Study Guide

The Luminaries Quotes

  • Foreignness

    'Everyone's from somewhere else,' Balfour went on. 'Yes: that's the very heart of it. We're all from somewhere else. And as for family: you'll find brothers and fathers enough, in the gorge' (I.1.54).

    You can probably count on one hand the number of characters in the novel who are actually from Hokitika or even New Zealand as a whole; most everyone else is an immigrant. The result is a big old melting pot where, according to Balfour and Moody, the same kind of divisions one might expect back in England don't apply.

    'Chinatown' was something of a misleading name for the small clutch of tents and stone cabins some few hundred yards upriver from the Kaniere claims, for although every man hailed from Guangdong, and most from Kwangchow, together they could hardly be said to comprise a township: 'Chinatown' was home, at that time, to only fifteen Chinese men (I.9.2).

    Well, maybe there's a bit more division than Moody or Balfour might be willing to admit—after all, the Chinese residents of the area near Hokitika actually all live separately from the British in Kaniere, in an area called "Chinatown" (despite the fact that it's too tiny an area to be a town).

    The drug, for Quee Long, was a symbol, signifying the unforgivable depths of Western barbarism toward his civilization, and the contempt with which the Chinese life was held, in the face of the lifeless Western goals of profit and greed. Opium was China's warning. It was the shadow-side of Western expansion—its dark complement, as a yin to a yang (I.9.8).

    While usually the book shows British characters trash talking foreigners and "othering" the Chinese, here we get the Chinese perspective on the West—and it ain't pretty. Although Ah Sook is kind of the face of opium use and abuse in the area, Quee associates the spread of the drug as a commercial item with Western power. And of course, we soon discover that it's actually Frank Carver who has brought opium into Hokitika—where he indirectly became a supplier to his mortal enemy, Ah Sook.

    'Come out of there, you rotten chink! You come out of there and stand up like a man!' (I.9.39).

    While Ah Sook and Quee Long are trading information, Mannering comes blasting in, trying to get information from Quee about the Aurora's gold supply. As you can see, he's very comfortable using racial epithets to address the Chinese.

    Finally Charlie Frost, who had been hitherto very successfully ignored, suggested that perhaps the Chinese men had simply not understood Mannering's line of questioning. He proposed instead that the questions be put to Ah Sook again, and this time in writing: that way, he said, they could be sure that nothing had been lost in the act of translation (I.9.39).

    Mannering's conversation with Quee and Sook doesn't go well; because of Mannering's jerky behavior, the men aren't super inclined to be cooperative, and there's a language barrier to boot. Frost, who's a lot calmer (and a lot less of a jerk), is trying to find a way for them to get something out of the chat (and bring Mannering's offensiveness/anger down a few thousand degrees).

    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).

    The good reverend is reflecting here on how he almost fell into the trap of viewing something that was foreign and difficult as nonsense or childlike. Luckily, he caught himself—after all, his own English-language Bible is a translation of the original. Now, if the rest of the English-speaking residents of the area could be similarly self-aware of their own foreignness—to native New Zealanders…and everyone else on the planet, for that matter.

    'Oh yes,' said Mrs. Wells. 'Just think of it: an Oriental presence, at this evening's séance!'
    'Is a séance an Oriental practice?' Anna said, doubtfully (II.6.68-69).

    Here, Lydia Wells has just come up with the idea to invite Sook to be present at the séance she's holding that night. She basically wants to use him to create a certain kind of aesthetic or mood; she thinks it will add to the mystery of the whole affair. The idea that "the Orient" was some scary, mysterious, unknowable place was pretty commonplace during English imperial expansion, and Lydia is just trying to cash in on that cultural shorthand …

    'In fact it was you, Mr. Mannering, who gave me the idea. Your Sensations from the Orient. Nothing sells tickets like an Oriental touch! I saw it twice—once from the gallery, and once from the stalls' (II.10.65).

    Here, Lydia Wells is telling Mannering about how she got the idea to include Sook in her séance. Apparently, she had seen his own Sensations from the Orient exhibition—remember how we said that the English liked to build up this crazy idea of the Orient in their mind? Well, this is another example of how that tendency often translated into entertainment or thrills for English.

    'Frank Carver speaks Chinese?' one of the others said, in a voice of incredulity.
    'He goes back and forth from canton, does he not?'
    'Born in Hong Kong.'
    'Yes, but to speak the language—as they do!'
    'Makes you think different of the man' (II.11.89-93).

    During the séance, Lydia Wells apparently went into a trance and then started talking in Chinese. Sook knew that she was repeating the oath he had sworn to kill Frank Carver several years before, and tells the other men in the room that it was Carver (and not Staines) who had been channeled. Apparently, the idea that Frank Carver could speak Chinese rocks these guys' world and makes them think differently of Frank…really, guys, this is what makes you "think different" of him?

    'She lied. Under oath. She defiled her late husband's memory—my brother's memory—by calling him a suicide…and all to protect that worthless chink from the punishment' (III.10.39).

    Although George Shepard claimed not to be all into revenge, his words here (complete with the racial epithet he drops) suggest otherwise. He's angry at his wife for protecting Ah Sook over her own husband—not just because he thinks she owed her husband more loyalty than that, but also because Sook is, in his eyes, "a worthless chink." Definitely says a lot about the racist and xenophobic attitudes that were flying around Hokitika, if he felt totally comfy saying something like that—and to a holy man (as he was talking to Devlin).

  • Family

    'My object was a complicated one…A matter of family disputation, painful to relate, which accounts for my having made the crossing solo' (I.1.51).

    Before we dig into the complicated overlapping mysteries that are really the central concern of the novel, we get Moody's family drama. In fact, Moody offers it up precisely so the men in the Crown smoking room (who were clearly in the middle of some kind of powwow before Moody entered) will open up to him. He plays hard to get at first, though, and isn't super inclined to go into a lot of details about the family sitch that prompted him to haul booty to Hokitika in search of gold.

