What I Once Knew: Anglo Saxon, Algebra and The Luminaries

Once upon a time, I could read old English, by which I mean of course, Anglo Saxon. I read Beowulf and poetry with internal rhyme. (Don’t ask.) I had to do that in order to earn an English degree. Either before of after that I could read Middle English and The Canterbury Tales. In the original!

I’m not bragging. I didn’t much enjoy doing either. I slogged through in the summer heat at the University of Toronto, running home each night to two toddlers and a stoic husband, who washed dishes.

I mention these reading skills because I have recently been reminded of another amazing achievement of reading comprehension. I once understood Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.

Or at least I pretended to.

I wrote 3 blog posts about it, a review – in which I announced that I was about to start reading it all over again, https://115journals.com/2014/03/27/the-luminaries-eleanor-cattons-booker-prize-winning-novel/ a timeline of events https://115journals.com/2014/04/05/deconstructing-the-luminarie and a timeline about the trove of gold https://115journals.com/2014/04/14/deconstructing-the-luminaries-2-the-gold-trail/. I was reminded of these posts when another blogger referred to them yesterday. https://siowyookpeng.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/the-luminaries/

The bad news is I cannot now understand the posts, never mind the actual novel.

I had suspected this for a while because I could no longer answer questions posed by readers of these posts, but now I know for sure.

Really it was a waste of time for me to reread them, but I was waiting for my nails to dry.

I admit that I have also lost much of my French vocabulary, my Latin declensions, and all my algebra, except that joke – Stop asking us to find your ex; she’s not coming back and don’t ask why.

Use it or lose it.

Which doesn’t explain why I can’t remember the password for that damned Movie-Frame account I am trying to cancel before the free days run out.

For easier reading, try Hour of the Hawk, a Joanna Hunter Mystery https://www.joycehowe.com/

Deconstructing The Luminaries: #2 the gold trail

panning for gold

Once again this post is for people who have already read Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.

See also https://115journals.com/2014/04/05/deconstructing-the-luminaries-a-timeline/

Those who have not yet read the novel, see https://115journals.com/2014/03/27/the-luminaries-eleanor-cattons-booker-prize-winning-novel/

In this post, I will examine what happened to the fortune in gold (£4000 or about $300,000 in today’s money).

pre 1865 – Crosbie Wells discovers gold while prospecting in the highland gold field of Dunstan and stashes it, without smelting it or going through the mandatory registration with a bank; he stashes it in his wife Lydia’s safe in Dunedin

Lydia and Francis Carver steal the gold dust/nuggets and Crosbie’s papers; Lydia sews the gold into the seams of 5 dresses; having established the practise of shipping of trunks of dresses to Melbourne to be fashionably altered in Lauderback’s name, they pack the 5 dresses with the gold in them in a trunk (since Lauderback was having an affair with Lydia, this seems reasonable)

May 12, 1865 – in Dunedin, Francis Carver, using the name Wells, hires Emory Staines to watch the trunk one afternoon (labelled with Lauderback’s name, it is due to be shipped on the Godspeed; at night Crosbie Wells flees for his life and is told about the trunk Carver is shipping in Lauderback’s name and diverts it from the Godspeed to the Titania; seriously wounded by Wells, Carver misses the departure of the Godspeed and does not know the trunk has gone missing;

June 14, 1865 – Carver takes over the Godspeed when it returns to port and sails it to Hokitika

June 18, 1865 – Hokitika – Staines tells Crosbie Wells about guarding a trunk for a man who used the name Wells; using Crosbie Wells’ birth certificate as identification, Carver places an ad in the paper to try to find the trunk;

July 28, 1865 – Hokitika – Anna buys a trunk full of dresses sold by the salvagers of the wreck of the Titania and begins to wear all but the orange one, while plying her new trade as prostitute;

pre Sept – Clinch, Anna’s landlord discovers the gold sewn into the dresses and assumes Anna knows about it; Anna thinks the weight is caused by lead inserts that are meant to hold the skirt down; when Clinch checks the dresses, he mistakes the lead Ah Quee has used to replace the gold for the gold itself and goes on assuming Anna knows about it;

