Nonetheless, though for generations Wall Street lived in cultural purgatory, it always had many admirers. Often, they've been small-timers, marginal players or spectators dazzled by Gordon's "great game." Oddly enough, for a place so identified with the high and mighty, The Street has also been a boulevard of plebeian ambition, attracting especially those less than enamored of the astringent pleasures of capitalism's work ethic. To be "bullish on America" goes back a long way to the democratic mythos of the Yankee as a daring peddler of notions, a kind of benignly optimistic trickster, supremely confident about the future, his own and the country's. In the age of the estimable J.P. Morgan, however, this all began to seem a bit disreputable and unbecoming. Wall Street emerged as the magnetic center of a true American ruling class, perhaps the only coherent one since the days of the Southern slavocracy and the Brahmin elite of mercantile New England. For a season, lasting roughly from 1900 to 1930, The Street not only seemed to take responsibility for the reorganization and consolidation of American industry but also volunteered to help run the country's key law firms, foundations, political parties and institutions of high culture.
The manners and mores of this "class" were closely observed by Edith Wharton, among others (her "House of Mirth" was also a real "house," scandalous at the time as the site of mercenary intrigues between financiers and New York politicians). In fact, our serious literature has returned again and again to Wall Street as an incubator of moral conundrums and social crises. Its presence was felt in the existential bleakness of Melville's "Bartleby," in the satire, moral melodrama and Darwinian naturalism of Twain, Howells and Dreiser, and more recently in Tom Wolfe's sendup of the greed and vanities that luridly backlighted the Reagan era.