    'Everyone's from somewhere else,' Balfour went on. 'Yes: that's the very heart of it. We're all from somewhere else. And as for family: you'll find brothers and fathers enough, in the gorge' (I.1.54).

    Assuring Walter that being in Hokitika means a new start, Balfour lets him know that pretty much everyone there is a foreigner—and so, families look a bit different in this town. In fact, they rise up in the gorge as everyone is looking for gold. Hmm, sounds kind of nice…you mean, people don't get all greedy and weird and murderous when gold is around? Let's see how that idea plays out …

    'Your father! But what have I told you already? You'll find fathers enough, I said, down in the gorge! That's no turn of phrase—it's custom, and necessity—it's the way that things are done! Let me tell you what counts for shame on the diggings. Cry a false field—that's worthy. Dispute the pegging on a claim—that's worthy. Rob a man, cheat a man, kill a man—that's worthy. But family shame! Tell that to the bellmen, to cry up and down the Hokitika-road—they'll think it news! What's family shame without a family?' (I.1.73).

    Balfour continues to try to convince Walter that Hokitika really can be a new beginning for him, since his family shame can basically just be left in the past. There are other things to focus on in a gold town, he says, rather than worrying about that. Everyone is starting over, so no one really cares about your origins quite as much …

    Lauderback was Balfour's contemporary in age, and yet from the first meeting the latter deferred to him almost as a son to a father…(I.2.9).

    In keeping with Balfour's claim that gold towns make strange bedfellows—er, family members—you definitely find a lot of references to various people (sometimes unlikely ones) feeling like family. It seems that Balfour felt like Lauderback was a kind of father figure because of how commanding/puffed up Lauderback was.

    How could he have been so stupid? Francis Carver had been smuggling the drug into China, using the Sook family warehouse as a liaison point. Francis Carver had betrayed his father (II.8.132).

    Sook's motives for wanting to kill Frank Carver are family oriented. When Carver was smuggling opium through China while using the Sook family warehouse and name as a cover, he ended up getting Sook's father executed. So, Sook wants to kill him to avenge the damage Carver did to their family name and, of course, his father specifically.

    'Why did you say it, if not to say, simply, that you cared for the man, and loved him, as you would love your own? 'Brother' is another word for love, I think. The love we choose to give—and gladly.'
    Tauwhare thought about this, and then said, 'Some brothers you cannot choose.'
    'Ah,' said Devlin. 'No indeed. We cannot choose our blood, can we? We cannot choose our families. Yes: you draw a nice distinction there. Very nice.'
    'And within a family,' Tauwhare went on, encouraged by this praise, 'two brothers can be very different men' (I.11.23-26).

    Here, Cowell Devlin is talking to Te Rau Tauwhare, whom he knew had thought of Crosbie Wells like a brother. They are reflecting on what it means to choose someone as a brother, as opposed to being stuck with one. Devlin is particularly interested in this topic of brothers because he wants to find out of Te Rau knows about any bros Crosbie had …

    '…but here: I heard a rumor somewhere that they were brothers. Crosbie Wells and Carver. It might only be a figure of speech, as you put it, but I wanted to make sure' (I.11.40).

    And this is where Devlin asks Te Rau directly whether he knows of any literal brotherly connection between Wells and Carver, since Lauderback had believed that Carver and Wells might have been half-siblings.

    'Sir you are my brother though you do not know me. Your father sired a bastard I am that bastard' (II.9.17).

    Whoa. Well, this is a wrinkle: Crosbie Wells wrote to Lauderback letting him know that they were, in fact, half-brothers. Walter Moody found the letter with this intel in a crate that was mistakenly delivered to his room.

    'Poor Mr. Lauderback,' she said again.
    'He made his own bed,' said Carver, watching her.
    'Yes, he did; but you and I warmed the sheets for him.'
    'Don't feel sorry for a coward,' said Carver. 'Least of all a coward with money to spare.'
    'I pity him.'
    'Why? Because of the bastard? I'd sooner feel sorry for the bastard. Lauderback's had nothing but good luck from start to finish. He's a made man.'
    'He is; and yet he is pitiable. He is so ashamed, Francis. Of Crosbie, of his father, of himself. I cannot help but feel pity for a man who is ashamed' (IV.7.14-20).

    We don't ever really find out from the horse's mouth what Lauderback made of having a half-brother—every conversation he had on the topic or opinion he might have had is filtered through someone else's thoughts or conversation. According to Lydia, he was pretty darn ashamed of it, since his father had sired Crosbie with a prostitute. We do know, however, that Lauderback was finally going to visit Crosbie on the night of Crosbie's death…and apparently didn't make it in time.

    'You have always been the scholar of the family, Walter. I am ashamed of a great many aspects of my life; but I have never been ashamed of you. In taking my oath of temperance I have confronted my true soul' (IV.8.24).

    Walter's father comes around at the end of the novel (unfortunately, just as Walter is leaving town) and wants to try to make amends for the shame and inconvenience his alcohol abuse has brought down on their family. So, maybe Walter's "old" family will end up working out after all …

  • Lies and Deceit

    'Your father! But what have I told you already? You'll find fathers enough, I said, down in the gorge! That's no turn of phrase—it's custom, and necessity—it's the way that things are done! Let me tell you what counts for shame on the diggings. Cry a false field—that's worthy. Dispute the pegging on a claim—that's worthy. Rob a man, cheat a man, kill a man—that's worthy. But family shame! Tell that to the bellmen, to cry up and down the Hokitika-road—they'll think it news! What's family shame without a family?' (I.1.73).