Sept 20, 1865 – Ah Quee who has discovered the gold sewn into Anna’s dresses, removes the last of it while she lies in a drugged stupor; he smelts all the gold and stamps it with the name of the mine he is indentured at, ‘Aurora’; he hands it over  to the mine’s owner Staines: Staines ‘steals’ it, thus not registering the find or paying half of it to his partner Carver or Ah Quee, his stipend; Staines buries the fortune on Maori land;

Oct 11, 1865 – Anna tells Crosbie’s story to Staines; during an altercation with Carver, Anna suffers a blow that leads to the loss of her unborn child; she blames Carver and says it was his child; outraged and knowing the child was Wells’, Staines  asks Crosbie to draw up a deed of gift giving Anna half the buried fortune but passes out from drink before he signs it;

Having learned from Staines about his buried fortune and realizing it is actually his, Wells finds it buried on Maori land and takes it home where he hides it in his kitchen (the gold is now restored to its rightful owner but it is stamped Aurora so cannot be spent;

Jan 14, 1866 – wearing her orange dress Anna visits Staines and later takes opium, passes out on the road and is arrested for attempted suicide; Crosbie Wells dies from an overdose caused when Carver put opium in his drink; Carver finds the gold stash and attempts to burn the unsigned deed of gift; he then sends word to Lydia to come to claim it as Wells’ widow;

Jan 15, 1866 – Anna finds the gold in the orange dress and she and Gascoigne get her bailed out; they remove the gold and hide it under Gascoigne’s bed; Clinch buys Crosbie’s estate; Nillsen discovers the gold in Crosbie’s house; £400 is paid to Nillsen as finder and £30 to Frost, the banker who splurges it all away;

alerted by Balfour’s questions, Frost remember that Crosbie’s hoard was originally stamped Aurora – since resmelted – and tells Mannering that Crosbie had stolen it

Jan 17, 1866 – Clinch pressures Anna to pay him her rent, (he still thinks she has access to the gold in her dresses, but she can’t even get access to the gold under Gascoigne’s bed); as a result Anna falls back into Lydia’s grasp for Lydia has arrived to claim her husband’s fortune;

Feb 18, 1866 – Shepard, the gaol governor has blackmailed Nillsen into loaning him the £400 to get started on building the gaol before Lauderback can be elected and build roads instead; now this has  come out and Shepard publishes the idea that it was a gift from Nillsen;

Mar 20, 1866 – Anna forges Staines signature on the gift of deed that Devlin, the clegryman, has shown her; (he found the unburned document in Crosbie’s stove);

April 27, 1866 – Moody, defense lawyer, proves that Anna is illiterate and could not have forged Staines’ signature; the gold is awarded to Staines, but he ends up paying out half of it to Lydia, now Carver’s widow, as well as legal fees, money to buy Anna out of Mannering’s control, a bonus to Ah Quee and Frost’s £30, but Staines, ever the optimist doesn’t care. He gets nine months hard labour and Anna at the end of it.

Once again please leave a comment so I can correct errors or add omissions.







Deconstructing The Luminaries: a timeline

As the title implies, this post is intended for those who have read Eleanor Catton’s novel The Luminaries as it contains significant spoilers.

