On Spendthrifts by A.G. Gardiner
In On Spendthrifts by A.G. Gardiner we have the theme of generosity, sympathy, selfishness and control. Taken from his Pebbles on the Shore collection the reader realises after reading the essay that Gardiner may be exploring the theme of generosity. Gardiner argues that those who are spendthrifts are generous to a fault. They will help friends and buy things for them. However their private lives may be in complete chaos and their actions may not necessarily be legal. As seems to be the case when it comes to Lady Sitwell. Who for all accounts appears to be a hopeless spendthrift who has absolutely no control over her spending. There are others too mentioned in the essay in the same boat as Lady Sitwell who are appreciated by their friends but not necessarily so by their family or the law. On the other hand it is noticeable that while the spendthrift might have the sympathy of their friends the miser has no friends. With their meanness or selfishness being despised by others who can see no logic in a miser’s actions. Saving for the sake of saving rather than investing what they have saved and allowing for the money to work for them.
If anything the miser is selfish while the spendthrift is generous. Though interestingly it is only the miser who is in control of their finances. The spendthrift has no control when it comes to spending money. They will buy exotic items (a piano for example) that they have no need for and not think about tomorrow and what they might do when they are without money. A spendthrift cannot see what they are doing whereas a miser is conscious of the fact that they are mean and are happy to be mean. A spendthrift will also never be able to satisfy their need to spend. They will always need more money in what becomes a never ending circle of lust or greed. Though this is not how the spendthrift would describe themselves. They would not see themselves as being greedy or selfish when they are so generous to their friends. Yet their family will suffer behind closed doors. Not understanding as to why their husband or wife, son or daughter has so little control over their spending. If anything a spendthrift can tear apart a family without knowing it or without being capable of stopping their spending.
Gardiner argues for the middle ground that lies between being a miser and being a spendthrift. Using the labourer on the tram as an example that everyone should follow. The labourer does not have much but he still keeps account of what he has spent and knows at the end of the day how much money he has spent. This is not the case when it comes to a spendthrift. They will have no idea of how much money they have spent nor will they care about what they have spent. The labourer on the other hand is happy in the life that they live because they are in control. They may never buy a piano and they won’t need one either as a symbol of their wealth. Their real wealth is the fact that they are prudent with their money and are firmly rooted in the middle ground between being a miser and someone who is a spendthrift. They will not want for much in life because they are happy with what they have. Neither the miser nor the person who is a spendthrift value money. Those who are prudent do and have an understanding of the value of money.
The end of the essay is also interesting as Gardiner places an emphasis on control and control being the solution to both a miser and a spendthrift’s problems. However the reader has very little hope in Lady Sitwell ever changing after her time in prison. For change is difficult for anybody and it is likely she will revert to her old habits should she acquire more money. Her life would be better managed should she remain broke and reliant on her family. Rather than using her money (and her family’s money) as a tool to instigate a degree of freedom in her life. The freedom is short-lived. As is the freedom of all spendthrifts. They will forever be hungry for more money to spend on goods and items that have no practical use for. They appear to be caught in a web that they cannot release themselves from. Lured by the benefits of money and the brief happiness it might bring. As mentioned the labourer is the happiest character in the story. He knows what he has and he knows what he can afford. He lives within his means.