Read all 12 of Willa Cather’s novels in chronological order of publication, one each month, throughout 2012. For details about the challenge click here.
THIS MONTH’S NOVEL
Our ninth novel of the challenge is Death Comes for the Archbishop. Read it sometime over the next three weeks and we’ll start our conversation about it on Monday, September 17th.
About Death Comes for the Archbishop:
- Cather started writing it in 1925.
- It was inspired by Cather’s love and appreciation for the landscape and people of the Southwest, particularly her earlier travels before there were “automobile roads” and hotels.
- The big idea for the novel, or framework on which to hang her story, came after reading The Life of the Right Reverend Joseph P. Machebeuf by William J. Howlett, 1908. Click here for the full text of this book.
- It was serialized in The Forum from January to June 1927.
- Cather considered this her best novel.
From the Vintage Classics Paperback:
“From the riches of her imagination and sympathy Miss Cather has distilled a very rare piece of literature. It stands out, from the very resistance it opposes to classification.” –The New York Times
There is something epic-and almost mythic-about this sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather, although the story it tells is that of a single human life, lived simply in the silence of the desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows-gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Out of these events Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.
- Often available at new bookstores and most used stores tend to have a copy or two. Almost always available at your local library.
- Support the Willa Cather Foundation and order it online here. Plan ahead and buy a copy of Shadows on the Rock, October’s book, while you’re at it.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In a letter Cather wrote to the Commonweal answering their request for an account of how she came to write Death Comes for the Archbishop, Cather wrote that she had for a long time wanted to write something in the “style of legend, which is absolutely the reverse of dramatic treatment.” In drama certain incidents of a story become the focal point and are written up for all they’re worth. In the style Cather was after, all incidents in the story are given equal consideration.
Do you think the style of this novel is radically different from other Cather novels you’ve read so far, or do you see more stylistic similarities to her prior novels? What about themes?
Is the title of the novel in keeping with Cather’s stated intention or is it incongruous?
If you’d like to read Cather’s Commonweal letter, it’s published in Willa Cather on Writing: Critical Studies on Writing as an Art and it’s also reproduced in the notes section of Cather: Later Novels (Library of America).
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
I’ll share my thoughts on reading Death Comes for the Archbishop in a new post on Monday, September 17th. At that time let’s start our conversation–simply post your thoughts about the novel in the comments section of that post so we can have everyone’s thoughts in once place.