Study Guide

Oscar and Lucinda

by Peter Carey

Oscar and Lucinda Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 1986, Bob writes about his great-grandfather, Oscar Hopkins. Bob reveals his mother’s complacent sense of propriety over Hopkins, her grandfather.

In 1856, Theophilus Hopkins, a preacher for the Plymouth Brethren, does not acknowledge the festive trappings of Christmas. He is furious when a servant makes a Christmas pudding for his fifteen-year-old son Oscar to taste. Although Theophilus tells Oscar the pudding is from Satan, Oscar knows his father is wrong because the dessert is delicious. Angry because his father strikes him, Oscar calls on God to test his father’s belief. When God seems to reply, Oscar devises other ways of reading the signs of the Lord. Eventually, he sorrowfully reads the signs as directing him to become the protege of the impoverished Anglican minister Hugh Stratton.

Later, Stratton sends Oscar to Oriel College, Oxford University, to read for the Anglican ministry. At Oxford, Ian Wardley-Fish befriends Oscar and introduces him to the racetrack and gambling. Oscar wins his first bet and devises an elaborate betting system, sending some money to the Strattons, keeping a meagre amount for himself, and donating the rest to the Church.

In New South Wales, Australia, on her ninth birthday, Lucinda Leplastrier takes her new doll to the creek. She plucks the gold hair from the doll and replaces it with black horsehair, imagining the doll as a native of unmapped land, much to the anger and angst of her parents, Abel and Elizabeth.

Lucinda’s father is killed by a horse in 1852, and Lucinda’s mother dies when Lucinda is seventeen. At eighteen, she comes into her considerable inheritance. She is forced to leave the subdivided farm for the city, determined to experience the working world. As a child, Lucinda experienced the wonder of the explosion of a glass ornament called a Prince Rupert’s Drop. She is now drawn to the glassworks for sale at Darling Harbour.

In 1859, in order to purchase the glassworks, Lucinda seeks assistance from Dennis Hasset, a vicar with a fascination with glass, and Jimmy d’Abbs, an accountant. Hasset instructs her in the properties of glass; d’Abbs handles the finances. Though Hasset and Lucinda are not lovers, people begin to talk about them, as well as about Lucinda’s frequent visits to d’Abbs’s house to gamble.

In England, Oscar becomes a school teacher at a Notting Hill boys’ school. He sees betting as a vile monster that...

(The entire section is 1003 words.)

Oscar and Lucinda Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Oscar and Lucinda was the first of Peter Carey’s novels to win the Man Booker Prize. The present-day first-person narrator tells the story of Oscar Hopkins and Lucinda Leplastrier, two young people who meet on board a ship sailing to Australia. The implication, from references made, is that the couple are the narrator’s great-grandparents and that he or she is telling a love story. However, the truth is more complicated.

Lucinda, a wealthy heiress, is returning to Australia after carrying out research on the manufacture of glass in London. On a whim, once she had come into her fortune she bought a glassworks, which she is now attempting to run. Her efforts are confounded in part by the fact that her male employees, although they are willing to work for her, will not allow her in the factory and prefer to deal with her friend, the Reverend Hassett.

Accustomed to living on a farm in the bush with her father and mother, and latterly alone, Lucinda has found it hard to make friends in Sydney. Having bought the glassworks, she finds her way to the Reverend Hassett, an expert in the properties of glass though not its manufacture, and to the household of Mr. d’Abbs, her financial adviser, where she plays cards with him and his friends. Lucinda’s unconventionality is not intentional, but all her life she has been used to taking care of herself, and she finds she does not fit comfortably into the role that society assigns wealthy young women. As a result, her visit to London, where she has called on her mother’s...

(The entire section is 631 words.)