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Death Comes for the Archbishop (Vintage Classics) Paperback – June 16, 1990

357 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Nebraska pulls out all the stops for this superb scholarly edition of Cathers 1927 novel. This edition includes a newly restored text along with several historical essays and explanatory notes by several scholars. Academic libraries supporting hardcore American literature curricula will want this volume.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“A truly remarkable book . . . Soaked through and through with atmosphere . . . 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.”—NEW YORK TIMES“The most sensuous of writers, Willa Cather builds her imagined world as solidly as our five senses build the universe around us.”—Rebecca West“[Cather’s] descriptions of the Indian mesa towns on the rock are as beautiful, as unjudging, as lucid, as her descriptions of the Bishop’s cathedral. It is an art of ‘making,’ of clear depiction—of separate objects, whose whole effect works slowly and mysteriously in the reader, and cannot be summed up . . . Cather’s composed acceptance of mystery is a major, and rare, artistic achievement.”—from the Introduction by A. S. Byatt

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 16, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679728899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679728894
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (357 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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136 of 142 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
Based on two real life French Catholic priests who were sent to the American Southwest in 1851, Willa Cather's 1927 novel captures the essence of their experiences. The Mexican people, formerly ruled by Spain, had been Catholic for centuries and welcomed the Bishop, Jean Marie Latour, and his Vicar, Father Joseph. As the two men travel through the countryside, it is clear that the landscape itself is a major character in this novel. Ms. Cather's descriptions brought me right there and I could almost breath the perfume of the earth as well as feel the impact of the mountains of rock and open desert.
In what reads like a series of short stories, the priests travel throughout the area and meet a wide variety of people along the way. Always, their adventures take on mythical and religious significance, such as when Father Latour finds himself quite lost and then sees a juniper tree in the shape of a cross that leads him to food and shelter. Each of these stories has a crisis and each crisis is answered by a religious experience. This deepens the faith of the two priests who share their common religious feelings even though they have very different personalities.
Ms. Cather had the uncanny ability to capture exactly what each character felt and let the reader experience it moment to moment. Her detailed descriptions are many faceted. For example she uses the character of Kit Carson to show both gentleness and compassion as well as vile cruelty to the Indians. Always, she just lays out the story and lets the reader make his or her own judgments.
One of the problems I had with the book was my own desire to have the priests confront some difficult choice. That didn't happen. Their faith was always there.
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217 of 231 people found the following review helpful By JK on October 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
After reading with fascination the prior forty-plus reviews, they would appear to fall into three categories: juveniles who were forced to read the book for school, giving the book the lowest possible ratings. PC-types who judge both the writing of the book and the actions and beliefs of the characters by today's standards--such smug intolerance! Thirdly, those who love literature for its own sake, belonging to the community that has made this one of the classics in American writing.
I admit, I am part of the third group. I fell in love with the writing of Cather as a teenager. To date, I have found no other author who can illustrate the great expanse of America and the vision of our ancestors in the way she could. Being set in New Mexico, the feeling of expanse of the American West permeates every page. I agree with another reviewer that this book is the writing equivalent of O'Keefe.
While I can understand the young ones criticizing the book after being forced to read it, I don't understand adults who were dissatisfied. Was this their first Cather? Hopefully not (I'd recommend starting with "Song of the Lark" or "O Pioneers". Her writing is not an unknown quantity.
I've read the book many times over the past thirty years, and it's not a book for those who like to have their plots laid out for them. The plot is obscure, as Cather leaves the main story line with chapters diverging like side trails off a main path. Though not hard to read, it's not a book for those in a hurry. It's best being read in a comfy chair on a rainy afternoon next to a window. The sense of timeliness, of the stretching on into eternity, is seldom better conveyed than in this book.
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89 of 93 people found the following review helpful By T. J. Mathews VINE VOICE on October 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Willa Cather's works are more reminiscent of paintings than books. They are better described by words such a `warm', `vibrant' and `rich' than by `suspenseful', `fascinating' or `page-turner'. In "Death Comes for the Archbishop" she does to New Mexico with black ink what Georgia O'Keefe needed a whole palette of colors to do.
"Death Comes for the Archbishop" is a multidimensional work skillfully woven together. On one hand Cather tells the story of New Mexico in the early days of its occupation by the United States and of the clash of two cultures trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to get along.
On the other hand it is a portrait of a life. It is the story of Father Latour, a French priest sent to Santa Fe by the church to serve as an impartial intermediary between the protestant Anglo government and the Mexican Catholic population. He leaves behind all that is dear to him and dedicates himself to a life of service in a distant outpost far from what he must have considered civilization.
While it's true that the book may be `episodic' or `anecdotal', few of us recall our own lives as a smooth, day-to-day rendering. What we remember are the high points and low points of our lives, and so it is here. This is, after all, the story of the life, and death, of a man.
If you read books just to find out how they end, I'll save you the trouble. He dies. But if you read to experience the world through the heart and eyes of a great author, this book is for you. And once you read it you will find that, for you, Father Latour, hasn't really died. He'll stay with you forever.
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