Feast of St Pamphilus the Martyr & His Companions
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
IN A LETTER written to The Commonweal about the origins of her novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather relates her enamoration with the Catholic Church of the Southwest. Its story moved her—the old mission churches, even abandoned and in ruins, had a physical reality beyond mere description. As she explains, “They are their own story, and it is foolish convention that we must have everything interpreted for us . . . there are other ways of telling what one feels . . .” Cather found her “way of telling” some years later, centering her story around the lives of two priests sent to convert the Southwest in the twilight of America’s great frontier. Episodic in nature, the novel’s plot touches on a series of scenes—introducing, but never dwelling too long on a substantial gallery of characters (from battered wives and disreputable clergy to the infamous Indian fighter Kit Carson). Cather’s simple prose and meticulous eye for detail carries in it a sense of place, golden but not utopian. These priests live and die (hope we didn’t ruin it for you) like each of us—with the seemingly trivial incidents of their days constructing a life of faith beyond their understanding.
297 pp. paper $14.00
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