Tag Archives: Peter Carey

The fifth of October, 2012: idolatrous confectionery

A three-part Clutterbuck, today. The figure linking the three parts is Edmund Gosse (1849-1928).

After his mother’s death in 1857, Gosse was raised by his father, Philip Henry Gosse, a marine biologist and a fundamentalist Christian with a decided hell-fire bent. The younger Gosse described the intense relationship between the two in the book that made his name: Father and Son (1907).

Modern readers of the book might find certain sections of the book oddly familiar. This will probably because (a) they have read it before and forgotten about it or (b) they have read Peter Carey’s marvellous novel¬†Oscar And Lucinda (1988).¬†Carey’s account of the childhood of Oscar Hopkins owes a great (and acknowledged) debt to Gosse.

Here’s Gosse:

He looked upon [each of the feasts of the Church] as nugatory and worthless, but the keeping of Christmas appeared to him by far the most hateful, and nothing less than an act of idolatry… [B]ut the servants, secretly rebellious, made a small plum-pudding for themselves. Early in the afternoon, the maids… kindly remarked that ‘the poor dear child ought to have a bit, anyhow’, and wheedled me into the kitchen, where I ate a slice of plum-pudding…

At length I could bear my spiritual anguish no longer, and bursting into the study I called out: ‘Oh! Papa, Papa, I have eaten of flesh offered to idols!’… Then my Father sternly said: ‘Where is this accursed thing?’… He took me by the hand, and ran with me into the midst of the startled servants, seized what remained of the pudding, and with the plate in one hand and me still tight in the other, ran till we reached the dust-heap, when he flung the idolatrous confectionery on to the middle of the ashes, and then raked it deep down into the mass.

The suddenness, the violence, the velocity of this extraordinary act made an impression on my memory which nothing will ever efface.

One can well imagine. And now here’s Carey:

Oscar took the spoon and ate, standing up… [H]e was just raising the spoon to his mouth in anticipation of more, had actually got the second spoonful into his mouth when the door squeaked behind him and Theophilus came striding across the cobbled floor.

He felt the blow on the back of his head. His face leapt forward. The spoon hit his tooth… A large horny hand gripped the back of his head and another cupped beneath his mouth. He tried to swallow. There was a second blow. He spat what he could. Theophilus acted as if his son were poisoned.

Theophilus threw what remained of the pudding into the fire.

Oscar had never been hit before. He could not bear it.

His father made a speech. Oscar did not believe it.

His father said the pudding was the fruit of Satan.

But Oscar had tasted the pudding. It did not taste like the fruit of Satan.

Parts II and III of this Gosse extravaganza will have to wait till tomorrow.


The twenty-sixth of January, 2011: from the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback, and some dead horses

It’s Australia Day today (although I’m writing this at eight-thirty UK time, so by this hour Australia’s Australia Day will be long since finished). Like most such patriotic hooh-hahs, it’s a complicated old holiday. It marks the foundation of the colony in 1788 by Captain Arthur Phillip and his eleven shipfuls of transported convicts.

During the first world war, though, Australia Day shifted to July 30, and its purpose was less to commemorate the nation’s founding than to raise funds for Australia’s war effort – an effort that reached its bleak apotheosis at Gallipoli.

I was going to turn Clutterbuck over to poet Banjo Paterson, singer Peter Dawson, some dude with a pretty sweet gramophone, and one of my favourite songs (I have no idea why. Incidentally, why are there no decent versions of it anywhere? I’ve only used this one because I like the whole gramophone business).

But instead I’m going to turn it over to Eric Bogle (songwriter) and The Pogues (performers), neither of whom is or was Australian but heigh-ho.

Too morbid for Australia Day?

I was going to go on and link to some of my favourite Australian cultural exports. But these, too, are morbid. My favourite Aussie song? My favourite short story by Aussie Booker-collector Peter Carey, ‘Life and Death in the South Side Pavilion’, the one that ends like this?

What can I say? Australians are all morbid. Happy Australia Day.