Thursday, April 2, 2009

The horses' heads were toward eternity

Current book: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Pages read: 199-297 (end)

So, the end of this book was not particularly remarkable or astonishing. As I said before, it's as though Willa Cather chose a part of the lives of these New Mexican priests and went about illustrating it with her prose. The end, by that definition, is simply another part of the story, rather than an intense climax.

Bishop Latour does, in fact, die in the end, as does his friend and fellow priest, Father Vaillant, but both men slip into death as a result of age and lives lived fully. The companionship that exists between the two priests was forged early in their years at seminary, and seems to last even beyond their separation, both by Father Vaillant's eventual posting to Colorado Territory and by death itself. The end of the novel clearly emphasizes the impact that all people have on the lives of others, reinforcing the idea that one or a few individuals can change the existence of many.

That said, I don't feel that Willa Cather came down on the side of the Catholic Church, or, for that matter, expressed any opposition to it. Again, it's as though the story was simply being told: this is what happened, and the reader can pass judgement, but Cather doesn't offer it. It gave me a feeling of intense trust in the author that I seldom experience when reading fiction. (Or non-fiction, come to think of it. Even with footnotes.)

It's odd that the title of the novel is Death Comes for the Archbishop. That's also the title of the last section, but I don't know that it's the most appropriate. You could say that the emphasis on the end of his life is an indication that the reader should reflect on the fact that all lives end in the same way, but I feel like it grates a little against my sense of the smooth continuity of the book. Why focus on the end when the whole point was the completeness of his life and the mutual impacts that his life and the people and territory of New Mexico had upon one another? (That was kind of a weird sentence, I realize. But I'm leaving it. Hah.) A better title would simply have been The Archbishop. It's not as catchy, though; I'll give you that.

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