Cultural Inspirations from A Fatal Grace

Let every man shovel out his own snow, and the whole city will be passable, said Gamache. (Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, A Fatal Grace, page 135, Trade Paper Edition)

Ralph Waldo EmersonA fitting quote for A Fatal Grace, which takes place in the dead (with the dead?) of winter. Emerson, the author of “Self -Reliance” and “Nature” among other essays conceived the idea of Transcendentalism and was a pillar of the American Romantic movement. The eminent literary critic, Harold Bloom, called Emerson the “American version of Montaigne” and like the irascible Ruth, Emerson was a poet!

Strangely enough, Emerson wrote that line sometime in the summer of 1840 so, as one would expect, Emerson is being purely metaphorical here and is, in fact, referring to civic duty. Gamache seemingly uses the quote flippantly to refer to the inclement weather, even engaging Beauvoir in a very funny tête–à–tête about Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, the 70’s prog rock super band (Sadly, I just learned of Greg Lake’s passing as I write this). But, I digress.

John Adams simply and succinctly defined civic duty as, “To be good, and to do good”, adding it’s “all we have to do”. And, Gamache himself, echoes a similar refrain on civility when quoting Gandhi later in the book (page 219):
Mahatma Gandhi
Your beliefs become your thoughts
Your thoughts become your words
Your words become your actions
Your actions become your destiny

Should we take Gamache’s Emerson and Gandhi references on face value? Or, is Louise giving us, by employing these maxims, a direct look into the very character and constitution of Gamache himself?

I submit the following quotes from the Three Pines canon as evidence of this:

Armand Gamache had always held unfashionable beliefs. He believed the light would banish the shadows. That kindness was more powerful than cruelty, and that goodness existed, even in the most desperate places. He believed that evil had its limits. (How the Light Gets In)

Our lives become defined by our choices. It’s as simple and as complex as that. And as powerful. (Still Life)

Emerson himself certainly would have defined Gamache as a “great man”, one who sees that the “spiritual is stronger than any material force–that thoughts rule the world”.

Discussion on “Cultural Inspirations from A Fatal Grace

  1. Victoria Lodge says:

    Very interesting reading early this morning…thank you.

  2. Harriet Rynkiewicz says:

    Ms. Penny’s books have often given me heart in moments when such was most needed. They have also given equally as good a laugh. This combination works it’s magic on me every time and keeps me coming back for more.

    • Christa Velbel says:

      Thanks for bringing up humor — smiles and laughter are part of hope, part of and a byproduct of a decent, loving, civil human existence.

  3. Suzi Goodrich says:

    It is the depth and the light of the Gamache novels that keep me returning to them and reaching for information regarding the subjects and quotes in her stories…I never tire of them.

  4. I read the Gamache books several times over because each reading (and/or listening) uncovers a new layer. My husband has health issues and I’m reading the series to him, in order from the beginning, and we both find them entertaining, comforting, and thought-provoking.

    • Candace Sbeglia says:

      I love it Gail. I have also read these novels many times and gotten new perspectives each time. Then I discovered the audio books and they added another layer. I wish you and your husband many hours of enjoyment

  5. Ann Clark says:

    I completely agree with the above comments. Gamache is an attractive character who never loses his hope for humanity and belief in community. It’s this thread that I enjoy in Ms. Penny’s works and keeps me a faithful reader.

    • Duffy says:

      I refer to myself as a Pollyanna as I believe love will continue to light the world. One of the many reasons I await each book as a renewal of my faith.

  6. I began reading the series in chronological order on January 20th (no coincidence) seeking consolation and confirmation that “the light would banish the shadows. That kindness was more powerful than cruelty, and that goodness existed, even in the most desperate places…that evil had its limits.” I finished with a sense of hope and buoyancy I had not found elsewhere. I’m grateful to be able to douse desperation with Penny’s words.

    • Duffy says:

      I concur! Well said!

    • Linda Allen says:

      I also used the books as a refuge during the awful election season and aftermath. And also as a reminder, as Michele said, that all is not lost and the light will reign again.

      • Deale Hutton says:

        It is synchronous that you should mention this. As I read through the comments, I am thinking about this troubled time in the US, and how much I need kindness, gentleness and ‘good’. I had been attempting to find books reflecting a spiritual idea without ‘religion’. I find this in Louise’s books and in Thomas Berry.

        • Julie Buck says:

          This thread really rings true to me. To find such uplifting thoughts in what I had originally thought was going to be simply a “cozy” has, if you will forgive the theft – “surprised me with joy”. I find solace in the books at a time when we all need that. And I find even more in the open and honest way Louise shares her life in her FB page. That kind of candor is not easily found in this day when “image is everything”. I love her for it.

          • Beth Barr says:

            I could not agree more. So many great sentiments by everyone!! So excited another book is coming out soon.

        • Kathy Gallagher says:

          I discovered Louise Penny and the Gamache series last summer. The election and post election series has been so upsetting for me! I have delved into Three Pines for solace.

