About midway through Peter Carey's novel (218-220), Oscar and Lucinda have a conversation about whether or not gambling is a sin. When Lucinda asks Oscar to absolve her of the sin of gambling, he astonishes her with his reply:
"Our whole faith is a wager, Miss Leplastrier. We bet...our life on it. We calculate the odds, the return, that we shall sit with the saints in paradise. Our anxiety about our bet will wake us before dawn in a cold sweat. We are out of bed on our knees, even in the midst of winter. And God sees us, and sees us suffer"....
"I cannot see," he said, "that such a god, whose fundamental requirement of us is that we gamble our mortal souls, every second of our temporal existence...It is true! We must gamble every instant of our allotted span. We must stake everything on the unprovable fact of His existence."
Although Oscar's comments on the analogy of faith to gambling are central to his own subjective world-view — holding together two previously impossible contradictions by a single idea — they immediately conflict with Lucinda's systems of belief. The narrator tells us,
She was disturbed, too, to find her confessor belittling the worth of her confession and this — the pulling out of the tablecloth beneath the meal — gave a salt of anger to her own emotions even while she delighted — celebrated, even — the vital defence my great-grandfather was assembling, like a wild-haired angel clockmaker gesturing with little cogs, dangerous springs, holding out each part for verification, approbation, before he inserted it in the gleaming structure of his belief.
To what other ideas in the novel does this last phrase "the gleaming structure of his belief" connect to? How might Oscar's explanation be related to the Prince Rupert Drop? The Glass Church? One of the clear relations to the idea that all systems of belief are "gleaming structures" comes from the presence in the novel of The Crystal Palace, the centerpiece of the 1850 Exposition in England, and symbol of the British Empire, and its attendant values of imperial civilization and faith in progress. Later in the section of the novel, Lucinda makes the connection, herself:
"Mr. Hopkins," Lucinda said, coming at last to sit down, "we must not place our souls at risk with fancies."
She meant this sincerely. She also did not mean it at all — there was nothing she like better than to construct a fancy. She put great weight on fancies and was not in the habit of using the word in a dismissive way. The Crystal Palace, that building she admired more than any other, was nothing but a fancy of a kind, and there were ideas like this, the philosophical equivalent of great cathedrals of steel and glass, which were her passion, and she held these to her tightly, secretly.
What are some of the "philosophical equivalents" in the novel of great cathedrals of steel and glass. What are the other conceptual glass churches, in the novel, that get tenuously constructed and then precariously transported over untested terrain?
If "fancies" are in some ways synonymous with "fictions" then how does the whole "fictional apparatus" of the novel reinforce the ways that "fancies" can construct a world?
Last modified 1 March 2004