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...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Just who's saving who here?

My reading of Red Lights on the Prairie has shifted the centre of gravity for Stained Glass somewhat. Anna Armstrong has become much more prominent.

Madame Blavinsky's offer to finance the installation of the stained glass window in St. Saviour's is really an act of vengeful pride. Having been slighted by the high society types for the 'social evil' she has brought down on the community, Madame Blavinsky wants to leave a permanent testament to her own power and impunity. What better vengeance than to have the congregation look through her stained glass window every Sunday when they gather in their church.

Christopher Dryden does not see the situation for what it is. He accepts her gift as a token of repentance, which he has a moral obligation to accept. Anna, who is Madame Blavinsky's agent and confidant, knows very well what her mistress is up to and, despite her occupation as a prostitute, abhors Madame's tactics and motives. Increasingly unhappy with her role in the affair, she wants to warn the naive Reverend about the danger to him and his ministry, and hints broadly at the nature of Madam's gift. But Anna is afraid to betray outright the woman who controls her livelihood, and who can visit a terrible punishment on her girls.

Anna lets Reverend Dryden 'save her' from her sinful occupation because she loves him. For his part Reverend Dryden, whose naivety is somewhat feigned, enjoys being saved because he believes it's in Anna's best interests to think she's committing a saintly act on his behalf... and because he loves her! Their feelings for each other are sublimated through the lens of Victorian morality and righteousness, but cannot forever be contained by that inhibiting set of values, which are not meant to be applied to all people, at all times.

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