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. Marion Eales says:

    Thank you Louise Penny for your wonderful writing, for Gamache, who is so alive as I lose myself in each book, for your insights, your descriptions of Canada, and all of the other things I learn that are built into each book.

  2. Peggy says:

    Every book in the Gamache series has made me realize deep emotions & made me cry at these revelations. Whatever has given Louise Penny the ability to write these books is wonderful. I hope she continues to write in this vein.

  3. Judee McMurdo says:

    I’m in my mountains as I type this. I’m currently rereading Fatal Grace and with each page, I find snippets that I overlooked the first time.

    I almost always go back and read the last chapter of a book and again, find that in my haste to know the ending that I missed a lot.

    I guess patience is not one of my virtues.

    As always, thank you Louise for your excellent writing.

  4. Jan Pearson says:

    My sister introduced me to Louise Penny and I am forever grateful. Her books offer a depth and study into the depths of the human conscience not found in any other author. Thank you, Louise Penny!

  5. Betsy says:

    I also love Ms. Penny’s books and her courage. She is not afraid to make a beloved character a “bad guy”, one who makes horrible mistakes and is made to pay the price for his greed. That is a huge chance to take and I am very curious to see how relationships change, even if slightly, with this character due to his misstep.

  6. Karla Hornbrook says:

    A friend recommended the series and suggested I read them in order. I am so glad that I did and told others to do the same. To watch the characters grow and change is wonderful. You feel like you live there and join them at the Bistro. Best of all you can watch the author grow and develop into an incredible storyteller who tells the story with deep morality and spirituality. Love having these stories and this author in my life.

  7. Thank you for my “lectio divina” for this morning. Ganache and Penny always foster my spiritual journey.

  8. MEE says:

    The bottom line for me is that this series of books entertains me like no other.
    I am re-reading them all and find something new in each book.
    I am so proud that Louise Penny is a Canadian and an Eastern Township resident!

  9. Susan Willoughby says:

    “Life is found in layers”. And also in Louise Penny books! I find that the first read, I’m rushing through, caught in the excitement of the mystery at hand…I am so happy to go back, and read again, and discover more depth and inspiration in each story. Thank you Louise!

  10. Lynn says:

    Reading a Louise Penny book is like going home for me. The quotes change in meaning for me depending on where I am personally and professionally and whether or not I relate them to the book’s characters or my own life. For this reason, Louise’s books may be the only series I would consider reading more than once.

  11. Irene O'Connor says:

    I find Louise Penny’s works considerably more than the fictional adventures of a detective that we would all like to have as our personal friend. She offers within all of her characters an opportunity for hope, for redemption, for awareness and, most of all, for acceptance. One of the characteristics that I personally find so captivating about Gamache is his willingness to accept people as they are (while searching for a murderer, no less). Add to that his warm and embracing relationship with his wife, and Ms. Penny has created a larger-than-life character that we take inspiration from.

    I believe I have one book that I haven’t yet read in her collection and then I am going to go back and read them all in order.

    They are all, literally and figuratively, books I can’t put down once I start reading them! Thank you, Ms. Penny for sharing your gift with all of us!

    • Fran says:

      I have just finished reading them all a second time, and I find new things that I hadn’t noticed on the first reading. I may eventually read them again.

  12. Pat Boyer says:

    Loved Fatal Grace and all of your other books. Am looking forward eagerly for your next book.

  13. Fran says:

    The beauty in Three Pines is that although there is darkness here, as there is everywhere, the light always overcomes the darkness. Gamache is a light-bearer, to borrow a phrase from Madeleine L’Engle.

  14. Diana Kastelic says:

    I am just beginning the series, and enjoyed all of these reader fans’ comments almost as much as I enjoyed “Still Life”. Can’t wait to read all the rest of the series, and imbibe the message of hope.

  15. Sue Jackson says:

    I love these books, Three Pines, Gamache, and Louise Penny, and these wonderful comments and analysis by fellow readers. Very interesting…but please leave out the politics.

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