Not too long ago, Robbo mentioned reading Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. I'd never read it and probably wouldn't have appreciated it in my non-Catholic youth anyway, but when I was at the library and happened to walk past the C's on the shelf, I nabbed it, read it and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was a German literature major in college. I have an MA in it too, and yet I haven't taught my kids German and I seem to read very little literature these days that doesn't have pictures on every page. I know that Joshua and Prudence have many nice and useful parts. I've got The Big Red Barn down pat. I have been rereading some of my favorite L.M. Montgomery books lately, but I doubt they'll be on the great literature lists any time soon.
However, what I liked about Death Comes for the Archbishop was, in some ways, what I like about books Montgomery's Blue Castle or Tangled Web. They are about life and not always beautiful or perfect lives, but at the same time life is worth the living. In other words, they aren't like the German books I spent my early adulthood reading. One reason I decided not to get a PhD in German lit (besides discussions like this) was an ever growing weariness with a feeling that all great literature seemed focused on misery and death.
Sure death comes for the Archbishop in the end, but it isn't the kind of tiring, romantic death that someone like young Werther seeks. It isn't the painful, pointless, frustrating death of Gregor Samsa. If Cather had focused the story on Magdalena and her misery, the book would have seemed more like the German literature I spent so much time reading. Instead, Fr. Latour's and Fr. Vaillant's small and large sufferings seem to have a purpose and bring them through long lives to a worthy end.
I appreciated the book, because it was a good story; one I wanted to stay up late reading. It wasn't a slog to get through. Not a book I had to spend time analyzing to understand and enjoy, but one that later on, I am still thinking about.
Of course, this means that I am now back to entertaining myself with One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and need to figure out what to check out next time I'm at the library. Fun reads. Fine literature not necessary, although certainly welcome as long as it isn't on the German model. Suggestions?
5 years ago