Study Guide

Anna Wetherell—The Sun/The Moon in The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

Anna Wetherell—The Sun/The Moon

When the book opens, we soon find out that Anna Wetherell is pretty well known around Hokitika…well, maybe notorious would be a better word? She and the missing Emery Staines alternate as the central figures at the heart of the book's mysteries—and when the narrative shifts its focus from one to the other, the heavenly bodies or "luminaries" that represent them swap. Are you following us? Let's dig a little deeper.

What's Your Sign?

Yup, that's right—the "luminaries" mentioned in the title refer to the sun and the moon, and Anna represents both of those things at different points in the novel. At the times when she's representing one, Emery is representing the other. But we'll get to their weird "astral twin" love thing in a second.

The table of contents says that Anna's "related influence" is "Outermost (formerly Innermost)," which indicates that she is associated with the moon (outermost) but was formerly associated with the sun (innermost).

If you look at the novel's structure, that's definitely the trajectory Anna seems to go on within the narrative. As you already know, the chapter headings and section charts tell us which characters go with each heavenly body or sign, and for most of the book, Anna appears in chapters associated with the sun. However, toward the end of the book (and after the main narrative timeline terminates in April of 1866), she becomes associated with the moon.

It's appropriate that Catton pairs Anna up with the sun in the early pages, since she is pretty much at the center of everything in the first part of the story. All the stories and mysteries revolve around her…ya know, kind of like how the earth revolves around the sun. Pretty clever of Catton, huh?

And then when the focus shifts to Staines, she takes on the moon role. Catton kind of clues us into Anna's eventual relationship to the moon early on in the book, when she "says that Anna's "belly had not yet begun to wax" (I.8.94) during her pregnancy. Even though Anna as a character is still in her "sun phase," this seems like a little bit of foreshadowing on Catton's part to let us know she's got "lunar" importance as well.

Oh, and speaking of lunar, once she and Emery have switched luminaries later in the book and Anna becomes linked to the moon, there's a lot of talk about whether she's gone crazy as she prepares for trial. Want to guess what word people like Cowell Devlin use to describe her supposed madness? Yup, lunacy. Describing his conversation with Emery on the topic, Devlin frets:

I fear that he does not really understand the gravity of the situation at hand. He has a sweet temper, but in his opinions he tends toward foolishness. When I raised the issue of Miss Wetherell's lunacy, for example, he was perfectly delighted by the idea. He said he wouldn't have her any other way. (IV.2.52)

Ah, love …

She Starts Out Innocent…Until Lydia

Anna arrives in New Zealand all innocent and hopeful, but unfortunately the conniving, manipulative Lydia Wells is the first person she meets. Before she knows it, Anna's in oodles of debt to her new "friend" and on the road to becoming a prostitute (to get the moolah she needs to dig out of her financial hole). Lydia is also likely responsible for getting Anna hooked on opium, since she laces a bottle of alcohol in Anna's room with laudanum. Yeah, totally not chill.

Finally, Lydia encourages Anna's affair with her husband Crosbie—and then, when it results in Anna's pregnancy, kicks her out of the house when Anna starts showing, sending her to work for the "whoremonger" Dick Mannering in Hokitika (where her debt only grows). Can't a girl get a break?

She's Got An Astral Twin

Even though Lydia is a villainous fraud, she does one good thing for Anna (and us) in the course of the book: She realizes that Anna's probably got an "astral-twin." You see, on the day Anna arrived in New Zealand, Emery Staines arrived as well—and got Lydia Wells to do his natal chart.

When Lydia returned to her hotel after this encounter, she offered to do Anna's chart—and realized that her new "ward" was born on the same day and at least roughly (if not exactly) the same time as the dude she had just left. She announced that Anna likely had "an astral soul-mate, whose path through life perfectly mirrors" hers (IV.9.41), and wondered what would happen if the two ever met.

Of course, they already had—she and Emery were on the same boat that came into Dunedin that morning. Coincidence? Astrologically determined destiny? You decide …

Emery and Anna certainly seem to have a weird kind of connection that's never wholly explained "logically"—in fact, it seems downright supernatural. For example, Anna gives up opium when Emery becomes addicted to it, and she starves (despite eating) when he goes 13 days without food.

Most mysteriously, however, they seem to take on the mishaps and wounds of the other. For example, right after Moody rescued Emery from a crate aboard the Godspeed, Emery appeared to develop gunshot wound completely out of the blue…right around the time a gun went off in Anna Wetherell's room at the Gridiron (but no bullet was found). Spooky.

Also, later, when Emery goes under opium anesthesia to repair that gunshot wound, Anna mysteriously faints while talking to Fellowes for apparently no reason at all. So, yeah, these two seem to be tied together by a force that science can't quite seem to explain…

Super Sympathetic

Despite the fact that people in general seem inclined to dehumanize her—it would be hard to count the number of times Anna is referred to simply as "the whore"—she is also very beloved by many around Hokitika, and overall Catton portrays her as a sweet and sympathetic person—or, as Ben Löwenthal calls her, "a very dear girl" (I.6.243).

She's certainly very mellow—there's only one moment in the book where she really loses her cool, and it comes when the topic of her lost child comes up. You see, she miscarried the child she conceived with Crosbie Wells in a mysterious incident with Francis Carver, where she ended up with near-fatal injuries. Describing her outburst, the narrator tips us off to how unusual displays of emotion were for her and some other key aspects of her character:

It was very unlike her to burst out in such a way. Anna's nature was watchful and receptive rather than declamatory, and she rarely spoke about herself. Her profession demanded modesty of the strictest sort, paradoxical though that sounded. She was obliged to behave sweetly, and with sympathy, even when sympathy was not owing, and sweetness was not deserved. The men with whom she plied her trade were rarely curious about her. If they spoke at all, they spoke about other women—the sweethearts they had lost, the wives they had abandoned, their mothers, their sisters, their daughters, their wards. They sought these women when they looked at Anna, but only partly, for they also sought themselves: she was a reflected darkness, just as she was a borrowed light. Her wretchedness was, she knew, extremely reassuring. (I.7.117)

So, yeah, she's not generally the most assertive gal; in fact, most people just use her, and it's her job (as a prostitute) to let them. Oh, and by the way, we hope you caught that sly reference to the moon/sun stuff with that "reflected darkness" comment. Since one of the most important things to know about the moon is that "its" light is actually the reflection of the sun's, that moment seems like a wink to Anna's relationship to both heavenly bodies …

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