evelyn, hinting to others that there has been a prior attachment. Thus Blount, who has previously wanted to court Georgina, goes after Clara and asks Evelyn to help him. Misunderstanding each other, Evelyn and Clara both try to make each other jealous--Evelyn attending to Georgina, and Clara to Blount. Sir John has Evelyn look at Georgina's drawings (which include a portrait of Evelyn) and tells Evelyn it is Georgina who sent money to his nurse. Overcome, Evelyn offers marriage to Georgina (though admitting, that it is more "esteem" and "gratitude" and not the same love that he has borne for another). Clara overhears, and falls into a chair, though wishes him happiness.
Act III: Georgina is still in love with Frederick, but Sir John pushes the union. Craftily, he sends Clara out of town with one Mrs. Carlton, aunt to his late wife--she agrees because Sir John has hinted that everyone had been gossiping about her attachment to Evelyn and so he was acting nobly in the interests of his own daughter. Evelyn finds Clara by herself, and Clara attempts a reconciliation, as friends. Clara expresses some concern that Evelyn has been engaging in follies of wealth lately; he in return reveals that he has been engaging in luxury and folly because he thought she had rejected him due to his poverty. They remain not completely reconciled, Clara leaving him to Georgina in hopes that he will be happy, and Evelyn deeming her "Let us part friends" as cruel. Evelyn thinks, however, that it seems she loves him since she's interested in her fate. Graves tells Evelyn that Clara has rejected Frederick, and that he sees Georgina with Frederick at times. He also tells him that Sir John is concerned about his gambling, and Evelyn hatches a plan to have Sir John watch him lose money so that Sir John might give him up as well. Meanwhile Lady Franklin advances in her plan to get Graves to fall in love with her. Evelyn whispers a plan to a fellow gambler, Dudley Smooth, and it appears to Sir John that Evelyn loses at least fifteen-thousand pounds to Smooth.
Act IV: To further make it look like he is on the brink of ruin, Evelyn asks Blount, Glossmore, and Sir John if he may borrow money from them. Additionally, he asks Georgina if she might let him have the ten-thousand pounds that she was to inherit from her uncle Mordaunt, and suggests to her that they may have to live in the country and "confine [them]selves to a modest competence." At a dinner at Evelyn's, Evelyn asks his "friends" if they think he has spent his money well. They flatter him that he has. A number of messengers come in, including a sheriff, informing Evelyn that he has debts to settle on extravagances that he has purchased; Graves agrees to lend Evelyn 150 pounds. As Blount, Glossmore, Stout, Sir John and Georgina all prepare to leave, Evelyn suddenly presents dinner and abruptly asks if they might lend ten pounds for his nurse. They all fall back, and he scolds them for being willing to lend him much more money, before, for his extravagances but not now much less for charity. Evelyn sends them all away, and retains his truer friends around him--Graves and Smooth.
Act V: Evelyn means to test Georgina to see if she will help him out with her ten-thousand pounds; meanwhile, Clara hears from Graves that the codicil bequeathing her money was made up. She (accompanied by Lady Franklin) plans to Evelyn's side. Meanwhile, Evelyn has decided to run for the local election himself, making it seem like he is doing it to avoid going to jail. Evelyn is soon surprised by the news that Georgina is willing to bail him out (from a letter), so he resigns himself to renew the engagement because she is true. Moments after, Clara rushes in, confesses her love for him and explains her past behavior. Evelyn is moved, but says it is too late. When Sir John and Georgina arrive, it is revealed that Georgina has not sent the letter and that it is Clara, once again. Furthermore, Georgina has been engaged to Blount--Sir John is at first horrified, because he has since found out that Evelyn has been faking his ruin. The play ends happily with Evelyn and Clara are reconciled, Georgina and Blount betrothed, and Lady Franklin and Graves also betrothed.
The Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton though generally unknown to modern audiences, was an imposing and influential figure in Victorian literature and politics. He wrote a number of popular novels as well as poetry. In the realm of drama, Bulwer-Lytton also met with writerly success, and additionally was involved in the politics of the Victorian theater. Bulwer-Lytton (in his position as an MP) sought to give writers more rights to their plays, to do away with the Covent Garden and Drury Lane duopoly, and to relax the strict censorship rules under Lord Chamberlain. (Source: Mitchell biography)
Money is pretty standard as far as the historical conventions of comedy go: it pokes fun at social ills and manners, and it ends with the three marriages in which everyone is in the "right" couple. One of the more interesting aspects of the play for me was that its treatment of the topic of "money" isn't one that merely indicates the expected "money corrupts" or "one shouldn't be greedy or materialistic." In fact, Evelyn is a character that money can't seem to corrupt--even when he is being extravagant, he is only performing extravagance either to impress Clara or to trick Sir John, Blount, Glossmore, and Stout. Evelyn is oddly devoid of the desire to consume or purchase things: at the beginning of Act II in which people go to his house to try to get him to buy their wares or services, Evelyn shows that he is so far outside the logic of consumption that he doesn't even look at what is offered, he might agree to buy just so he may rid himself of the individuals pestering him. Yet his strange exemption from the influences of the market doesn't quite make him a hero: if he had not come by his fortune, he would have likely ended up as poorly as Clara's father, who, as Clara says to Evelyn "was poor--generous; gifted, like you, with genius--ambition; sensitive, like you..." and yet he met with "struggle...humiliation...the early death." Through no merit of his own, Evelyn ends up okay because he gets money. Furthermore, though Evelyn ends up being the moral compass of the story in that he reveals the hypocrisy of others in relation to money, he is only able to conduct such revelations because he has inherited money. At the beginning of the play, he is abject, and resigned to being at the beck and call of others and only allowed here and there to create dramatic irony by inserting a snarky comment. The play's ending reflects the irony of Evelyn's morality's dependence on money: when Graves says, "But for the truth and the love, when found, to make us tolerably happy, we should not be without--" each of the characters fill their answers (good health, good spirits, a good heart, an innocent rubber, congenial tempers, etc.), Evelyn ending with "And--plenty of money!" Evelyn is aware that money is needed for him to live life according to the moral principles that he believes in, even while he is independent from it as far as the usual desires for buying and consuming go.