Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Death Comes to the Archbishop-Willa Cather

Death Comes to the Archbishop-Willa Cather

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 297
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 1927
novel

 It concerns the attempts of a Catholic bishop and a priest to establish a diocese in New Mexico Territory.

This is my first Willa Cather and it won't be the last. This prose is gorgeous. I feel like no one told me about her descriptive abilities. I almost didn't care about what the story was about-her steady and calm prose described everything using each word deliberately. This is my favorite thing about The Great Gatsby and it is my favorite thing about Death Comes to the Archbishop-every word belongs. The landscape is as much of a character as the priests.

I didn't mind the theology-the main characters, the priests, Latour and Vaillant are imperfect human beings. They struggle with themselves and with those they seek to convert. I never identified with them but I also never actively disliked them. I admired some aspects of their characters and found others downright distasteful but once again, Cather's prose comes to the rescue with meditations that over the course of reading book won me over to them. There is just a sense of purity about the novel that makes it somewhat of an epic without many of the elements of an epic.

The only thing really that bothered me about the novel was the noble savage rhetoric. The Native Americans and Mexicans are archetypes which was particularly saddening considering how many clerical stereotypes Cather was dismantling. Her prose was breathtaking when describing the arroyo with its hard life but all of the Native American characters are...noble savages. I have to keep reminding myself, she's writing in 1920s, it was progressive enough considering them human beings.


But then, I realize this is the type of book I'd reread. A chronicle of a life that is filled of the everyday and the slow pace of the lived reality so that everything happens without you being aware of it couched in the most gorgeous prose I've read in awhile.

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