Peter Carey's novel Oscar and Lucinda is most fundamentally about belief systems — belief in love,Christianity, the dream of liberating one's gender from the bonds of industrialism, dreams of Empire and progress. Glass, crystal and luminous objects form a significant chain of images that run like filaments through these belief systems. How might the description of the Prince Rupert Drop — cited below — be an important corollary to the functioning of belief systems in the novel?

How might such totalizing structures as the Prince Rupert Drop — solid in its totality, but vulnerable once even ever so slightly deconstructed — serve, for us, as modern readers, as a model for Post-colonial critiques of the discourse of empire, civilization and progress?

From Oscar and Lucinda:

You need not ask me who is Prince Rupert or what is a batavique because I do not know. I have, though, right here beside me as I write...a Prince Rupert Drop — a solid teardrop of glass no more than two inches from head to tail. And do not worry that this oddity, this rarity, was the basis for de las Basties' technique for toughening glass, or that it led to the invention of safety glass — these are practical matters and shed no light on the incredible attractiveness of the frop itself which you will understand faster if you take a fourteen-pound sledgehammer and try to smash it on a forge. You cannot.....

For although it is strong enough to withstand the sledgehammer, the tail can be nipped with a pair of blunt-nosed pliers. It takes a little effort. And once it is done it is as if you have taken out the keystone, removed the linchpin, kicked out the foundations. The whole thing explodes. And where, a moment before, you had unbreakable glass, now you have grains of glass in every corner of the workshop — in you eyes if you are not careful — and what is left in your hand you can crumble — it feels like sugar — without danger (108).

In addition to the questions above, you might also think about how the description of the Drop functions in Carey's narrative itself. That is, how does the description of the Drop's destruction foreshadow events in the later sections of the novel?


Peter Carey Oscar & Lucinda OV

Last modified 1994