Peter Carey skillfully characterizes Stratton, Oscar's pathetic benefactor, in terms of the conflict among various religious parties, including members of the Church of England (or Anglicans) and various dissenting evangelical groups, including the Baptists and the far more extreme Plymouth Brethren. Although many modern readers might not recognize here the precise details of either the religious or literary context, Carey echoes various earlier literary portrayals of such issues, particularly Anthony Trollope's popular Barchester novels, including the The Warden, some of George Eliot's work, and Edward Gosse's Fathers and Sons, many of whose elements make it a clear antecedent of one part of Carey's work. In the passage below, note how the novel uses the term "imagine" — in what other circumstances does it appear? — note, too, how here as in other passages, the novel emphasizes the economic consequences of belief. How does the minister depend upon his flock for financial support?

The Reverend Mr Stratton imagined that he liked all men. No matter what tribulation he suffered personally, he tried to be fair, to see all points of view. But he could not abide the famous Theophilus Hopkins who had used the musical masculinity of his voice to seduce away his illiterate rural workers and leave him with the gleanings-two families of High-Tory Anglicans and one elderly rabble-rouser who was in rebellion against the Squire. The Easter Offering last year had been two shillings and sixpence halfpenny. A ton of coal cost seven shillings and sixpence.

Hennacombe was the sump, the sink-hole of the Anglican Church. It was a pit. It was a "living," hardly a living at all, in a county where the wheel had come late. It was a place for sledges whose runners had dug the lanes deeper and deeper, further from the sun. He loathed the red mud. It was like heavy glue around his boots and his left leg hurt every time he brought it forward. There were two red-backed hawks riding the updrafts from the cliff. They were not more than a chain away, but Hugh Stratton did not notice them. . . . He was pleased not to be greeted, to be "not seen" on Christmas Day. Dear Lord, forgive him. May the Lord forgive him and vouchsafe the health of his neighbours when, when they ate his fowls.

Hugh Stratton was forty years old, tall, stooped a little, with a face which had, from a distance, a pippin youthfulness to it-round cheeks, small pointed chin, a floppy fringe of sandy hair-but which showed, on closer examination, all the fine marks of pain and disappointment that buttered rum could not smooth over. He was an Anglican clergyman in a county with a popular Baptist squire. These circumstances made his position less powerful, and his financial situation more humble, but it need not have been desperate. Even when Theophilus Hopkins arrived from London and stole his congregation, he could have lived reasonably enough-for the vicarage had ten acres of good pasture attached to it. But he had no talent for farming. His wife had more, but not sufflcient. She read the journals of the London Agricultural Society. She was in enthusiastic correspondence on the subject of a combined seed and manure drill. But there was no point. They could barely afford the postage stamps, and they were always in crisis with his back injured from lifting or their oats stunted or their sow aborting or, today, their fowls taking ill and dying just when they were plump enough for market. They would have fetched ninepence each. He could not bear the loss, God forgive him — he had beheaded them and dressed them as if they had died healthy. He had broken the sabbath to do it. As soon as the dismal morning service was over he had taken these dressed fowls across to the Squire's mansion, pretending them a gift. He was bartering, of course, but it was Christmas Day and he must pretend otherwise. He went to the kitchen door. They were Baptists. They despised him, not for trading, but for trading on Christmas Day. They knew it was not a gift. The cook gave him turnips as a measure of her feelings. He had hoped for something better, but he had pretended it was an exchange of gifts so he could not haggle. He worried about the safety of the dead fowls. May no illness come to the Squire's house. [18-19]

Questions

1. Whose point of view appears in the second paragraph of this passage?

2. What poet sees a redbacked hawk and makes it the subject of one of the most frequently discussed poems in English?

3. What significance does the term "gleanings" possess (in paragraph 2)?


Peter Carey Oscar & Lucinda

Last modified 17 December 2007