In Stained Glass a 50s-something reporter, who has been jaded by overexposure to media hype and is cynical about every aspect of his wretched life, is given an assignment by his aging mother to complete the memoir of his great-great-grandfather Christopher Dryden. In the early 1870s Christopher had been sent on a mission to the boisterous Gold Rush town of Barkerville, BC, where a fund-raising campaign to install a stained glass window behind the alter of St. Saviour's Anglican Church (flickr image at right by jmegjmeg) turned into a heated controversy when it was revealed that the anonymous donor, who was covering most of the cost for the painted glass, was none other than the owner of the town's most notorious brothel...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Christopher Dryden's Great Grandson

The structure of Stained Glass is beginning to take shape. I had been considering a straight historical novel, written in the First Person from Reverend Christopher Dryden's Point of View. Two problems presented themselves:
  • Modern readers, who are impatient and quick to judge, might not see the relevance of the novel to their own fast paced lives;
  • I would have been confined to the present tense and Christopher's Victorian perspective, which would be narrowed not only by his world view, but also by his experience and the technology of the times.
My solution - a device that has a long literary tradition - will be to have Christopher's correspondence inherited by his great-grandson Kyle Welland, a reporter in his mid 50s, who works in Vancouver. Kyle's aging mother, Christopher's granddaughter, summons him to the family home in Penticton, BC. She hands him a metal tin, which contains a packet of papers and photographs, along with what looks like a manuscript.

He has just inherited the never published autobiography and correspondence of Reverend Christopher Dryden. On top of the stack is a note from Christopher, explaining the materials and letting his descendants know he decided against publishing the work because he considered it a vanity to do so, and because he wanted to protect the reputations of 'many who have attained happiness and status in the world, and would be injured by my scribbling'.

Kyle's role, and the express wishes of his mother, will be to understand this history and make it relevant to his own life and times. She wants him to write a book based upon the 'fantastic life story' of his great-grandfather. Really she wants him to get a grip on his own life, which is teetering on the brink of collapse, even as he enters his retirement years.

I'm thinking Stained Glass will be written in the First Person from Kyle Welland's Point of View. But liberal excerpts from Christopher Dryden's never-published manuscript will give the novel a second Point of View, that of a 19th Century Anglican missionary to the Cariboo. Other Points of View will also be developed by taking quotes from the stack of correspondence in the tin Maggie Welland bequeaths to Kyle.

His personal connection to this forgotten ancestor will deepen as Kyle researches, contextualizes and writes about the life and times of Reverend Christopher Dryden. Kyle will begin to develop a vision of the long-forgotten, shattered stained glass window that had been installed in St. Saviour's for so brief a time during his great-grandfather's period as vicar.

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