    While Walter Moody is attempting (at least at first) to keep some of the details of his family drama back, Balfour is trying to draw him out—and school him on the different classes of deceit that exist and which ones are the worst in this town. The sharing of confidences (i.e., the desire not to keep secrets) ends up being important to demonstrating good faith and trustworthiness.

    Something was afoot: of this he was suddenly certain. Balfour was performing a role, on behalf of the others: taking his measure, Moody thought. But for what purpose? There was a system behind this battery of questions, a design that was neatly obscured by the excess of Balfour's manner, his prodigious sympathy and charm. The other men were listening, however casually they turned the pages of their papers, or pretended to doze (I.1.130).

    It takes Moody a little while to catch on, but eventually he realizes that the men in the Crown smoking room were in the middle of something when he came in—and, therefore, that they have some secret purpose for getting together that night. So, suddenly the setting is a lot less relaxed for him.

    Something was afoot: of this he was suddenly certain. Balfour was performing a role, on behalf of the others: taking his measure, Moody thought. But for what purpose? There was a system behind this battery of questions, a design that was neatly obscured by the excess of Balfour's manner, his prodigious sympathy and charm. The other men were listening, however casually they turned the pages of their papers, or pretended to doze (I.1.130).

    It takes Moody a little while to catch on, but eventually he realizes that the men in the Crown smoking room were in the middle of something when he came in—and, therefore, that they have some secret purpose for getting together that night. So, suddenly the setting is a lot less relaxed for him.

    Walter Moody was much experienced in the art of confidences. He knew that by confessing, one earned the subtle right to become confessor to the other, in his turn. A secret deserves a secret, and a tale deserves a tale; the gentle expectation of a response in kind was a pressure he knew how to apply (I.1.131).

    Moody realizes that he's going to have to come out with a bit of his own story to get the men to decide that he's trustworthy. Once he gives them the background on how he got there, they will understand that he barged in by mistake (not design). Also, it will show them that he has nothing to hide…so they shouldn't hide anything from him either.

    'Yes,' said Staines. 'That's where I was hiding, when I took the bullet from Anna's gun' (IV.4.96).

    When Emery Staines is testifying at his own trial, he has to explain to the court how he got shot. However, from reading the rest of the narrative, it doesn't appear that what he's saying here could have actually happened—elsewhere, the narration strongly suggests that at the moment Anna's gun went off, Emery was on the Godspeed on his way to Hokitika. Our best guess is that, because the court knew that a gun had accidentally gone off in Anna's room, and Emery didn't know how he got shot (and the wound might have been the result of a supernatural connection between Anna and Emery . . .), they decided to go with this story as the best way to explain the unexplainable/knowable …

    Next the Magistrate's Court heard the testimonies of Mannering, Quee, Löwenthal, Clinch, Nilssen, and Frost—all of whom described the discovery and deployment of the fortune discovered in Crosbie Wells's cottage quite as if the retorted gold had indeed been discovered upon the Aurora. Mannering testified to the conditions under which the Aurora had been sold, and Quee to the fact of the ore's retortion. Löwenthal detailed his interview with Alistair Lauderback on the night of the 14th of January, during which he learned about the death of Crosbie Wells. Clinch testified that he had purchased the estate the following morning. Nilssen described how the gold had been hidden in Crosbie Wells's cottage, and Frost confirmed its value. They made no mention whatsoever of Anna's gowns, nor of the foundered barque, Godspeed, nor of any of the concerns and revelations that had precipitated their secret council in the Crown Hotel three months ago (IV.4.164).

    Emery's tall tale about the curtain and the gunshot isn't the only lying that goes on during Anna and Emery's trial. As the narrator notes in this passage, lots of people get on the stand and manage to tell a consistent story, all while leaving out some key details to keep things, er, simple(r).

    'Seems odd you didn't tell me,' said Wells. 'I've only been waiting—what—twelve years? Twelve years, and no reply. All these years I've been in the highlands, digging for gold. Now the man himself arrives in town, and you knew about it, and you made no mention. No: it's worse than keeping quiet. You set out to deceive me. You burned the paper in the bloody stove. That's a black deceit, Mrs. Wells. That's a cold deceit' (V.3.6).

    Here, we're in a flashback to when Crosbie Wells realized that Lydia had purposely tried to keep him from knowing that his half-brother, Alistair Lauderback, was in town—since if the two men talked, that would foul up Lydia/Frank's plans to blackmail Lauderback. Little does he know, she also stole all his gold—and his birth certificate and mining right. Which are also related to the blackmail.

    Staines remembered Carver's instruction. 'I'm afraid there's nobody of that name here,' he said. 'You don't mean Mr. Wells—Francis Wells?' (V.4.10).

    When Staines and Carver meet, and Carver offers to sponsor Staines, Staines ends up with a strange task one day: He has to guard a chest and, if anyone asks, tell them that the room he's in and crate belong to a Francis Wells. So, when Sook shows up looking for Carver, Staines dutifully says that he must be looking for Francis Wells—which puts Sook off the scent.

    'Well,' said Staines, frowning slightly, 'that's very difficult to say—which to value higher. Honesty or loyalty. From a certain point of view one might say that honesty is a kind of loyalty—loyalty to the truth…though one would hardly call loyalty a kind of honesty! I suppose that when it came down to it—if I had to choose between being dishonest but loyal, or being disloyal but honest—I'd rather stand by my men, or by my country, or by my family, than by truth. So I suppose I'd say loyalty…I myself. But in others…in the case of others, I feel quite differently. I'd much prefer an honest friend to a friend who was merely loyal to me; and I'd much rather be loyal to an honest friend than to a sycophant. Let's say that my answer is conditional; in myself, I value loyalty; on others, honesty' (VI.1.14).

    When Wells and Staines meet, we get the latter's philosophy of dishonesty vs. disloyalty. Wells likes his answer—and Staines soon demonstrates that he is honest when he tells Wells about Carver's use of his last name for one day.

