Cultural Inspirations from A Trick of the Light

“There is strong shadow where there is much light”
(A Trick of the Light, Page 10, Trade Paperback Edition)

Jean Guy Beauvoir quotes these words to Annie Gamache at the beginning of Louise’s 7th novel. When asked where the phrase originates, Beauvoir says, “Some German guy said it.”

Johann Wolfgang von GoetheThat “German guy” is none other than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the quote originally appeared in 1773 in his play, “Götz von Berlichingen”. Goethe’s drama focused on the life of Gottfried von Berlichingen, a Knight who fought in the Crusades, lost his arm to cannon fire, and wore a prosthetic “Iron Fist” thereafter.

While the quote itself (“There is strong shadow where there is much light”) seemingly fits perfectly with the title of Louise’s book, like all things in Penny’s work, there is deeper meaning.

iron fistGoethe uses Götz as a symbol of an individual with integrity—be it a free spirit, a rebel, an artist, etc.—trying to live within a dishonest society. Sure sounds a lot like our dear Chief Inspector Gamache, no?

Chief Inspector Gamache had a great deal of respect for artists. They were sensitive. Often self-absorbed. Often not fit for polite society. Some, he suspected, were deeply unbalanced. It would not be an easy life. Living on the margins, often in poverty. Being ignored and even ridiculed. (Page 90)

Goethe’s play was the leading work of the Sturm and Drang literary movement, which was significantly influenced by the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and exalted nature, feelings, and humanity. Three key factors in A Trick of the Light and the canon of Three Pines.

“With all the force, the power, the energy and the beauty of NATURE” (Page 140)

“He’d ask her all about her day, her life, her likes, her FEELINGS” (Page 189)

“…but believed in family and friends, culture and HUMANITY” (Page 127)

Oh, and Goethe’s supposed last words on his death bed; “Mehr Licht!” which translates as “More Light!”

Discussion on “Cultural Inspirations from A Trick of the Light

  1. Lee Ann Stearns says:

    Thank you so much for teaching me as well as entertaining me. I would miss wonderful information in these layers without your cultural crib notes! Must me time to re-read the series with more discerning eyes.

    • Scotty Plappert says:

      That’s why I love rereading the Louise Penny series there is always another layer to discover.

  2. Ludora Zradicke says:

    I find these cultural inspirations so very helpful. I have loved every book in this series, both times I read it. Each book just keeps getting better and better. Thank you for,sharing so much with us.

  3. Lorraine Joanisse says:

    I have just loved this book, like all the others in this series. I have learned about art and the challenges faced by artists and people involved in this field. I am looking forward to reading the next book to be released in August.

  4. Dana Cano says:

    I have found great solace and escape in the pages of each of your books. We are struggling to remain in the plane of ideals here in the U.S. and are awaiting the next book eagerly.

    • peggyta says:

      Wow Dana, you are echoing my feelings and I revisit Louise’s books yearly before the new one comes out as a way to maintain my belief that all things will be ok in the end. And to loosely quote the movie “the best marigold hotel”, if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.

      • Sally says:

        I love what you said. I didn’t realize that’s what I love about her books the most, is that hope always triumphs.

  5. Verne Larson says:

    Dear Louise… What you need to do is put all of these discourses into a book so they can be studied upon and referred back to. I love your books on two levels – the book itself and the deeper book. It would be wonderful to study these books in a class for a semester. There is so much learning and feeling to be learned.

    • Lou Ann Callaway says:

      Oooooo yes!! Totally agree!! Would love to have a “reference” book for all your books available!!

    • Candy Ritchey says:

      Oh! I agree!!!! Please consider it!!!

    • Jane Murph says:

      What a great idea! I’m almost finished with my ‘first read’ of the entire series and looking forward to the next in August. Then I’ll likely begin over again. There is no way to get it all in one read. Please do consider including your discourses … either into each individual book, better yet, one comeplete book for now then start including each per new book! Thanks so much…

    • Jane Murph says:

      What a great idea! I’m almost finished with my ‘first read’ of the entire series and looking forward to the next in August. Then I’ll likely begin over again. There is no way to get it all in one read. Please do consider including your discourses … either into each individual book, better yet, one complete book for now then start including each per new book! Thanks so much…

    • Frances Yancey says:

      I totally agree.