If you haven’t read the novel, try this reviewhttps://115journals.com/2014/03/27/the-luminaries-eleanor-cattons-booker-prize-winning-novel/

Feb 1839 – the Sook warehouse in Kwangchow, China is raided, opium is found hidden in tea cartons and the elder Sook is executed; Sook Yongchen turns to Carver for help;

pre 1865 – After winning at the wheel in Lydia’s gambling establishment, Crosbie Wells accepts her hand in marriage instead of the payout money – which Lydia doesn’t have and never thought she would need since the wheel is crooked. Crosbie discovers a fortune in gold in the  highland gold field of Dunstan – £ 4000 (about $300,000 in today’s money)

1853 – Ah Sook arrives at Port Phillip, Australia, is robbed of all his money, tries to contact Carver, is beaten by Jeremy Shepard, takes refuge, is found by a buck-toothed woman -Margaret Shepard, given opium, begins to recover, goes to kill Carver, instead comes upon Jeremy Shepard, Margaret manages to save Sook by killing her husband; Sook is tried but found not guilty when Margaret testifies Jeremy killed himself; Carver is arrested for smuggling and sent to Cuckatoo Island for 10 years, hard labour;

July 1864 – Sook learns the released convict, Carver, has sailed to Victoria, Australia to look for gold

Jan. 18, 1865 – Carver meets Pritchard in Hokitika, NZ and offers to sell him opium, which he smuggles in, in tea cans;

April 27, 1865 – Anna Wetherell and Emery Staines meet briefly on their ship and arrive separately in Dunedin. Lydia Wells takes Anna under her wing. Lydia ascertains that the two, Anna and Staines- share the same birthday

Carver, posing as Frances Wells, starts a long con on Lauderback, threatening Lauderback that someone thinks he- Lauderback- was an associate of a man called Carver who committed a murder and this someone is out to take revenge on Lauderback. As a result, Carver/Francis Wells gets a position on the crew of Lauderback’s Godspeed. Carver and Lydia start shipping dresses to Melbourne, Australia in Lauderback’s name, ostensibly to be fashionably altered. Since Lauderback has been having an affair with Lydia Wells, this is a reasonable ruse.

May 11, 1865 – Crosbie discovers that the fortune he left in the safe at his wife Lydia’s is gone along with his papers and knows she has stolen them;
-May 12, 1865 – Lydia burns the morning paper so that Crosbie will not learn of the arrival of the steamer Active in port along with someone Crosbie has been waiting 12 years to see. This seems to be Lauderback who has previously always come when Crosbie was away. (Lauderback has come to figure out who is shipping in his name);
-a bottle of laudanum arrives and finds its way surreptitiously into Crosbie’s booze at Lydia’s hands;
-Carver, posing as Francis Wells, tells Lauderback he has cuckolded his ‘brother’ Crosbie Wells and forces him to sign over the Godspeed to him;
-Lydia prepares for a party for ‘gentleman with naval connections’ in her home/gambling house ;
-Staines spends the afternoon watching over a trunk labelled with Lauderback’s name, due to sail on the Godspeed, ostensibly for a man named Wells, but actually Carver;
-A Chinese man is looking for an ex-con who did time on Cuckatoo Island, i e, Carver:

-in the evening Crosbie Wells escapes Carver’s attack cutting Carver’s face in a c-shape from eye to mouth, while Anna’ sleeps’ nearby in Crosbie’s bed (the origin of her addiction?);
-Crosbie flees to the docks, discovers Carver’s efforts to ship a trunk to Hokitika in Lauderback’s name, diverts it and takes passage to Hokitika;
-the Godspeed leaves without the wounded Carver, still under Phillip’s command because Carver has not yet claimed ownership.
June 14, 1865 – the Godspeed returns to port in Dunedin and newly scarred Carver takes over as owner/captain and sails to Hokitika

June 18, 1865 – Staines meets Crosbie Wells in Hokitika, tells him about watching the trunk for Carver and the fact Carver is his partner, having stood him £ 8 for supplies; Staines cashes Crosbie’s nugget at the bank for him and is rewarded;
Carver begins his search for Crosbie Wells and for the missing trunk in Hokitika by placing an ad in the name of F. Crosbie Wells;
Anna and Staines are surprised and delighted to meet. (See cosmic twins theory in comments.)

