In the following passage Peter Carey's novel brings together the topics of bloomers, middle-class respectability, status, and religion in mid-nineteenth-century Australia.

Mrs Cousins believed in the resurrection of the dead and life ever-lasting. She had not been baptized in any church but attended the Church of England in Parramatta as though it were her right. It troubled her that she took communion without being confirmed. This was a sacrilege. She tried to live a Christian life, but this was perhaps not enough. She did not know how to correct the matter. She would wake in the middle of the night and think about it-suddenly all cold and damp with fear. And when Mr Ahearn mentioned the matter she was alarmed almost as much as if she had seen a face in the street from Bendigo. But she showed-apart from this excessive uprightness in her posture — none of this to Mr Ahearn. She poured him tea and assured him that she could accommodate the young lady without evicting anyone, that Miss Leplastrier would indeed attend an Anglican church and that she would see her steered carefully through the difflcult shoals of Parramatta society.

But when the orphan materialized wearing bloomers, Mrs Cousins was overcome with an urge — it was visceral, self-protective, a thing of muscle and blood, nothing as rarifled as an idea — to put her hands on the girl's shoulders and push her back down the steps.

Amelia Bloomer had come to London in 1851 with her famous "rational costume." It was, as everybody knows, a pair of baggy trousers surmounted by a short skirt. It was worn in Melbourne quite early, but it did not seem to catch Elizabeth Leplastrier's attention until she actually saw a woman wearing the new rational dress in Church Street, Parramatta, in 1858.

Here, at last, was an antidote to the "obscene bustle" and the "cripyling crinoline." From this time on both mother and daughter dressed in nothing else, and if this occasionally caused offence to street urchins in Parramatta, what else could you expect?

Now Mrs Cousins knew nothing of Amelia Bloomer. She knew only what respectability required and this was not it." [80-81]

Why does the narrator mention Mrs. Cousins' past sexual indiscretions and her fear of not having been confirmed before introducing her reaction to Lucinda's advanced feminist clothing?

In what ways does Lucinda here parallel Oscar?


Peter Carey Oscar & Lucinda

Last modified 1998