Culture - Book 6: Bury Your Dead


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“Dulce et Decorum est,” the Archeologist said.
“Pro patria mori,” Gamache finished.
“You know Horace?” Croix asked.
“I know the quote.”

(Bury Your Dead, Page 130, Trade Paperback Edition)

HoraceThe quote is indeed Horace and originates in his Odes (111.2.13) and as Dr. Croix, the archeologist, points out, essentially means, “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” To which Gamache replies—to the shock of Croix—”It is an old and dangerous lie. It might be necessary, but it is never sweet and rarely right. It’s a tragedy.”

This exchange takes place in the basement of the chapel of the Ursuline convent where General Montcalm was buried after his death on the Plains of Abraham, a pivotal battle in the Seven Years War. Montcalm most certainly died for his country and in doing so ceded control of Quebec City—and eventually all of Canada—to the English.

Horace wrote the original words to inspire his own countrymen, the Romans, to reach war-like heights in the face of their enemies.

Wilfred OwenThe great World War I poet, Wilfred Owen, would borrow the phrase to title, arguably his most famous poem, Dulce et Decorum est, in which he describes the horrors of being gassed in the trenches on the Western Front.

Contrary to Horace’s original motivation for his Ode, Owen’s poem—in the words of Dylan Thomas—was “to show, to England, and the intolerant world, the foolishness, unnaturalness, horror, inhumanity, and insupportability of war, and to expose, so that all could suffer and see, the heroic lies, the willingness of the old to sacrifice the young, indifference, grief, the soul of soldiers.”

The heroic lies

And here, the last line of Owen’s prescient poem (he was killed just one week before the signing of the Armistice):

To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

“It’s an old and dangerous lie,” says Gamache to Dr. Croix.

Culture - Book 5: The Brutal Telling


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“In the letter she said that her father had said something to her. Something horrible and unforgivable.”
“The Brutal Telling.”
“That’s how she described it.”
(The Brutal Telling)

If you’ve read Louise’s fifth novel in the Inspector Gamache Series, you’ll recognize this scene, in which Clara Morrow explains the phrase “The Brutal Telling”. The phrase was first used by the Modernist Canadian painter Emily Carr to describe a horrific falling out with her father.

Emily Carr with her monkeyHere she is with her Javanese monkey, Woo, who plays an important part in Louise’s book. And as Superintendent Therese Brunel points out, “She adored all animals, but Woo above all.”

Carr was born in 1871 in British Columbia, one of nine children and, by all accounts, had a relatively stable childhood up until “The Brutal Telling” episode. Clara describes the mysterious incident to Inspector Gamache as thus, “She went from being a happy, carefree child to an embittered woman. Very solitary, not very likable.” Whatever terrible transgression took place (to this day, the details are unknown), it propelled Emily to travel to the isolated regions of Canada where she recorded, through her paintings, the vanishing indigenous cultures that resided there.

Emily Carr PaintingThe similarities between the real life Carr and Louise’s Clara are apparent. Both, of course, are painters and in a scene late in the novel, Superintendent Brunel and Clara sit before a statue of Carr where Therese tells Clara, “She looks a bit like you”. This is also the point in the book in which Brunel—while examining Clara’s painting —exclaims, “The Fall. My God, you’ve painted the Fall. That moment. She’s not even aware of it, is she? Not really, but she sees something, a hint of the horror to come. The Fall from Grace.”

The Fall from Grace. . . .

See our previous post on A Rule Against Murder and Milton’s Paradise Lost to see how deftly and deeply these novels interweave with one another. It really is quite amazing!

Oh, and remember Clara’s own description of Emily Carr? “. . . an embittered woman. Very solitary, not very likable.”

Kinda reminds me of a certain rascally poet who also has fondness for out-of-the-ordinary pets. . . .

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