July 28, 1865 – George Shepard (governor of the gaol, the late Jeremy’s brother and now Margaret’s husband) sees Sook Yongsheng; Anna, pregnant with Crosbie’s child and exiled by Lydia, arrives on the Godspeed and is taken under the wing of Clinch, who runs the Gridiron Hotel; she doesn’t know Crosbie is living an hour outside town; she is actually working for Mannering; a trunk full of silk dresses is salvaged from the wreck of the Titania and Anna buys them from the salvagers.
-Staines buys the Gridiron Hotel from Mannering
-Staines tells Anna Crosbie is in Hokitika

Anna begins plying her new trade as a prostitute and taking opium at Sook’s place in Chinatown in Kanniere

Sept 20, 1865 – Ah Quee having discovered the stash of gold in Anna’s dresses while she slept off her opium, removes the last it, except for that in the orange dress, which she never wears while working; (previously -Ah Quee smelts all this gold, stamps it with the name Aurora, Staines’ claim, which was initially salted by Mannering and is actually worthless; Ah Quee expects his boss to bank it and pay him his paltry share: Staines takes it instead and buries it on Maori land)

Oct 11, 1865 – Anna tells Crosbie’s story to Staines; Anna loses her unborn child having suffered a blow, ostensibly from Carver who did hit her, but the serious injury was caused by his horse rearing; she gives the impression Carver was the child’s father and accuses him of killing her child;  Crosbie, at Staines’ instruction, draws up a gift of deed assigning half the fortune in gold to Anna and signs it, but Staines does not, having fallen asleep;
Crosbie (p.673)- digs up the gold bars and stashes them in his home;

Jan 12, 1866 – Lauderback’s shipping container, containing his books, letters and the deed of ‘sale’ of the sailing ship Godspeed to Carver arrives on the Virtue but is misdirected and does not arrive at Balfour’s office;

Tauwhare betrays Crosbie Wells to Carver, telling him where Crosbie lives

Jan 14, 1866 – Wearing her orange dress, Anna goes to Staines’ home for the night; while he is sleeping, she goes back to her room at the Gridiron Hotel to take opium, intending to return to Staines;
-while she is gone Staines wakes up, goes out, falls and hits his head;
-extremely high, Anna falls, hits her head and ends up collapsed on Christchurch Rd: -Carver uncorks a phial of opium (again see cosmic twin theory in comments); Crosbie drinks half a phial of opium on top of a good deal of alcohol;
-after finding the stash of gold bars in Crosbie’s cabin, Carver puts a piece of paper in Crosbie’s stove; next he needs to alert the widow, Lydia to claim it;
-Lauderback arrives from his trek over the alps to find his half-brother, Crosbie dead; -Lauderback finds Anna lying on the road; unconscious Anna is put in jail;
-Staines, also suffering concussion, falls on Gibson Quay and is nailed into a shipping crate;
-eventually Tauwhare reports having seen Lauderback and his 2 men arrive at Crosbie’s cabin on this day, after another man has also visited;

Jan 15/16, 1866 – Annie gets bail, leaves jail and she and Gascoigne remove the gold from the orange dress and hide it under his bed; Crosbie is buried by Devlin; Nillsen discovers the fortune in gold bars  after being hired to clear the dead man’s cabin and gets paid £400;
-Balfour tells Lauderback his container has not yet arrived instead of telling him it is lost; -Lauderback discovers that he ‘sold’ Godspeed to Francis Carver, not Crosbie Wells; previously he had thought that Carver (Francis Wells) was Crosbie’s half brother, extorting Godspeed as retribution for Lauderback’s cuckolding Crosbie; Lauderback knows now that he has been conned by Lydia, Wells’ widow, and Carver.