    'It would be as good as murder, Mr. Staines. He's got a score to settle. He wants me dead.'
    'I can keep a secret,' said Staines. 'I won't tell anyone' (VI.3.17-18).

    After getting a dose of Staines's honesty, Crosbie now asks him for loyalty—and silence—in dealing with Carver. That is, he wants Staines to keep his whereabouts secret, because otherwise Carver would find him. Staines promises. Of course, he has just blabbed Frank Carver's secret, but given his recent statements about how the importance of honesty and loyalty shift depending on the situation, we're pretty sure he's going to keep Crosbie's secret.

    'There's only one true crime upon a goldfield,' said Mannering to Staines as they stamped through the undergrowth toward the southern edge of the Aurora claim. 'Don't bother your head about murder, or theft, or treason. No: it's fraud that's the crime of crimes' (VIII.4.1).

    And Mannering should know, since he's the one who was salting a duffer claim with his own gold so he could sell it off. Of course, this is what he's in the process of telling Staines, which presumably gives them the idea that Staines should buy it to trick Frank Carver out of the 50 percent shares that Staines was supposed to pay him out of his first claim.

  • Wealth/Class

    He did not yet know that a goldfield was a place of muck and hazard, where every fellow was foreign to the next man, and foreign to the soil; where a grocer's cradle might be thick with color, and a lawyer's cradle might run dry; where there were no divisions. Moody was some twenty years Balfour's junior, and so he spoke with deference, but he was conscious that Balfour was a man of lower standing than himself, and he was conscious also of the strange miscellany of persons around him, whose estates and origins he had not the means to guess. His politeness therefore had a slightly wooden quality, as a man who does not often speak with children lacks any measure for what is appropriate, and so holds himself apart, and is rigid, however much he wishes to be kind (I.1.43).

    Here, the narrator is describing the great equalizing powers of the goldfields. Moody is pretty class conscious and used to greater divisions among men in society, so apparently Hokitika is a bit of a shock, and he has to figure out how to communicate "properly" with everyone.

    Thomas Balfour felt this condescension, and was delighted. He had a playful distaste for men who spoke, as he phrased it, 'much too well,' and he loved to provoke them—not to anger, which bored him, but to vulgarity, He regarded Moody's stuffiness as if it were a fashionable collar, made in some aristocratic style, that was unbearably confining to the wearer—he saw all the conventions of polite society in this way, as useless ornamentations—and it amused him, that the man's refinement caused him to be so ill at ease (I.1.44).

    Meanwhile, Balfour apparently was amused by the fact that Moody was so uncomfortably conscious of their class differences; instead of it making him feel bad about himself, he just felt sorry for Moody's discomfort.

    Had he interrupted a secret council of some kind? But what kind of council could possibly comprise such a diverse range of race, income, and estate? (I.1.199).

    Moody becomes even more puzzled by the mix of men in the room when he realizes that they're actually all there as part of some common mission, and Moody (being much more traditional) has trouble figuring out what could bring such men together. Weren't you listening to Balfour, Moody—gold, of course!

    He did not mention that his skill was as a carver. He had never sold pounamu. He would not sell pounamu. For one could not put a price upon a treasure, just as one could not purchase mana, and one could not make a bargain with a god. Gold was not a treasure—this Tauwhare knew. Gold was like all capital in that it had no memory: its drift was always onward, away from the past (I.3.163).

    Te Rau thinks of the greenstone he mines as something that is entirely different/outside of the world of commerce; it's sacred, not something that is (or should be) be used to create wealth. Gold has to do with money and capital, which, according to him, drive modern life forward but neglect history and the past. Hmm, probably not surprising that an indigenous resident of Hokitika might want to take a stand about certain things being sacred/not up for grabs while a bunch of foreigners come in trying to get rich off their gold, huh?

    'Gold,' she whispered. 'It's gold. Up and down the corset-bones, and in the lining, and all the way about.' Her dark eyes were searching his face, pleading with him. 'Gold,' she said. 'I don't know how it got there. It was there when I woke up—sewn in' (I.7.6).

    This is the moment when Anna realized that her dress was filled with gold—gold that we later found out was stolen from Crosbie Wells, sewn into Lydia Wells's dresses, shipped under Lauderback's name to blackmail him, rerouted by Crosbie Wells when he figured out what Carver and Lydia were up to, shipwrecked with the Titania when it went down, and then sold to Anna when she bought Lydia's dresses from the Titania's salvage sale. And then Quee discovered it and started stealing it/melting it down while Anna was stoned out of her mind. As you can see, this particular example of wealth was put to a lot of different purposes …

    'Recently I heard a politician speak who called the gold a moral scourge. It is true that on the diggings I have seen much degradation but there was degradation prior to the strike as well. I fancy that it is the thought of men like me becoming rich that has most politicos afraid' (II.9.30).

    Crosbie Wells wrote these words in a letter to his brother. It sounds like he believes that some men were afraid of the democratizing function of gold—that is, of its potential to elevate men of low breeding to wealth (and status) instantly.

    Next the Magistrate's Court heard the testimonies of Mannering, Quee, Löwenthal, Clinch, Nilssen, and Frost—all of whom described the discovery and deployment of the fortune discovered in Crosbie Wells's cottage quite as if the retorted gold had indeed been discovered upon the Aurora. Mannering testified to the conditions under which the Aurora had been sold, and Quee to the fact of the ore's retortion. Löwenthal detailed his interview with Alistair Lauderback on the night of the 14th of January, during which he learned about the death of Crosbie Wells. Clinch testified that he had purchased the estate the following morning. Nilssen described how the gold had been hidden in Crosbie Wells's cottage, and Frost confirmed its value. They made no mention whatsoever of Anna's gowns, nor of the foundered barque, Godspeed, nor of any of the concerns and revelations that had precipitated their secret council in the Crown Hotel three months ago (IV.4.164).

