Culture - Book 12: A Great Reckoning


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It strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.

William Shakespeare (Epigraph, A Great Reckoning)

Christopher MarloweThe Shakespeare quote comes from the comedic play, As You Like It (Act III, Scene III), and is believed to have been written in 1599. The line is a direct reference to Christopher Marlowe’s death which occurred six years earlier under extremely suspicious circumstances.

Marlowe, a mercurial figure in Elizabethan England, was a rumored spy, a possible heretic, a poet, and, above all, the greatest playwright of his era, up until his untimely death at the age of 29, when Shakespeare would assume the mantle.

The “reckoning” that led to Marlowe being stabbed to death was purportedly over an unpaid bill, although the man who wielded the dagger, Ingram Frizer, was—like Marlowe—linked to espionage and the motive for murder was perhaps more political than pound sterling based.

So great was Marlowe’s influence on the Bard that there are theories that Marlowe was indeed Shakespeare himself. For over 400 years, the question of “did Shakespeare actually pen the plays attributed to him?” has loomed large. Marlowe is but one of the possible candidates. Others include Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, Sir Walter Raleigh, and—the most curious of all in my opinion—Amelia Bassano Lanyer.

Amelia Bassano LanyerLanyer (1569-1645) was one of the first women in England to publish her own poetry and to operate her own school. She is also credited as a pioneer of the feminist movement. In short, Amelia Bassano Lanyer was smart, unique, and strong-willed.

Enter (Stage Left) Louise’s character, Amelia Choquet.

Amelia, as introduced in A Great Reckoning, is certainly unique, classically smart, and exceptionally strong-willed.

And, the name Amelia has a singular importance in Armand Gamache’s familial history.

“Armand Gamache sat in the little room and closed the dossier with care, squeezing it shut, trapping the words inside.”

And so begins the 12th novel in the Three Pines canon and, for those of you who have read it, you know that the book contains a major settling of accounts, a great reckoning, if you will.

Culture - Book 11: The Nature of the Beast


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“There’s been weapons since there’s been man,” said Delorme. “Neanderthals had them. It’s the nature of the beast.” (The Nature of the Beast, Page 186, Trade Paperback Edition)

Collection of English ProverbsFor those of you who have read the 11th installment in the Louise Penny canon, you know that this retort, directed at Gamache, comes at a crucial moment in the plot. It’s the only time the phrase, the nature of the beast, is used within the novel but the power it conveys is so strong it titles the book. The Oxford Dictionary defines the expression as “The inherent and unchangeable character of something” and the phrase itself first appeared in John Ray’s Collection of English Proverbs which was published in the 1600’s.

The origin of the idiom is murky and has been interpreted in many ways since it was first uttered. In Louise’s novel, it is both a reference to human nature, and a haunting evocation of something far more malevolent. The biblical beast, who waged war against God in the New Testament’s Book of Revelations. Here is the moment, from The Nature of the Beast, when the investigators begin to get an inkling of what they might be up against:

“An etching?” he asked.

“Oui,” said Beauvoir, standing up slowly at his desk in the Incident Room. “At the base?”

albrecht durer woodcut“Oui,” said Beauvoir, caution creeping into his voice.

“Is it a beast?” Rosenblatt asked, finding it difficult to breathe. “A beast?”

“Un monstre.” His French wasn’t very good, but it was good enough for that. “Oui. A monster.”

“With seven heads.”

“Oui,” said Inspector Beauvoir.

To the right is a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer depicting the Beast as interpreted from the Book of Revelation (17:7). Count the heads.

If you have read The Nature of the Beast, you know a major plot point revolves around man’s apparent predisposition to make war. But, as Gamache proves time and again, it’s also in our nature to cherish decency. Kindness. Peace.

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