Jan 17 – Lydia arrives and makes a claim on the fortune at the bank; Frost tells Mannering the fortune was stolen; Mannering and Frost visit Ah Quee to force the truth from him; Balfour visits Lowenthal on the Sabbath;
Clinch buys Crosbie’s property and gives Frost £30 finder’s fee; Lydia arrives in Hokitika and lays claim to the fortune;

Jan 17, 1866 – Pritchard confronts Anna about the opium she took on Jan 14th. her gun goes off and Staines, now an opium addict, hiding behind the drapes is shot (or locked in a crate on board ship, he suffers a bullet wound thus preventing injury to Anna -cosmic twin theory); Gascoigne agrees to bring Anna to meet Lydia, but becomes angry when Anna asks him for help to pay her rent from the gold found in her orange dress and in G’s keeping, so does not; Lydia goes and gets Anna and takes her under her wing again; Staines gets away unseen but gravely wounded;

Jan 27, 1866 – Walter Moody sees a bloody apparition start up at him from a container, saying Magdalena; Moody arrives in Hokitika, but the ship he was on has to remain anchored beyond the reef because of bad weather; Moody meets the 12 worthies in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel and listens to their stories, which are bits and pieces, scrambled and misunderstood of the above events:
-the Godspeed is wrecked;

Feb 18, 1866 – Gascoinge advises Carver how to claim insurance for the wrecked Godspeed;  Lydia holds a seance to summon Staines’s ghost and instead “speaks” in Cantonese Sook’s words vowing revenge on Carver for causing his father’s execution; Ah Sook learns Carver is in Hokitika and forms a plan to kill him; Shepard writes a letter to the newspaper admitting he has used private money to build the new jail and lies that it was a gift from Nillsen; Lauderbank’s trunk is delivered to Moody by mistake and Moody learns Crosbie was Lauderback’s half-brother;

Mar 20, 1866 – Devlin talks to Anna while Lydia is out and shows her the unsigned deed of gift, assigning Anna half the fortune; Anna forges Staines signature despite the fact she is illiterate; Ah Sook buys a gun and has it loaded; Shepard puts out a warrant for Ah Sook’s arrest; Ah Quee is mistaken for Ah Sook and attacked in town: Mannering rescues him; Sook seeks refuge with Margaret Shepard who eventually betrays him; Shepard shoots Sook: Staines turns up and is treated for his wounds and is imprisoned beside Anna who is also back there;

April 27, 1866 – Anna’s trial for attempted suicide, public intoxication and grievous assault on Staines begins -Walter Moody for the defense; during Lauderback’s testimony, Carver is arrested for fraud against Lauderback when Crosbie’s signature on the Godspeed’s bill of sale is proven to be forged; Carver is murdered by Tauwhare while being transported to jail; Staines’ testimony that he was hiding in Anna’s room, high on her opium when he was accidentally shot, clears Anna of the most serious charge; Anna is acquitted of all charges;

Staines, charged with falsification of a report, embezzlement of ore and dereliction of duty, pleads guilty to all charges, is found guilty and sentenced to nine months hard labour.

The luminaries look forward to a loving life together in nine months.

If you find errors or can add detail, please leave a comment. I intend to keep revising as needed.


The Luminaries: Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize winning novel

luminariesThe good thing about Eleanor Catton’s Booker winning novel, The Luminaries is that when I got to the end, I started all over again. The bad thing about it is that when I got to the end, I had to start all over again. Good because it is interesting and multi-layered enough to read again. Bad because I still didn’t get it.

The book’s 832 pages took me 13 days to finish. (Usually a book takes me three days.) I gave up television and cold weather kept me inside, so reading it was pretty much all I did.

Should you read it? It depends.

Reviewers are widely divided. Bill Roorbach in the New Yourk Times (Oct.16/13) waxed lyrical in its praise. nytimes.com Another reviewer refused to review it because he couldn’t get past the first few pages and then, after it won the Booker, did read it and decided life was too short for such books. He notes that Catton has suggested her book does not appeal to men over 45. In his blog, Claude Nougat examined the pros and cons in “Should You Read The Luminaries?” and decided to wait for the price to fall. http://claudenougat.blogspot.ca There are 72 pages of reviews on Amazon, ranging from 1 star to 5. The bad reviews remind me that Rome plowed Carthage with salt so that the city could never recover.

