Study Guide

The Luminaries Family

By Eleanor Catton

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 …

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