Cultural Inspirations from A Rule Against Murder

“The mind is its own place, monsieur,” said Reine-Marie. “Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” (A Rule Against Murder)

Paradise LostEchoed from John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, the quote above appears numerous times throughout Louise’s fourth book and serves as the defining mantra of the work.

Originally published in 1667, Milton’s masterpiece has been interpreted in many ways—a scathing rebuke of corruption in the Anglican Church, a critical view of the Monarchy, a warning tome on civil war, and, as C.S. Lewis saw it, a straightforward morality tale. For those of you who have read our entry on Still Life, you know how big C.S. Lewis looms in Louise’s life and work. Professor Lewis was also quite the Milton scholar. He lectured extensively on the make-up and merits of Paradise Lost and wrote a singular thesis on the poem, A Preface to Paradise Lost, which was first published in 1942.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a morality tale as “a story or narrative from which one can derive a moral about right and wrong” and when boiled down A Rule Against Murder is just that: a choice between good or bad and how those decisions may lead to ruin. Or as Gamache observes, “To have it all and lose it. That’s what this case was about.”

A Preface to Paradise LostWhich brings us to the quote itself:

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

Satan, himself, speaks these words in Paradise Lost in an attempt to come to terms with his lost war with God and his banishment to the netherworld. Essentially he’s saying he can deal with Hell if he imagines it’s heaven.

In A Rule Against Murder, the Milton quote is rephrased no less than five times and as Louise explains, “life is perception. We make our own Heaven and Hell, depending on how we choose to view a situation. A huge success isn’t big enough, so we turn it into a disappointment. A loving relationship isn’t perfect, so we leave. A gift isn’t up to expectations, so instead of being happy, we are angry. We turn on the very people who are there to help us. In not recognizing Paradise, we lose it.”

But in this book, Louise also deftly turns Satan’s statement on its head and uses it as a beacon of hope. There doesn’t have to be a hell at all. If we choose the path of goodness, to paraphrase Reine-Marie, “there will always be a heaven.”

Brilliant!

Discussion on “Cultural Inspirations from A Rule Against Murder

  1. Duffy Grove says:

    Thank you…………….I so enjoy these

  2. Gretchen Fincke says:

    We were just in Lac Brome on Monday. We went to the bookstore to buy FINE mugs and books. Enjoyed dinner at the “Bistro”. A thoroughly enjoyable experience. We can see why you love it there. We are from Wisconsin and traveled through on our way to visit our daughter in Toronto after being in Boston.

    • Janell Cleveland says:

      Where is Lac Brome? I’d love a FINE mug!!!!!

      • Pat Dickson says:

        Lac Brome is also known as Knowlton. It is in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. You can order Gamache and Three Pines items through Brome Lake Books. Just google their website.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I’d love to buy a couple of “Fine” mugs, but the shipping cost from Quebec makes them too pricey. Will they ever be sold in the United States?

      • Sue Jackson says:

        The postage is more than the cost of the mug. My husband teases me that we went did a road trip thru parts of Canada including this area several years ago. The trip cost several thousand dollars, but I got my Gamache mug. He also got to see the various sports museums (hockey, etc) so it was a win-win deal. While in Knowlton, he agreed that it would be a lovely place to live! Hope you get your Gamache mug one way or the other.

    • Jan Dollar says:

      I love the Gamache books and have always wondered where they are based
      We are coming to Canada in September and travelling from Toronto to the Gaspesie.
      How easy would it be for us to visit “Gamache” places from that area? We won’t have a car and will be travelling by train and bus.

  3. Michele says:

    Time to reread “Paradise Lost.” And Lewis. Thank you!

  4. Nora Bruemmer says:

    I’m not yet finished with , A Rule Against Murder, and am enjoying it very much, as I have all the Gamache series. After reading The Culture Inspirations above I realize I need to get to Milton and back to C.S. Lewis ( I’ve only read, Surprised By Joy. A beautiful tribute to his wife and I believe Ms. Penny had the same quote placed on a bench in memory of her late husband Michael……
    I’ve never read Paradise Lost but I will…..I’ll find a nice quiet place outside or a little Bistro and take my time.

  5. Shirley Oldfield says:

    The recitation of poetry or quotes from books that the various characters share with their friends delights me always. The incomprehension by other characters tickles me as well, while the subtlety of your sense of humour throughout, makes me want to bow at your feet. To be reminded of works which command to be reread is appreciated.
    Thank you.

  6. Harriet Rynkiewicz says:

    ‘Tis true, as a dear departed friend of mine was fond of saying: ” Attitude is everything.”

  7. Carol Hornby says:

    I read an essay a while ago, the crux of which was: that Paradise Lost is best when read aloud. I am doing so, and discovering a story! Louise Penny’s books in audio format are similarly enhanced. But all are beloved. My husband reads them, and each gets:”this was the best one yet”. Followed by a voluptuous sigh

  8. Miche says:

    Wow! I can see I am going to have to revisit not just this title, but the others.

  9. Lisa Toucher says:

    I’ve been waiting to listen to Book 12 until I can pick up the paperback next week because I think each enhances the other. I do miss Ralph Cosham so much. I hope there’s a character with one of his names at some point as a tribute to the man who made me love Three Pines

    • Janet says:

      I agree about Ralph Cosham! He is Gamache to me! Giving a future character Ralph’s name is a wonderful idea and wonderful tribute!

      I have listened to all the books at least twice, sometimes 3 times. The first time I did not listen in order. Recently I did and the back stories are wonderful when read in the correct order. I highly recommend it. The books are so wonderful to read. Something new each time.

      My husband and I took a trip to Knowlton (3 Pines) two summers ago specifically to see where the books were based. We stayed at The Kniwkton Inn (the Bistro is the restaurant on the first floor). The owner had a full itinerary of places that were the inspiration for many of the books. We did the full list. Wonderful for any Gamache fan.

  10. Roslyn Shaw says:

    The Gamache series has brought out my deep love of great literature. I make notes as I read and then look up the quotes and references. Reading these absorbing novels has expanded my knowledge and given me such joy and pleasure at the same time.

  11. Robin says:

    Paul, thank you very much I love things that make me think. And I love books for the words

  12. Louise Winheld says:

    I love all these comments. My only concern is that now that I’ve read all of Louise Penny’s books (and have started re-reading them), I find very few other books that measure up to hers. So what is there to read while I await the next one(s)? Ach, such problems!

    • Linda says:

      I have found that Martin Walker’s Bruno series fills the gap until the next Gamache over comes out.

      • Deale says:

        I read Martin Walker also. I love his books…so full of French culture and cuisine…history…and, of course, a good mystery.

    • Marliese Zimmerman says:

      Have you read Donna Leon’s books. The setting is Venice and her protagonist is Commissario Guido Bruneti . Her books should also be read in sequence.

  13. Eleanor Scarcella says:

    I just received my paperback issue of A Great Reckoning. Unfortunately, Minatour Books was not the publisher and the height of the book and the design of the spine is not the same as the previous eleven books in the series. I am disappointed that the display of my beloved Gamache books is a bit “off.” Is St. Martins Press to replace Minatour as the paper editions’ publisher?

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