2007: 78. Death Comes for the Archbishop

“One summer evening in the year 1848, three Cardinals and a missionary Bishop from America were dining together in the gardens of a villa in the Sabine hills, overlooking Rome.”

Death Comes for the Archbishop,  Willa Cather

I didn’t know what to expect from Death Comes for the Archbishop.  I read My Antonia in high school and remembered hating it, but I had much less patience for books without much plot then, and a pretty dismal 10th grade English teacher.  I found Death Comes for the Archbishop to be quite interesting, especially once I realized that it didn’t really contain a story, just snapshots of the life of two priests building up the first real diocese in New Mexico.  It is a part of history that I’m not too familiar with, and found fascinating.   The book was quite respectful of the priests and their work, which I was relieved by - as a Catholic (even one who teeters quite a bit about her faith - ritual yay, dogma nay is my general take on it) I find the whole middle class 19th century/early 20th century Protestant distrust of all things Catholic to be extremely tiresome. I know that it was different times, and its not even as close to as bad for Catholics as it is for Jews and African-Americans, but the bigotry does tend to knock you out of a book you were otherwise enjoying.  The fact that Cather, born Baptist and later converted to Episcopalianism, was able to write about these Jesuit priests with such respect and affection was a big reason why I enjoyed this book.  The other factors - description of life on the frontier, respect for the beauty of the land, historical accuracy (the whole thing was based on the life of two real priests), beautiful simple writing were just bonuses!


Recommended for:  People who want to give Cather a second chance; people who want to know about the role that people other than WASPs played in making America; people who are interested in the early history of the Southwest.


Date/Place Completed: 6/3/07; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction; Virago Modern Classic; Modern Library Top 100

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017