    When Emery Staines and Anna Wetherell end up on trial, several of the witnesses seem to collectively agree not to share certain information relating to Crosbie Wells's gold—for example, the fact that it was found in Anna's gowns. The whole mystery of the treasure and all that happened to/with it gets kept pretty much under a hat…even though it's been at the center of the whole book.

    The safe was empty.
    'Where's my money?' said Crosbie Wells (V.1.77-78).

    This moment occurs in a flashback to the moment Crosbie found out that Lydia stole his "bonanza" from his big strike. In one moment, Crosbie went from a very wealthy man to the pauper most people in Hokitika knew him as.

    Emery Staines, arriving at the camp station, was surprised to see that the Aurora's box was flagged, meaning that a yield had been submitted. He requested the gold escort to unlock the box. Inside there was a neat lattice of smelted gold bars. Staines took one of the bars in his hand. 'If I asked you to turn your back a moment,' he said presently, 'while I transferred the contents of this box elsewhere, what would be your price?' (IX.2.1).

    This is a flashback to when Emery found that Quee had somehow been finding gold on what he thought was a duffer claim. Since he was trying to prevent Frank Carver from making any money off of his claim, he wanted to hide the money immediately rather than having it banked under the Aurora's name.

    'There's no difference,' Wells insisted, reaching for another piece of meat. 'You might not like it—but you have to admit—there's no difference. It's just one mineral or another. One rock or another.'
    'No,' Tauwhare said. He looked angry. 'It is not the same' (IX.4.3-4).

    Wells and Tauwhare are debating whether gold and greenstone are essentially just the same. From Tauwhare's musings earlier, we know that he thinks of gold as something that has to do with capital and exchange—something utilitarian—whereas greenstone seems to represent something more private and sacred for him. For that reason, he doesn't tell Crosbie about his mad skills in carving greenstone; that's just for him, and not for sale/hire.

  • Chance/Destiny

    'Ah,' said Löwenthal. 'Another coincidence' (I.6.270).

    There are tons of strange coincidences in the novel—for example, there are a lot of folks who happen to end up in Hokitika after meeting or knowing each other elsewhere. Of course, given the astral structuring of the book, it seems we're supposed to view most to all of these "coincidences" as preordained by the stars.

    He had escaped his past—and yet he could be called neither an ambitious man, nor an unduly lucky one (I.7.19).

    Of course, even with the book's suggestion that destiny is written in the stars, there's still a lot of talk of chance and luck—that is, whether chance or luck favors a particular person. Here, the narrator is referring to Gascoigne.

    'One of the first lessons one learns, in this discipline, is that nothing about the future is incontrovertible,' said Mrs. Wells. 'The reason is very simple: a person's fortune always changes in the telling of it' (II.10.51).

    When Mrs. Wells is defending herself against Mannering's charge that she's a swindler (an uphill battle, we're afraid), she throws a monkey wrench into this notion that the stars determine everything: If you tell people what their destiny is, she claims, you will likely change it. Hmm, we wonder how her fortune telling changed the lives of the characters in the novel?

    'You may have an astral soul-mate, whose path through life perfectly mirrors your own!' (IV.9.41).

    If telling people their destiny changes it, we wonder what Anna made of hearing that she had an astral soul mate. How do you think it factored into her behavior when she found Emery Staines, whom she had already met on the boat to Dunedin, had randomly moved to Hokitika at around the same time she did?

    A sudden clanging directed her attention to the quay, where a ginger-haired man with a mustache was standing on the wharf, swinging a brass hand-bell, and shouting into the wind (VI.2.2).

    Sure enough, those astral twins don't take long to find each other when Anna arrives in Hokitika. The bell directs Anna's attention over to the quay at around the same time Emery, standing on land, is staring up at a woman on the boat he can't quite see.

    'You might want to remember it,' said Frost. 'Your luckiest day' (VI.3.4).

    Frost is saying this to Emery Staines when the latter comes to the bank to cash in Crosbie Wells's nugget for him. The bankers make a big fuss over the huge amount of moolah the nugget pulls …

    'I have been declared the luckiest man in Hokitika,' he said, as he handed Crosbie Wells his envelope (VI.3.6)

    Staines then goes out and tells Staines about the big deal the bankers made over his nugget. Staines seems embarrassed and uncomfortable, since it wasn't his nugget or "lucky day"—it was Crosbie's. Hmm, is it bad luck to pretend you have good luck? Based on what happens to Staines after that, we think it might be.

    'How good it is to see you again,' Anna said after a moment.
    'It is perfectly serendipitous,' said the boy, descending the steps to the street (VI.4.10).

    After Staines spies Anna's arrival into Hokitika (without realizing it, of course), the two actually run into each other right away, as Clinch is escorting Anna to his hotel, where she is to live. As Staines says, it's definitely "serendipitous."

    'Poor Mr. Lauderback,' she said again.
    'He made his own bed,' said Carver, watching her.
    'Yes, he did; but you and I warmed the sheets for him.'
    'Don't feel sorry for a coward,' said Carver. 'Least of all a coward with money to spare.'
    'I pity him.'
    'Why? Because of the bastard? I'd sooner feel sorry for the bastard. Lauderback's had nothing but good luck from start to finish. He's a made man.'
    'He is; and yet he is pitiable. He is so ashamed, Francis. Of Crosbie, of his father, of himself. I cannot help but feel pity for a man who is ashamed' (IV.7.14-20).

    We suppose it's not too surprising that people begrudge others their good luck if they get too much of it. Of course, Frank Carver is pure evil, so we don't really trust his opinion on much, but it seems that he's kind of trying to justify tricking Lauderback out of money (or at least the fact that he doesn't feel guilty about it) by saying that Lauderback's already had too much luck.

