In Oscar and Lucinda the church disappears into the water, fading like a dream, like a history forgotten, thereby symbolizing history because for Carey it is the embodiment of the Victorian Era. To begin with, it is made of glass, a material that was never used to build large scale buildings until that time. In fact, even before being used as a building material, glass inspired much wonder. In 1843 Charles Dodd quotes Dr. Johnson to illustrate the wonder glass inspires during this era:
who when he first saw the sand or ashes . . . would have imagined that in this shapeless lump lay concealed so many conveniences of life as would, in time, constitute a great part of happiness of the world? Yet by some fortuitous liquefaction was mankind taught to procure a body . . . which might admit light of the sun, and exclude the violence of the wind; which might extend the sight of the philosopher to new ranges of existence, and charm him, at one time, with the unbounded extent of material creation.(257)
Carey writes about this very wonder. He gives his characters an appreciation for glass that seems only credible in an era in which its uses are still being discovered. Lucinda's "previous experience of glass via the phenomenon known as larmes bataviques or Prince Rupert's drops" drives the action of the whole novel (108). It is one of her main motivations for buying the glass-works that produce the church. The charm of the glass is so powerful that her interest in it over powers her urge to gamble. Oscar shares Lucinda's fascination. When he accompanies her to the factory he is shocked to find the glass so impressive:
It had never occurred to him that a process of manufacture could be beautiful. Had you, an hour before, asked him to tell you what he would call beautiful he would have drawn on the natural world . . . He would never have led you into a building with a rusting, corrugated roof, or taken you between the lanes made from bottle crates, or littered with glittering shards. In these place you expected foulness, stink, refuse, and not, certainly not, wonder. (312)
This degree of emotion over the production of glass seems to be a characteristic of the times. Dodd writes that "Great, indeed, is the surprise excited at seeing" the production of glass objects (270). In describing the feelings of Oscar and Lucinda, Carey has captured the amazement that a glass-works produces for the nineteenth century observer.
Babbage, Charles. The Exposition of 1851. London: John Murray, 1851.
Carey, Peter. Oscar and Lucinda. New York: Harper Perennial, 1988.
Cunningham, Colin. Building for the Victorians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Crook, J. Mordaunt. The British Museum. London: The Penguin Press, 1972.
Dodd, George. Days at the Factories. London: Charles Knight & Co., 1843.
Esdaile, Arundell. The British Museum Library. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1948.
Jordan, Robert Furneaux. Victorian Architecture. Middlesex, England: Penguin 1966.
Ruskin, John. The Stones of Venice. Ed. J. G. Links. New York: Da Capo, 1960.
Swenarton, Mark. Artisans and Architects: The Ruskinian Tradition in Architectural Thought. New York: St. Martins, 1989.
Last modified 1998