Almost every review mentioned its slow start and the fact it was written in Victorian English, formal and stilted. I nearly wore out the page at the front where the characters are listed. Until I had more or less memorized who was who, the twelve men at the meeting in a back room of a shabby hotel, I couldn’t keep them straight. Even after I had been provided with detailed physical and psychological descriptions, I couldn’t tell them apart easily once they got talking. One reviewer said “Don’t tell. Show.” Something I harped on as a writing teacher, but Catton feels the novel form is ripe for reinvention.

True, I wasn’t immediately hooked, but two readers I respect had thought of giving it to me, so I persisted and soon I was drawn in to it.

First there was the exotic setting – Hokitika on the west coast of southern New Zealand during the gold rush of 1865-66, beginning on January 27th. Yes, that would be summer down under, but it is a dark and stormy night, as almost all reviews point out, so stormy in fact that ships are in more danger than usual at that perennially dangerous port.

Second, there are the three mysteries, which newly arrived Scotsman  Moody stumbles upon when he gate-crashes the private meeting of 12 worthies of the town who have gathered to try to resolve: why did a drunk, Crosbie Wells die with a fortune in gold bars hidden in his shack, why did Anna Wetherell – alias the Whore- try to kill herself with opium and what has happened to the wealthy, likeable and beautiful young man, Emery Staines, who has disappeared without a trace. Oh and what of the gift of deed to Anna of half the fortune, found unburned in the ash tray of Crosbie’s stove.

Other puzzles soon emerge: how has the villian Francis Carver harmed Ah Sook, Crosbie Wells, and Anna, how many illegitimate half brothers does the politician Alistair Lauderback have, who is Mrs Wells actually married to, where is Lauderback’s missing shipping crate, who shipped the trunk with five silk dresses, why is the warden, Shepherd intent on killing Ah Sook and vice versa. Etc. etc.

The ownership of the fortune in gold is particularly tricky. You may need a flow chart. Let’s just say a heap of irony is involved.

And third, why is there a zodiac chart indicating the sign of each of the 12 worthies as well as the position of the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury? And who are the luminaries?

One reader I know is studying the astrology first. I’m leaving that until later, but I am grateful she e-mailed me an astrological chart. (Balfour is Sagitarrius, Gascoinge, Capricorn and so on until you get to Pritchard who is Scorpio.)

Other reviewers have verified my conclusion that some mysteries are never entirely cleared up, although I was left with a pretty good guess at the truth.

The book gets better and better as it goes. Part One, “A Sphere Within a Sphere”, set on Jan 27th is 360 pages long and includes a retelling from 12 points of view of the events of Jan 14th; Part 2, “Augeries”, Mar 20, 1866, 159; Part 4, “Paenga-Wha-wha”, April 27, 1865/April 27,1866 , 95 pages long; Part 5, “Weight and Luchre”, May 12, 1865, 40 pages long; part 6, “The Widow and the Weeds”, June 18, 1865, 21 pages;  Part 7, “Domicile”, July 28, 1865, 11 pages; part 8, “Mutable Earth”, Sept. 20, 1865, 4 pages; part 9, “matters of Succession”, Oct 11, 1865 2 1/2; part 11, “Orion Sets When Scorpio Rises”, Dec 3, 1865, 2 pages, part 12,”The Old Moon in the New Moon’s Arms”, Jan 14, 1866, 1 1/2 pages and we finally learn who the luminaries are. In short, the novel moves from slow-paced, DIckensian to brevity, to the episodic and lyrical. It was the speed and loveliness of the end that made me like the luminaries so much that I wanted to stay with them for a second read.

What I propose to do another time is to post a chronological time line. You may not want to read that until you finish the book and maybe, way down the road, I will have a guest talk about the astrology. https://115journals.com/2014/04/05/deconstructing-the-luminaries-a-timeline/

eleanor cattonThe auhor, Eleanor Catton