Death Comes for the Archbishop

June 3, 2011

This is my first post.

I recently took a trip to Santa Fe with my mom, and on the long drive home I read Death Comes for the Archbishop, which is a Willa Cather novel based on the life of French Catholic Bishop Jean Baptiste L’Amy. The fictional Bishop, Jean Marie Latour, travels from Ohio to New Mexico accompanied by his dear friend, vicar Joseph Vaillant. Latour’s mission is to draw in the fractured and corrupt priests which lead the churches of the US’s newly annexed territory–his diocese.

Latour is scholarly, supportive, clear-eyed. Vaillant is energetic, adaptable, and impetuous, often times tempered by Latour. Initially, both men struggle with the unapologetic landscape of the region and the customs of its inhabitants, but they find comfort in evening conversations reminiscing about their hometown. As the story progresses and as priests are unseated, the vicar is sent away to reform the surrounding churches of the diocese. Vaillant has a particular driving energy that allows him to win over the locals, whom he becomes quite attached to. He becomes entrenched in his work.

Latour achieves his own successes but is left to continually cope with his loneliness. The place (and only place) in the novel where his alienation and doubt are explicitly addressed is so elegantly written. His affection for Vaillant is palpable. The reader grows to love Vaillant through Latour. As Latour approaches his death, or as the novel title might suggest to a new reader, as death assails him, he cannot return to his hometown in France. After living in a place so raw and earnest for 40 years, being in his hometown fills him with sadness.

Latour’s diocese is not an environment fabricated by Cather to make his narrative more compelling; it is rich and commands respect from those foreign to it, including the reader. Secondary characters are vivid but not caricatured. The landscape is severe and unforgettable. Cather’s language is sincere throughout. This, and the space in which she allows Latour to reflect honestly on his surroundings and relationships, allow a trust and intimacy to be established between she and the reader. She has nothing to conceal. I’ll certainly being reading more of her work.

Also, I’m anxious to get back to NM. Unfortunately, my vacation time is limited. Maybe I’ll end up in Albuquerque when I go back to school.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of some animals.

Made some friends in Santa Fe




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