    • Jessica says:

      Me too, me too! I was just thinking that I would print out each installment to share with my mother who doesn’t have internet access. A book that contained everything would be much easier to manage.

    • Pat Lynch-Hayes says:

      Wonderful idea! Would love to have such a book on hand when I re-read Louise’s amazing books!

    • Cynthia Carr says:

      I’d love a reference book, but, a class, now that would be grand! How about a semester long class online? Ha! That way we could all fit in the classroom.

    • Bettie says:

      What a wonderful idea Verne! I sit here writing notes to collect in my reader’s journal. Collecting the shadow lessons of Louise’s books in one volume would not only sell well, it may calm the dread affecting those of us literally suffering in our country these days. Didn’t someone say they are part mystery and part psychology?

    • Karin Sloan says:

      What a great idea; I’d love that!

  6. Cheryl Baker says:

    Your books are so much more than “idle entertainment”, and these insights help us focus more light on Three Pines and its unique place in our hearts. Thank you for creating a haven in today’s stormy world.

  7. Anna ElGammal says:

    I had a total knee replacement last year and I was so lucky to find your novels. I think I read every one and loved the characters and the setting. I also was motivated to return to Quebec one again and travel to the small towns nearby. Thank you.

  8. Marion Taylor says:

    This book is my favourite as it connects with many of my experiences. I was a stage designer and Clara’s panic at her vernissage reminded me of opening nights when my design would be on display. Also the parties were not fun, but a time when contacts needed to be made with directors and producers. Then the twelve step program which I have been through with Al-anon and it helped so much. Then I worked in the justice system with teenage boys. Unfortunately, most of them did not manage the turn around that Brian managed. The other thing is that stories where an outsider or outcast finds a place of acceptance and friendship are my favourites and in the Gamage books person after person finds sanctuary in Three Pines.

  9. Liz Westwater says:

    There are not many mystery books that I would re-read, I mean what’s the point, I already know who did it!!! But with Louise Penny’s books there is so much more than finding out who did it!!!! The depth, the skilled writing, the wonderful character development makes me want to read each book again…,, thank you for this wonderful series.

  10. Mary Nell says:

    A reference book would be wonderful. There is so much background that enhances the writings. I ‘ve read all of Louise’s books and eagerly await the August release. Often I find myself using an atlas or googling an event or person
    to enrich my reading. I love these books!

  11. Aurora51 says:

    Only one reference book? Yes, one surely for the literary/philosophical references and discussion, but one also just on food, all the food, with recipes from The Bistro, the meals that Reine-Marie prepares, and others, and yet another book of geography of Three Pines and the surrounding villages, and one more just on the characters. I would love to read a biography of the character whose name temporarily escapes me, who speaks (in English?) and whom Gamache cannot understand the words but understands the meaning. And another, maybe on the flora and fauna……..

  12. Judy Pishitelli says:

    As Liz said, there aren’t many mystery books that I reread however, I enjoy the Three Pines books so much I always read them and then listen to them on CD. Wasn.t sure when there was a need for an new Gamache on the audio books but I soon learned to enjoy him as much as the previous inspector, I look forward to a new one each year.

  13. Carmelle Foley says:

    A reference book, yes, yes, yes, so much to be learned in your books. I look forward to your
    coming to Los Angeles, Sept. 2.

  14. Pat Boyer says:

    I have loved all of your books and am looking forward to getting the new one.

  15. Susan Dressel says:

    This book has been onc of my favorites of the series, given the light and shadow of personalities and development of artistic changes. The latter is a theme that is revisited several times in Penny’s Gamache books. I know little about artistic vision but reading this series has helped me have a more open mind.

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