Study Guide

Harald Nilssen—Libra in The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

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Harald Nilssen—Libra

Harald Nilssen is a commission merchant who was originally from Norway (and who, as a result, has a faint accent). He is associated with the zodiac sign of Libra, and he is part of the council of twelve men who meet at the Crown the night the book opens.

One of the big things we learn about Harald is that he's an incredibly snazzy dresser and pretty vain; he's always attentive to the effect he's making on others. As the narrator notes, "…if Nilssen was vain of the impressions he created, it was because he knew that he created them very well" (I.4.7).

That concern with what others think about him extends to more than just his looks. When George finds out that Nilssen violated their agreement to keep their business arrangement private, for example, Nilssen is devastated by the thought that Shepard would be mad at him, and ends up being even more indiscreet in an attempt to win his favor back, spilling even more secrets.

Apparently Nilssen is naturally inclined to feel super guilty. For example, he still thinks about an incident from childhood in which he stole a button from his sickly cousin, Magnus. Despite the fact that he reversed the crime (i.e., put the button back) before it could be discovered, he was haunted by that act:

…for months and years and even decades afterward, long after Cousin Magnus was dead, that theft was as a splinter in his heart…for although a man is judged by his actions, by what he has said and done, a man judges himself by what he is willing to do, by what he might have said, or might have done… (I.4.207).

Talk about a guilty conscience.

Although it might seem odd that a man would berate himself for a childhood indiscretion, Nilssen remains ashamed that something like that could even cross his mind—and he never forgot it. However, while that guilt might have kept him from getting involved in any more thefts, it doesn't seem to have helped him learn how to keep secrets…

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