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. Linda Montgomery says:

    I love the love in the books between all of the independent characters..

  2. Peggy O'Neill says:

    Appreciated these quotes and readers’ comments. I always look forward to Ms Penny’s new book. But, I’m always very annoyed that books in Canada come from the publishers in the US. This means reading with American spelling instead of Canadian. Why is this? I’m sure your UK publications do not reflect that. Best regards,

  3. Kim says:

    I love the beauty of the descriptions, the surprising facets to characters I thought I knew. Most of all, I love the idea that good will triumph and how characters who choose to be brave, to do good, to reach out in compassion and love even when it is not the easy choice.
    So many authors deal with the frightening and the ugly, the hurt and despair. Like Clara’s art, writing about what is good and right is not necessarily fashionable, but it touches a chord. It resonates. Reading the Gamache books immersed me in a place that feels like home with people who feel like friends. I look forward to my annual visit. Thank you Louise and Paul and the others who put together this discussion group where friends of friends can gather.

  4. suzanne lawrence says:

    Tender and compassionate and thought-provoking stories. Thank you Louise Penny.

  5. Helen O. says:

    I too have been reading constantly since I received my first Bobbsey Twinb 86years ago. Three pines is definitely a place to come home to. I am not as articulate as the rest of you, but I do enjoy your posts, and. agree whole heartedly. Thank you for saying what I feel.

  6. The village of Three Pines comes alive with each book. In my minds eye I see all the characters and imagine that I walk amongst them. Gamache moral code is doing the “right thing” no matter the cost, but, he is benevolent and patient with some characters that would drive me batty. Ahh, August 29!

  7. Prophetic: ” We live in a world of guided missiles and misguided men.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This means a lot more now then in my first read.

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