    'Can't get a bit of luck, can you?' Mannering said. 'That claim belongs to me! One of mine. Belongs to me' (III.3.103).

    After (finally) doing Quee a good turn by shooing away some men who were harassing him, he is chuckling here about the fact that Quee has once again been assigned to one of his claims—which Quee might be inclined to see as very bad luck, since the last time Mannering's claim was a duffer. Quee's luck is about to change, though, since Staines soon agrees with Frost's idea to buy out Quee's indenture and give him a bonus.

  • Primitivism

    This was a gold town, after all, new-built between jungle and surf at the southernmost edge of the civilized world, and he had not expected luxury (I.1.7).

    On Moody's first evening in Hokitika, he definitely spends a lot of time reflecting on how different his new environment is from England or Scotland. His descriptions and observations make it sound like he felt he was roughing it quite a bit.

    It was true that his mental conception of the New Zealand diggings was extremely imprecise, informed chiefly by sketches of the California goldfields—long cabins, flat-bottomed valleys, wagons in the dust—and a dim sense (he did not know from where) that the colony was somehow the shadow of the British Isles, the unformed, savage obverse of the Empire's seat and heart. He had been surprised, upon rounding the heads of the Otago peninsula some two weeks prior, to see mansions on the hill, quays, streets, and plotted gardens—and he was surprised, now, to observe a well-dressed gentleman passing his lucifers to a Chinaman, and then leaning across him to retrieve his glass (I.1.42).

    Of course, even while he's finding certain aspects of life in New Zealand primitive, he also seems a bit taken aback by the spots of luxury he's come across in his journey so far, such as the mansions on the hill in Otago and the well-dressed gentleman. It seems like perhaps he was imagining something even more "primitive."

    'If you will forgive my pessimism,' he said, 'I believe that Hokitika is about to meet a darker time. This town is at a threshold. Digger law is still the creed of the hills, and here—why, we are but a backwater of Canterbury still, but soon we will be the jewel in her crown. Westland will split, and Hokitika will prosper; but as she rises, she will have to reconcile herself' (I.4.133).

    George Shepard, too, sees Hokitika as a place where the "savage and the civil" meet. That's what he means, he goes on to clarify, when he talks about the need for Hokitika to reconcile herself. We guess he and Moody actually see eye to eye on that front.

    'You allude to the natives—the Maori tribes?'
    Nilssen spoke with a touch of eagerness; he cherished a romantic passion for what he called 'the tribal life.' When the Maori canoes came strong and flashing through the Buller Gorge—he had seen them from a distance—he was quelled in awe. The warriors seemed terrible to him, their women unknowable, their customs fearsome and primitive (I.4.136-137).

    When George is talking about the savage and the civil, Nilssen gets all excited because he finds the notion of "the tribal life" and primitivism in general kind of exotic and mysterious. As we mentioned in "Foreignness," it wasn't uncommon for people to find the foreign—or, in this case, "savage" or "primitive"—exciting, if only because it was, you know, different.

    But Shepard shook his head at Nilssen's interjection. 'I do not use 'savage' in the native sense,' he said. 'I allude to the land itself. Prospecting is an ugly business: it makes a man start thinking like a thief. And here the conditions are foul enough to make the diggers still more desperate.'
    'But the diggings can be made civil.''Perhaps—after the rivers are spent. After the prospectors give way to dams and dredges and company mines—when the forests are felled—perhaps then' (I.4.138-140).

    Shepard brings Nilssen down to earth from his ogling of the "savage" Maori quickly, though, saying he's trying to make a serious point about the area and its future. In fact, he corrects Nilssen's notion that the "native" is what's savage, implying that prospecting is what's bringing the savagery to the area. Apparently, the only thing that will cure this savagery is total deforestation…sounds, er, great?

    'We are not savages; we are civilized men. I do not consider the law to be deficient; I mean to point out, merely, what happens when the savage meets the civil. Four months ago the men and women in my gaol-house were drunks and petty thieves. Now I see drunks and petty thieves who feel indignant, and entitled, and speak righteously, as if they have been unjustly tried. And they are angry' (I.4.147).

    In addition to basically correcting Nilssen's romantic view of savagery, Shepard tries to drive home that there is something unique happening right now because the "savage" and the "civil" are in such close proximity in their neck of the woods. In his view, it's creating new tensions.

    'Tunnels and railways,' Nilssen said, 'that's his game, isn't it? Progress, civilization, all of that. Strikes me that your thinking squares quite nicely with Lauderback's campaign' (I.4.161).

    In that same conversation, Nilssen and Shepard continue talking about this notion of "civilizing" Hokitika for some time. It seems Shepard thinks the key is to build infrastructure, which is also Lauderback's plan, apparently.

    'A homeward bounder is a chance for total reinvention, Mr. Nilssen,' he said at last. 'Find a nugget, and a man can buy his own life. That kind of promise isn't offered in the civil world' (I.4.233).

    As Nilssen and Shepard end their conversation on this topic, Nilssen asks Shepard how the issue of Crosbie's fortune fits into all these ideas of the civilized and the savage, and Shepard caps off his thoughts with the observation that the immense promise that the goldfields hold for diggers essentially doesn't (and maybe even can't) exist in the "civil world." Put differently, that notion of being able to totally reboot your life can't happen in the regular old world, we guess.

    'Tow-Faray is a noble savage of the first degree & we are fast becoming friends' (I.9.35).

    Crosbie Wells writes this in a letter to his half-brother Alistair Lauderback. Even though he and Te Rau seem to have a genuine friendship, Crosbie refers to him as a "noble savage," which is pretty dehumanizing. However, he clearly thinks it's a compliment. Which is about as good a sign of the times as you can get.

