Willa Cather’s story of the missionary priest Father Jean Marie Latour and his work of faith in the wilderness of the Southwest is told with a spare but sensuous directness and profound artistry. When Latour arrives in 1851 in the territory of New Mexico, newly acquired by the United States, what he finds is a vast desert region of red hills and tortured arroyos that is American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. Over the next four decades, Latour works gently and tirelessly to spread his faith and to build a soaring cathedral out of the local golden rock—while contending with unforgiving terrain, derelict and sometimes rebellious priests, and his own loneliness.
DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP shares a limitless, craggy beauty with the New Mexico landscape of desert, mountain, and canyon in which its central action takes place, and its evocations of that landscape and those who are drawn to it suggest why Cather is acknowledged without question as the most poetically exact chronicler of the American frontier.
About the Author
Willa Cather was probably born in Virginia in 1873, although her parents did not register the date, and it is probably incorrectly given on her tombstone. Because she is so famous for her Nebraska novels, many people assume she was born there, but Willa Cather was about nine years old when her family moved to a small Nebraska frontier town called Red Cloud that was populated by immigrant Swedes, Bohemians, Germans, Poles, Czechs, and Russians. The oldest of seven children, she was educated at home, studied Latin with a neighbor, and read the English classics in the evening. By the time she went to the University of Nebraska in 1891–where she began by wearing boy’s clothes and cut her hair close to her head–she had decided to be a writer.
After graduation she worked for a Lincoln, Nebraska, newspaper, then moved to Pittsburgh and finally to New York City. There she joined McClure’s magazine, a popular muckraking periodical that encouraged the writing of new young authors. After meeting the author Sarah Orne Jewett, she decided to quit journalism and devote herself full time to fiction. Her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, appeared in serial form in McClure’ s in 1912. But her place in American literature was established with her first Nebraska novel, O Pioneers!, published in 1913, which was followed by her most famous pioneer novel, My Antonia, in 1918. In 1922 she won the Pulitzer Prize for one of her lesser-known books, One of Ours. Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), her masterpiece, and Shadows on the Rock (1931) also celebrated the pioneer spirit, but in the Southwest and French Canada. Her other novels include The Song of the Lark(1915), The Professor’ s House (1925), My Mortal Enemy (1926), and Lucy Gayheart (1935). Willa Cather died in 1947.
“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.” --The New York Times
"The most sensuous of writers, Willa Cather builds her imagined world as solidly as our five senses build the uiverse 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 to the Everyman's Library edition by A. S. Byatt