Study Guide

The Luminaries Chance/Destiny

By Eleanor Catton

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.

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