Study Guide

Cowell Devlin—Pisces in The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

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Cowell Devlin—Pisces

Cowell Devlin is an Irish Methodist minister who comes to work for the prison in Hokitika. Despite the fact that you might expect him to get judgmental about things like Anna's prostitution and attempted suicide, he seems to avoid that kind of thing, instead just trying to help out people who need it.

Unless they're doing something that would require him to lie, of course—he won't do that. For example, when Anna forges Emery's name on the burned deed so she can claim the money that was intended for her, he doesn't run into the courthouse to volunteer that she forged the document…but when he's asked, he definitely doesn't lie.

His tendency toward non-judgy behavior and open-mindedness comes through in the narrator's description of his first encounter with a Bible translated into Maori. Although at first he's kind of shocked by its foreignness and assumes that the document loses a lot in translation, he stops himself before he gets too needlessly judgy:

Turning the pages of the translated document, Devlin had wondered how the holy message had been simplified, and at what cost. The unfamiliar words in their truncated alphabet seemed infantile to him, composed of repeating syllables and babble—unrecognizable, like the nonsense of a child. But in the next moment Devlin chastised himself; for what was his own Bible, but a translation of another kind? He ought not to be so hasty, or so prideful. (I.11.3)

Hmm, if only the rest of the characters were as open minded! For sure, given the behavior of some of the other Crown council members toward their fellow man and other languages/cultures (cough, Mannering), Devlin seems doubly impressive for reining in his judgy wudgy attitudes.

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