Adventures in Architecture

Even now a place like Oxfordshire still has the capacity to surprise me. A case in point is the church at Mapledurham. A medieval structure rebuilt in redbrick by Butterfield, the interior contains some rather nondescript stained glass (the resurrection meets the Wizard of Oz), a Norman font, some Victorian railings and not much else. On the other side of the church, walled off from the main aisle for four hundred years lies the former chantry chapel that makes up the Bardolf aisle. Dusty, filthy and bearing a suspicious resemblance to the interior of the average shed (as evidenced by the presence of a fire cart dating from 1743), it nonetheless contains much Tudor and Flemish stained glass, assorted hatchments and a range of monuments sporting the family’s ‘Eye of God’ crest. From there, it’s on to St Peter and St Paul, a church I’ve managed to miss visiting altogether. One of the oldest churches in the county, it combines modern stained glass by Debora Coombs, medieval frescos of the Apostles and tiles, romanesque arches and various monuments. Above all, it contains an engraved window by Laurence Whistler showing the grail accompanied by two knights, representing night and day. Finally, I visit St Mary at North Stoke. A dark interior contains medieval frescos of the martyrdoms of St Stephen and Thomas Becket, a Jacobean pulpit, wooden rafters, Edwardian stained glass and Victorian capitals carved into the arches. The exterior has an odd sundial with a man’s face and hands.

I’ve been reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Dos Passos’ 42nd Parallel. Both seem something of an anomaly; invectives against capitalism and the American Dream from its principal source, with Sinclair in particular working many of the same sentimental levers that Dickens once did. For all of his physical strength, Jurgis emerges as a masculine version of Little Nell or Little Dorrit, a passive victim of events he has no control over and often no understanding of. If Sinclair’s class politics could be counted as radical, his sexual politics certainly cannot given that the novel never questions the assumption that women should not be expected to work or that prostitution is shameful. Interestingly, the novel depicts women as more conservative, as with Marija’s view that Jurgis should not have made a fuss about One sleeping with her boss or the observation that "Elzbieta’s armour was absolutely impervious to socialism. Her soul had been baked hard in the fire of adversity." In general, the novel wrestles somewhat with the notion of false consciousness, attributing it to ignorance and stupidity alike; "you would begin talking to some poor devil who had worked in the same shop for thirty years… and when you started to tell him about socialism he would sniff and say… I’m an individualist. And then he would go on to tell you that socialism was paternalism… and they really though it was ‘individualism for tens of thousands of them to herd together and obey the orders of a steel magnate." Of course, the novel’s deus ex machina precisely depends on Jurgis being paternalistically cared for enlightened socialists. Dos Passos manages rather better, in spite of his literary technique not granting his characters much more introspection than Sinclair’s, while he regards women as being rather more problematic than simply objects of sentiment, as with Mac being held back from joining his union by Maisie’s social aspirations or Ward Moorehouse’s failed marriage threatening to bring down his business. Instead of Sinclair’s masculinist portrayal, Passos can treat homosexual characters like Maurice with dignity.

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