Where The Rivers Meet (1988)
Hungry Generations (1994)
John Wain’s final work of fiction, though not his final published work (that was his play Johnson Is Leaving) was his huge Oxford Trilogy, collectively known as ‘Where The Rivers Meet’.
It tells the story of Peter Leonard, local boy, whose parents keep a pub on Osney Island called The Bargeman’s Arms. Leonard grows up in Oxford between the Wars, becoming a history don at Episcopus College Oxford after taking his degree there. As such he sees the transformation of Oxford from a small peaceful city into a larger industrial one, with the expansion of William Morris’ car factories, and the various social changes that take place between the mid-1920s and the late 1950s, when the story ends. Peter’s brother, Brian Leonard, is a mechanic on the famous racing MG team of the 1930s, and his wife Heather comes from the Oxfordshire countryside, a farmer’s daughter: the trilogy is a wide sweep of Town, Gown and Country, superbly researched and full of detail about an Oxford just passing out of living memory.
The final volume, ‘Hungry Generations’, was published a few weeks after John Wain’s death in 1994.
Many of the characters and locations in the trilogy are based on real people and places, of course. I offer a quick guide to just a few of them here…
- Episcopus College, the college of the Bishop, is based on St John’s (the bishop of course being Archbishop Laud). The author was a student and subsequently a Fereday Fellow there in the 1940s, and his funeral service was held in the Chapel of the college.
- The Bargeman’s Arms is the Waterman’s Arms as was, now The Punter’s.
- Garrity, Peter Leonard’s eccentric academic friend, is a close study of J.B. Leishman, still remembered for his translations of the poet Rilke, while Molly Whitworth is almost certainly based on the young Iris Murdoch. Mairead Hoey, the Irish woman whom Peter leaves his wife for, is believed to be a portrait of the journalist Mary Holland.