          I’m not doing it chronologically, and that’s just fine with me. I’ve been taking whatever’s available at my local library, and it’s enjoyable to pick up a book I know nothing about, encounter Jean-Guy or Peter and Clara, and figure out where I am in their journey.

          It’s such a calming break from what’s happening in the US.

    • Rubye Del Harden says:

      I am rereading the series for the third or fourth time. I’ll read them several more. They never fail to entertain, inspire and cause me to reflect. By far, they are my favorites of all time.

    • Deborah Harrison says:

      I wish I had thought of doing that, Michele. No matter how harrowing events in a Gamache story are, there is always resolution, light, goodness and kindness. I also see these in the emails I receive from various groups of the resistance. The light spills out of many places besides Three Pines, thank goodness. Every time I read anything Louise Penny writes, whether in a novel or in her newsletter or on the website, I marvel at her ability to keep these things foremost. She is my favorite author of all time, which is saying something, as I’ve been reading for 73 years!

      • Sharen Wilde says:

        I agree with you completely.From Nancy Drew to Louise Penny, I’ve read thousands of books. I’ve never felt so immersed in a book as I have in each of Louise Penny’s. They’ve became my alternate reality. I was fortunate to meet her last summer. She’s extremely kind as well as brilliant. Meeting an author let alone corresponding with and becoming part of their lives via the internet was unimaginable to me.What a delight!
        I celebrated my 75th birthday this week, and my first thought was to pray I’d be around for many, many more Three Pines adventures. I don’t want to miss a word!

        • Anne Slater says:

          Sharen: I am going to celebrate my 75th in a week, with music (church choir), food (Jamaican, ’cause I’m not), family, and a few college friends. The kind of community M et Mme Gamache enjoy. They are my friends too. Such a great balance in their relationship. Both so fortunate.
          I have been a voracious reader since childhood. There are many fine writers who I respect and enjoy, but Louise Penny’s creations have brought something special to me. Long may she write!! And many more Gamache stories for both of us.

    • Bett Weston says:

      Michelle – love the Jan 20 reference! I started the series last fall & stopped during the awful times since Nov, but got my spirit back & am now on The Beautiful Mystery. I daydream at work about being home reading. The only problem is every page brings me closer to the end of the book, or soon the end of the available books. Time then to start over!

  7. Jayne Harbour says:

    I love Gamache because I can escape to Three Pines and be thoughtful about events without concerns

  8. Jan says:

    There is a felt absence of deeply ethical wrestling in much of the US national political scene these days. Leadership that puts a larger moral frame around our conversations is scarce. THank heavens for fiction, especially Louise’s novels, (and, for instance, Kate Wilhelmina) that paints this beauty for us.

  9. Jan says:

    Darn auto-correct. Kate Wilhelm.

    • Julie Buck says:

      Thank you for that, Jan. I had gone looking for Kate Wilhelmina and found that she was apparently an airport!

  10. Kathy says:

    Yes we should take Emerson and Ghanaian references on face value.
    Read, absorb and then try to live that life everyday as Gamache does. Requires effort but so worth it.

  11. Jennie Coleman says:

    I believe we can take Gamache’s references to Emerson and Gandhi at face value within the context of the story. Ms. Penny’s use of these references may be thought-provoking with regard to the character of another person in the scene or to an environment that engenders a person to commit murder (not these particular references, perhaps, but others). Aaaaaand, Ms. Penny’s use of references of this nature also reveal, in multiple ways, the breadth and depth of Gamache’s personhood. Living within the boundaries of the Gamache series and the village of Three Pines offers me a wealth of “day trips” to poetry, literature, biblical stories, and even music, in the case of A Fatal Grace, and later in The Nature of the Beast. I am blessed by these cultural inspirations. I just wish I could find Ruth’s books of poetry in my local library! (Wink wink) Thank you, Mr. Hochman, for your thoughts on this topic. Is it time for a round of hot chocolates next to the fire in the Bistro?

  12. Judy Davie says:

    And this is why you are my go-to author. The profound insight, the quietness of thought, the simple art of being that provides the foundation of your works is a gift to us all.

  13. Sally Holm says:

    Very interesting. And I am loving these posts! However, a small correction is in order. It was actually a woman who conceived the ideas that became Transcendentalism—Emerson’s aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, who tutored her nephew and engaged in long intellectual discourses with him through the mail. She split most of her time between Concord and S. Waterford, Maine. See Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism by Phyllis Cole.

  14. Shirley Oldfield says:

    It is an honour to be on the planète with so many like-minded people. Thank you.

    • Christa Velbel says:

      Shirley, I’m very excited to be joining this conversation for exactly this reason! I wish you all a peaceful and honorable day and we’ll see you again soon.

  15. The novels always have a moral authority and a light in the darkness for me, things mostly missing in today’s fiction.

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