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. I believe that Louise lives in Ghandi’s wisdom & writes her beloved Gamache series using all of the senses about the human condition. We are all so happy to be her readers❤️.

  2. Peggy Black says:

    Ms. Penny, your books lift me up. They inspire, entertain and remind me that good is worth pursuing and evil does not have the final word. Much gratitude to you.

  3. Karen I Ford says:

    Paul Hochman has hit the nail on the head! We see in Armand Gamache that person, yes flawed to be sure, but with a strong moral compass that we all yearn to emulate.
    I personally have a hard time with film adaptations because who Armand is in my mind’s eye is not the actor playing the part but the vision that Louise has so elegantly crafted. She uses the moral authority of persons like Ghandi and Emerson to clarify our understanding of Armand. The impressions are so vivid and cause one to ruminate over entire passages. When I read her stories I have to force myself to slow down and really look at the character development instead of racing to the end of the book to see who is the culprit.
    I find great pleasure introducing new people to her books because Louise Penny’s writings are so thought provoking. These stories are not just fiction, they have real substance, meat to gnaw on as we read the books.

  4. Elina Mavromatis says:

    It is that standard of belief which sets Gamache apart from other fictional detectives…that thoughtful measuring of his fellow man….and it gives hope that there is light and goodness in a complex world.

  5. Janet Dejka says:

    The books have always left me thinking more deeply about life and its events. Thanks you so much for this forum.

  6. Nora Bruemmer says:

    Might Gamache be based a bit on your late husband, Michael? It would not surprise me. How lovely, if in part that’s true, because then Michael lives on, as I hope Gamache will for a very long time.
    I wish I could remember the first of your books I read but I’ve gone back to the beginning with, Still Life, and will work (happily) my way through to your newest, which I’ve pre-ordered on my Kindle.
    Your stories are a delight to read, your characters are people I’d like to know, Three Pines, of course, simply sounds magical, a fairy tale world, even with a murder or two……I probably don’t look too deeply into each story so I don’t have any insight to add to the above comments…I just thoroughly enjoy each and every time I get to revisit Three Pines and all the lovely people that live there……Thank you.

    • Julie Buck says:

      Nora, I was lucky enough to be in an audience in Seattle when Louise discussed the Gamache character and where he came from! (I expect it’s the most-often asked question she gets). She said she wanted to create a character she could love, so yes, a lot of Gamache is Michael. Louise explained that she had known that Agatha Christie came to hate Poirot, but the audience wouldn’t let him die, so she slogged on with him very unhappily. Not wanting to do that, she set out to create someone she could never get tired of, and someone who grew, as we came to know him. I think she did an amazing job of capturing all that. Who among us is not in love with Armand Gamache?

  7. fournel annie says:

    je suis en France au fin fond du Brionnais (très rural) et j’ai découvert Louise penny et ses ouvrages il y a 6 mois J’ai lu les 10 premières enquêtes de Gamche (en me ” ruinant ” pour faire venir du Québec les ouvrages non encore publiés en France.J’ai déjà relu certains ouvrages plusieurs fois parce que j’y trouve un fabuleux espoir en la bonté humlaine si nécessaire en ce moment en France , une confiance en l’humanité et en la bonté, et la beauté des textes et des poémes cités . Je découvre votre article M Hochman ( en traduction française un peu aléatoire) et je vous en remercie infiniment c’est passionant .Thank you very much, you and Mrs. Penny are beautiful people, and the Gamache family also.
    I speak very bad English excuse me

  8. Jacki Keck says:

    Love the cultural embellishments sprinkled throughout Louise’s works … so adds depth to the characters I was given “A Trick of the Light” this past Christmas and had to find all the others in the series …

  9. Gemma McLuckie says:

    Louise Penny’s gift is helping us understand how the characters around Gamache conform to civic and societal ideals — and why they chose to abandon them. As the series continues, she becomes extraordinarily able to add depth to the people in and out of Three Pines, including Gamache. That depth means the suspects and the reasons they may commit murder become more complex.

  10. Eowana Jordan Manassas Virginia says:

    My husband and I began listening to Ms. Penny’s books, in order, while in the car. Many times it became difficult to get out once we arrived home, the story was so intense. My favorite scene that I keep conjuring in my mind is Three Pines and the bistro.. the fireplace, the delicious foods, the welcoming faces of the characters and the sounds and smells … oh my… being a retired librarian.. I feel I would fit right in! Thank you Ms. Penny for all the hours of joy. I hope to experience more. Please keep writing!

  11. Claudia Brogan says:

    I have had such great fun studying Arnaud Gamache and putting together observations of his character, his wise heart, his deep chuckles, his insights, his knack for listening so well and so quietly. And you lovely people here, offering your comments…. why, you feel like add’l folks of Three Pines to me!

  12. Peg R. says:

    My spirits are often lifted by the insights of Gamache and many other characters in Louise Penny’s books. I think part of her success lies in the beautifully warm relationships between her characters, that I can’t help but think can only be a result of Penny’s own experiences, of love, support, and deep friendship. The words are imparted in this matrix of humane kindness, and instead of being at all preachy, come across as gentle advice from a trusted confidante. Thank you, dear Louise.

  13. Allison Stringer says:

    I revel in the elegance and depth of Louise’s writing, especially in the Gamache series, but also in her blog and posts. Perhaps I resonate with her words because she draws on authors and poets and minds great and small to whom I, too, am drawn. Of course, I long for the sort of connections found among the residents of Three Pines- Finding the world rather lonely these days. But I am so grateful for this woman, her gifts, and her generosity. As well as yours, Paul, in offering this essay!

  14. Ludora says:

    Gamache always amazes me. He is consistently ethical and his character so noble. There are not enough words to express his goodness but Louise always manages to reveal it.

  15. Carolyn Bradley says:

    I read all the books in order last year and am ready to start reading them again. They are so inspirational. One new book a year is not enough. I need to be in touch with them all year long.

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