Study Guide

The Luminaries Lies and Deceit

By Eleanor Catton

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.

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