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Old 12-21-2008, 06:55 PM   #1
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Cather, Willa: Death Comes for the Archbishop. V1. 21 Dec 2008

Willa Sibert Cather (December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947) was an American author who grew up in Nebraska. She is best known for her depictions of frontier life on the Great Plains in novels such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and The Song of the Lark.

Cather received both national and state honors. In 1973, the United States Postal Service honored Willa Cather by using her image on a postage stamp. In 1981 the US Mint created the Willa Cather medallion, a half-ounce gold coin.

Cather was elected to the Nebraska Hall of Fame. In 1986, Cather was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Her alma mater, the University of Nebraska-incoln, named residence halls after both Cather and her college friend Louise Pound. Pound had a lifelong career as professor of English at the university and was the first woman president of the Modern Language Association.

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The primary character is Bishop Jean Marie Latour, who travels alone from Cincinnati to New Mexico to take charge of the newly established diocese of New Mexico, which has only just become a territory of the United States. He is later assisted by his childhood friend Father Joseph Vaillant. The names given to the main proponents reflect their characters. Vaillant, valiant, is fearless in his promulgation of the faith, whereas Latour, the tower is more intellectual and reserved than his comrade.
At the time of his departure, Cincinnati is the end of the railway line west, so Latour must travel by riverboat to the Gulf of Mexico, and thence overland to New Mexico, a journey which takes an entire year. He spends the rest of his life establishing the Roman Catholic church in New Mexico, where he dies in old age.
The novel is notable for its portrayal of two well-meaning and devout French priests who encounter a well-entrenched Spanish-Mexican clergy they are sent to supplant when the United States acquired New Mexico and the Vatican, in turn, remapped its dioceses.
Several of these entrenched priests are depicted in classic manner as examples of greed, avarice and gluttony, while others live simple, abstemious lives among the Indians. Cather portrays the Hopi and Navajo sympathetically, and her characters express the near futility of overlaying their religion on a millennia-old native culture. Cather's vivid landscape descriptions are also memorable. A scene where a priest and his Indian guide take cover in an ancient cave during a blizzard is especially memorable for its superb portrayal of the combined forces of nature and culture.
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