    'You see, the woman was never savaged by a dog at all. She had been murdered by her own husband—and he'd shot the dog, and slashed her throat himself, to cover it up (II.11.25).

    And now for a completely different kind of savagery: This quote comes from Lydia Wells when she's getting everyone ready for the séance. To get everyone in the mood and kind of fluff up her credentials in the spiritual arena, she tells the story of a woman whose murder ended up getting solved through a séance she attended. Initially, the woman's dog had been accused of attacking and killing her, but the séance ended up revealing that her husband had killed her, framing (and killing) the dog afterwards. The example represents yet another example of the truly crummy things human nature is capable of in the novel's universe.

  • Truth

    We shall therefore intervene, and render Sook Yongsheng's story in a way that is accurate to the events he wished to disclose, rather than to the style of his narration (I.9.13).

    The book isn't big on promoting some rock solid, totally objective notion of truth that everyone could access and see the same way. Instead, truth is kind of a big ball of clay that the characters can mold into the shapes that please them (and which then, in turn, might get interpreted differently, depending on who's trying to make sense of that lump).

    Here, the narrator is saying that Sook's story has been edited so the spirit of what he was trying to say comes through, whereas that might not have happened if the conversation had been transcribed literally. The narrator makes these kinds of interruptions/interventions quite a lot in the story.

    'Take the mention of the Dunstan goldfield, for example. Francis Carver apparently mentioned the name of that field to Mr. Lauderback, who in turn narrated that encounter to Mr. Balfour, who in turn relayed that conversation to me, tonight! You will all agree that I would be a fool to take Mr. Balfour's words to be true.'

    But Moody had misjudged his audience, in questioning so sensitive a subject as the truth. There was an explosion of indignation around the room (I.9.162-163).

    Moody gets himself into hot water when he suggests that the truth of the stories conveyed to him in the Crown smoking room might be at the very least watered down, given that a lot of them are coming third-hand. The men seem offended by the suggestion that they hadn't accurately conveyed absolute truths in their stories.

    'I contend that there are no whole truths, there are only pertinent truths—and pertinence, you must agree, is always a matter of perspective. I do not believe that any one of you has perjured himself in any way tonight. I trust that you have given me the truth, and nothing but the truth. But your perspectives are very many, and you will forgive me if I do not take your tale for something whole' (I.9.169).

    Despite the fact that he's already gotten into trouble for suggesting that information might get a bit garbled third-hand, Moody sticks to his guns in suggesting that truth itself (as a concept) might be a bit more slippery than the men would like to admit. He is quick to say he doesn't think any of the men has lied…but he clarifies that he doesn't necessarily think they've told the "truth," in his sense, either.

    'I contend that there are no whole truths, there are only pertinent truths—and pertinence, you must agree, is always a matter of perspective. I do not believe that any one of you has perjured himself in any way tonight. I trust that you have given me the truth, and nothing but the truth. But your perspectives are very many, and you will forgive me if I do not take your tale for something whole' (I.9.169).

    Despite the fact that he's already gotten into trouble for suggesting that information might get a bit garbled third-hand, Moody sticks to his guns in suggesting that truth itself (as a concept) might be a bit more slippery than the men would like to admit. He is quick to say he doesn't think any of the men has lied…but he clarifies that he doesn't necessarily think they've told the "truth," in his sense, either.

    So I am to be the unraveler, Moody thought. The detective: that is the role I am to play (I.12.41).

    After everyone in the Crown smoking room has had a chance to give Moody their perspective on the mysteries that were the subject of their conference, he realizes that it's going to be his job to "unravel" the big ball of tales that just fell in his lap—and to try to get to the "truth" or truths at the bottom of it.

    Moody looked embarrassed. He had faith in the analytic properties of reason: he believed in logic with the same calm conviction with which he believed in his ability to perceive it. Truth, for him, could be perfected, and a perfect truth was always utterly beautiful and entirely clear. We have mentioned already that Moody had no religion—and therefore did not perceive truth in mystery, in the inexplicable and unexplained, in those mists that clouded one's scientific perception as the material cloud now obscured the Hokitika sky (I.12.113).

    Although he's just said that truth is relational, Moody believes that he can personally access some kind of "perfected" truth ("for him") using reason and analysis. However, he has also just told the men about the apparition he saw on the Godspeed—that is, the man who started bleeding profusely for no reason—which seems to defy logical explanation. So, his philosophies of truth and reason seem to have taken a hit there, and he's hard pressed to use them to explain what he saw.

    But there is no truth except truth in relation, and heavenly relation is composed of wheels in motion, tilting axes, turning dials; it is a clockwork orchestration that alters every minute, never repeating, never still (II.1.2).

    The narrator seems to agree with Moody that truth is always a matter of perspective, and says as much in the first chapter of the book's second part. It's a good warning to slip in there, since Catton doesn't always show us the absolute "truth" behind what happened, but instead just gives us clues.

    'You are wonderfully free with one verb, I notice' the widow returned. 'What does it mean for you, Mr. Moody, to know something? I fancy you put rather a lot of stock in knowing—judging from the way you speak.'

    Moody smiled. 'Why,' he said, 'I suppose that to know a thing is to see it from all sides' (II.10.244-245).

    Here, Moody and Lydia Wells are sparring about what it means to know things. Moody thinks you know something if you can see it from all sides, but Lydia takes issue with that definition—since she's apparently invested in the idea that one can "know"—at least to some extent—the spiritual world. And when we say "invested," we mean that literally—she's making her living as a fortune teller, after all!

    'No,' the widow agreed, 'your definition leaves much to be desired. There are so many exceptions to the rule! How could one possibly see a spirit from all sides, for example? The notion is incredible.'

    Moody gave another short bow. 'You are quite right to name that as an exception, Mrs. Wells. But I am afraid I do not believe a spirit can be known at all—by anyone—and I certainly do not believe a spirit can be seen' (II.10.248-249).

