Author: Peter Carey
First published: 1988
Locale: Devon, England; Oxford, England; New South Wales, Australia; Sydney, Australia; Bellingen, Australia
Oscar Hopkins, the narrator's great-grandfather from Dover, England. A flaming redhead and poor dresser, Oscar is the son of a hard-nosed Plymouth Brethren preacher and marine biologist. Oscar is afraid of the water and, as a teenager, receives a divine sign to join the Anglican Church. While training at Oxford to be an Anglican priest, the otherwise in-corruptible Oscar discovers gambling and quickly becomes obsessed. Pursuing a missionary call to Australia, he meets Lucinda, a compulsive gambler, on the voyage to Sydney. His clergy work in Sydney is aborted when his secret gambling trysts with Lucinda are discovered, and he is defrocked. When Lucinda finds him a job and takes him on as a boarder, their relationship deepens but does not become physical because Lucinda leads Oscar to believe that she is in love with Dennis Hasset. After touring Lucinda's glassworks, Oscar falls in love with glass and proposes that they stake their fortunes to build a glass church and deliver it to Hasset's out-back mission post in Bellingen. The ensuing expedition is fraught with physical difficulty and emotional risk. On the trek to Bellingen, Oscar is horrified by Mr. Jeffries's barbarism as well as his own willingness to execute Jeffries. A drugged Oscar is seduced by Miriam Chadwick, and he unknowingly impregnates her. Soon after, he dies by accidental drowning, trapped inside the very glass church that he helped transport down the river.
Lucinda Leplastrier, the narrator's implied great-grandmother, a petite woman with untamable reddish hair. She grows up on a farm in colonial New South Wales but is brought to Sydney when she is orphaned at the age of seventeen. Lucinda is enchanted with glass, so she buys Prince Rupert's Glassworks with her inherited fortune. Through the Glassworks, she meets Dennis Hasset and Jimmy d'Abbs, the latter of whom introduces her to gambling. When she is in her early twenties, she visits her mother's family in England and on the return voyage meets Oscar. When Oscar is defrocked for his secret gambling trysts with Lucinda, she takes him in as a lodger. Although mutually attracted, their relationship remains platonic because she leads him to believe she is in love with Hasset. She wagers her fortune that Oscar cannot deliver the glass church to Hasset's outpost, yet she spends countless time and resources ensuring the mission's success. Because Oscar successfully brings the church to Bellingen, Miriam Chadwick demands Lucinda's fortune after Oscar dies. Lucinda becomes an impoverished but famous labor-rights advocate.
Theophilus Hopkins, Oscar's austere father. He is both a Plymouth Brethren minister and a famous marine biologist. Having lost his wife and another son and daughter, he and Oscar live alone. He is a firm believer in predestination and is known for stealing sheep from the Baptist flock. He is loving toward Oscar but a severe disciplinarian, even punishing Oscar for eating Christmas pudding. When Oscar defects to the Anglican Church at age fifteen, Theophilus believes that God is punishing him for his pride. The last time he sees Oscar is at the launching of the boat to Australia.
Hugh Stratton, an impoverished and discontented Anglican priest in Oscar's hometown of Dover. When Oscar decides that God is telling him to become Anglican, the Strattons take him into their home and eventually sponsor him for seminary. Hugh Stratton uncovers Oscar's gambling obsession and uses Oscar's method to become a gambler himself, which ultimately leads to his suicide.
Ian Wardley-Fish, Oscar's friend from seminary and a social climber. He first introduces Oscar to gambling and admires Oscar's “incorruptibility.” He eventually leaves his fiancé and career in order to follow Oscar to Australia, but they never meet up.
Percy Smith, a fellow ship passenger. He is the first to introduce Oscar to Lucinda on the voyage to Australia and is later hired by Mr. Jeffries to bring the glass church to Bellingen and to care for Oscar on this journey. After witnessing Mr. Jeffries's many criminal atrocities, he and Oscar “execute” him.
Reverend Dennis Hasset, an Anglican priest and expert in glass theory. He takes in the orphaned Lucinda and becomes a partner in the Glassworks. Due to rumors of impropriety and his liberal theology, Hasset's bishop reassigns him to a mission post in the outback of Bellingen, where Oscar persuades Lucinda to take the glass church. He is seduced by Miriam Chadwick.
Jimmy d'Abbs, one of Lucinda's partners at the Glassworks. He informally takes in the newly orphaned Lucinda, and she first learns to gamble in his home. He draws up the designs for the glass church, but he and Lucinda have a falling-out when Lucinda rejects them.
Mr. Jeffries, a friend of Jimmy d'Abbs. Lucinda eventually hires Jeffries to lead the expedition with the glass church to Bellingen. He has aspirations of being a grand explorer and proves to be ruthless, killing many of the natives hired for the journey. Oscar and Percy ultimately kill him for his crimes.
Miriam Chadwick, a young governess in Bellingen. She is determined to escape the outback, and she seduces a disoriented Oscar upon his arrival in Bellingen. Although she never sees Oscar again, she conceives a child from their one encounter. Thus, she, not Lucinda, is the narrator's ancestor.
Charles Ahearn, a Leplastrier family friend. He becomes the trustee of Lucinda's inheritance when she is orphaned, and he keeps a watchful but distant eye on her.
The narrator, Oscar Hopkins's great-grandson. He reveals very few facts about himself and initially misleads the reader into assuming that Lucinda is his ancestor.
Kumbaingiri Billy, a friend of the narrator's father who passed on the story of how “Jesus” and the glass church first came to Bellingen.