Death Comes for the Archbishop

Visiting Santa Fe made me curious to read Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop about its first archbishop, Jean Baptiste Lamy (apparently an ESTJ and nothing like Cather’s character, Jean Marie Latour).

I don’t remember reading any Willa Cather in American Literature class, even though she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922 for ‘One of Ours’. However, I’m glad to have discovered her now. I like her writing style a lot. I whizzed through this book in two days and would like to know more about it. What made her decide to write it? What kind of research did she do for it? She writes precisely in answer to the questions I had on the 14 hour drive to Santa Fe…what would it be like to travel this country by foot or on horseback? How does the landscape fashion the lives here. If you lived here, could you ever live anywhere else? The whole time I was in Santa Fe, some unconscious memory of my ancestors kept welcoming me home.

The title is a bit misleading, because it is not so much concerned with Father Latour’s death as his life in New Mexico. Unlike “The Death of Artemio Cruz” it is not a deathbed flashback of a life.

Quotes and Notes

The Germans classify, but the French arrange

“‘I am glad to see we have the same opinion of French missionaries.’
‘Yes,’ said the Cardinal lightly, ‘they are the best missionaries. Our Spanish fathers made good martyrs, but the French Jesuits accomplish more. They are the great organizers.’
‘Better than the Germans?’ asked the Venetian, who had Austrian sympathies.
‘Oh, the Germans classify, but the French arrange! The French missionaries have a sense of proportion and rational adjustment. They are always trying to discover the logical relation of things. It is a passion with them.'” — p 9

Unanchored in Space

“The difficulty was that the country in which he found himself was so featureless–or rather, that it was crowded with features, all exactly alike.” — p 17

Gazing Through a Filter of Love, Human and Divine

“Father Vaillant began pacing restlessly up and down as he spoke, and the Bishop watched him, musing. It was just this in his friend that was dear to him. ‘Where there is great love there are always miracles,’ he said at length. ‘One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.” — p 50

Unanchored in Time

“He observed also that there was no longer any perspective in his memories…He was soon to have done with calendared time, and it had already ceased to count for him. He sat in the middle of his own consciousness; none of his former states of mind were lost or outgrown. They were all within reach of his hand, and all comprehensible.

Sometimes, when Magdalena or Bernard came in and asked him a question, it took him several seconds to bring himself back to the present. He could see they thought his mind was failing; but it was only extraordinarily active in some other part of the great picture of his life–some part of which they knew nothing.

When the occasion warranted he could return to the present. But there was not much present left; Father Joseph dead, the Olivares both dead, Kit Carson dead, only the minor characters of his life remained in the present time.” — pp 290-291

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