    Wells and Moody are still arguing about their different definitions of what it means to "know." As Moody clarifies here, his definition suits him just fine in the face of Wells's example of spirit, since he doesn't think it's possible to know a spirit at all. Obviously, Wells disagrees.

    'Hi—no need for the truth at all,' said Paddy Ryan. 'Who said anything about the truth? You're a free man in this country, Walter Moody. You can tell me any old rubbish you like, and if you string it out until we reach the junction at Kumara, then I shall count it as a very fine tale' (IV.8.92).

    When Moody leaves town for a dig and makes a new friend on the way, the pair agree to tell stories along the way to entertain themselves. Moody is worried about being able to tell a "true" version of his own story, whatever that means to him at this point, and Paddy says he's not really interested in the truth anyway—he just wants a good yarn. Looks like Moody has found a good listener for the story he has to tell, where the absolute truth behind certain events seems to have been hard to come by …

    'Well,' said Staines, frowning slightly, 'that's very difficult to say—which to value higher. Honesty or loyalty. From a certain point of view one might say that honesty is a kind of loyalty—loyalty to the truth…though one would hardly call loyalty a kind of honesty! I suppose that when it came down to it—if I had to choose between being dishonest but loyal, or being disloyal but honest—I'd rather stand by my men, or by my country, or by my family, than by truth. So I suppose I'd say loyalty…I myself. But in others…in the case of others, I feel quite differently. I'd much prefer an honest friend to a friend who was merely loyal to me; and I'd much rather be loyal to an honest friend than to a sycophant. Let's say that my answer is conditional; in myself, I value loyalty; on others, honesty' (VI.1.14).

    When Staines and Crosbie meet, Crosbie immediately asks the younger man to come out with his philosophy of truth so C knows if he can trust him. Although Emery doesn't really give him all that straight of an answer, Crosbie is pleased with his general view of when to prioritize truth over loyalty (and vice versa), so he decides to trust him.

  • Revenge

    His good humor was quite restored; he was even giddy. Such a tonic for the spirit is the promise of revenge (I.7.317).

    In a conversation with Thomas Balfour, Alistair Lauderback realizes that he might be able to get revenge on Frank Carver for duping him and blackmailing him out of the Godspeed. Suddenly, his mood improves dramatically. Of course, this revenge doesn't prove to be as easy as Lauderback is hoping, since Carver covers his tracks pretty well.

    He could not forget his earlier grievance with Dick Mannering, for it was explicitly by Mannering's hand that he was now forced to remain indentured to a duffer claim. Here was a chance both to get his revenge, and earn his freedom (I.9.95).

    To ensure that he can pay off his debt (despite the fact that he's indentured to a duffer claim) and get back at Mannering (by stealing what he assumes is Mannering's gold), Quee starts removing gold from Anna's dresses, smelting it with the Aurora's name stamped on it, and banking it under the mine's name. He has a score to settle with Mannering for yolking him to the duffer claim in the first place.

    'Then I will listen with compassion. A betrayal of any of my countrymen is a betrayal of me.'
    Ah Sook frowned at this. 'The betrayal is mine to avenge,' he said (I.11.231-232).

    Sook is about to tell Quee the full story of the nasty things Frank Carver had done to him and his family. Sook has sworn to kill Carver to avenge his father's death, and he doesn't really seem to be looking for help …

    'Something to do with a murder,' said Frost, who was still watching her very closely. 'Something to do with revenge' (II.11.105).

    When Lydia Wells awakens after her fit at the séance, she asks what happened—and what she said while she was under. Frost reports only the vaguest details about the statement, which was actually Sook's original oath to kill Carver.

    He would purchase a store of shot, a tin of black powder, and a gun. Then he would walk to the Palace Hotel, climb the stairs, open Carver's door, and take his life (II.11.119).

    In the aftermath of the séance, Sook learns that Carver is alive and well (as opposed to a spirit speaking through Lydia Wells) and in Hokitika at that very second. So, he resolves to hide out until he has enough money to buy a gun and then go kill Carver. He thinks he's thisclose to getting revenge on his archenemy, finally …

    'Revenge,' said Shepard firmly, 'is an act of jealousy, not of justice. It is a selfish perversion of the law' (III.10.62).

    Shepard claims not to agree with revenge, and he killed Sook before he was able to bring off his revenge on Carver. However, what he's not admitting is that his killing of Sook was totally motivated by a desire to avenge his brother's death, for which he blamed Sook. Ah, hypocrisy.

    'If I see him,' said Carver, 'I'll kill him' (VI.2.7).

    Carver tells Lydia Wells what he'll do to Crosbie if he sees him. In addition to the fact that it would be convenient to have the man he defrauded out of the way (and therefore unable to reveal his fraud), Carver has extra incentive to want Crosbie dead since Crosbie slashed his face open.

    'It would be as good as murder, Mr. Staines. He's got a score to settle. He wants me dead' (VI.3.17).

    Crosbie himself believes that Frank will be coming after him in revenge, so he warns Staines that telling Carver where he is would be equivalent to killing him.

    'What's the opposite of a homeward-bounder?' said Mannering presently. 'A never-going-homer? A stick-it-to-Mr.-Carver?' (VIII.4.8).

    This is a flashback to the moment in which Mannering and Staines cook up the scheme for Staines to buy Mannering's duffer claim, which would mean Carver never got any money out of his sponsorship of Staines. Mannering seems perfectly delighted to help Staines stick it to Frank.

    'Does he know? What have I just told you? I'm not keen on getting murdered in my bed, thank you' (VIII.4.12).

    While Staines and Mannering are plotting, they discuss Quee, the digger who works the Aurora claim. As Mannering notes, Quee would be very annoyed—and probably seek revenge—if he knew he had become indentured to a duffer claim.