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DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole

Please use this thread for discussion of Chapter 9 and the novel Death Comes for the Archbishop as a whole.  This is a SPOILERS WELCOME thread.
Melissa W.
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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole

St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe.

 

Includes information about Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, the historic figure on whom Father Latour is based.

 

I do not consider these "spoilers" per se, but in deference to those particularly sensitive to that possibility, I post here.

 

Jean Baptiste Lamy -- biographical information

 

Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy  --  other biographical information (accuracy?)

 

Pope Pius IX -- I found nothing in this biographical sketch that relates directly to New Mexico, but there is this passage:  "He had a difficult pontificate, but precisely because of that he was a great Pope, certainly one of the greatest."

 

There is a link to the homily at his canonization in 2000.

 

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole

[ Edited ]

Beautiful altar screen P!  The people who went evangelising in these remote places were certainly driven men.  I am not sure whether I admire them or not as I think the native religions were just as good and gave just as much solace.  I admire their hardiness though and their ability to live in such a harsh environment.  (Could they have done it without native servants I wonder.....) 

 

I always feel quite angry when I see these beautiful and expensively furnished edifices in the midst of great poverty:smileysad:  I remember going to Eire (S.Ireland) just after the war when I saw real poverty for the first time but everywhere, even in small villages, there were  churches fulll of gold plate, studded with precious stones.  I felt like stealing them and giving them to the poor!

 

 

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-08-2009 09:59 AM
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Re: Eugenics?

There were two descriptions which struck me as being influenced by Eugenics and Phrenology, which were fashionable at the time this novel was written. See, for instance, descriptions of Mexicans and Negros here

 

In the chapter The Lonely Road to Mora, an abusive husband is described:-

 

'He was a tall, gaunt and ill-formed, with a snake-like neck, terminating in a small bony head. Under his close-clipped hair this repellent head showed a number of thick ridges as if the skull joinings were overgrown by layers of superfluous bone.  With its small, rudimentary ears, this head had a positively malignant look. the man seemed not more than half human....'

 

Later, in the chaper The Old Order, the priest of Taos is described as having a 'full-cheeked, richly coloured, egg-shaped Spanish face - how vividly the Bishop remembered that face...a high, narrow forehead, brilliant yellow eyes set deep in strong arches, and full, florid cheeks, - not blank areas of smooth flesh, as in Anglo Saxon faces, but full of muscular activity, as quick to change with feeling as any of his features. His mouth was the very assertion of violent, uncurbed passions and tyrannical self-will; the full lips thrust out and taut, like the flesh of animals distended by fear or desire.'

 

 

Did anyone else pick up similar descriptions and is anything known about Cather's being interested in Eugenics? 

 

 

 

 

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Laurel
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Re: Eugenics?

Those descriptions struck me, too, and I thought immediately of phrenology. I don't see that that is necessarily connected to eugenics, though. I'm noticing phrenological references in Dickens's Little Dorrit, too. That just semed to be the pop science of that day.

 

Some of the early feminists were interested in eugenics, so possibly Cather was, if she indeed was a feminist (or if not).


Choisya wrote:

There were two descriptions which struck me as being influenced by Eugenics and Phrenology, which were fashionable at the time this novel was written. See, for instance, descriptions of Mexicans and Negros here

 

In the chapter The Lonely Road to Mora, an abusive husband is described:-

 

'He was a tall, gaunt and ill-formed, with a snake-like neck, terminating in a small bony head. Under his close-clipped hair this repellent head showed a number of thick ridges as if the skull joinings were overgrown by layers of superfluous bone.  With its small, rudimentary ears, this head had a positively malignant look. the man seemed not more than half human....'

 

Later, in the chaper The Old Order, the priest of Taos is described as having a 'full-cheeked, richly coloured, egg-shaped Spanish face - how vividly the Bishop remembered that face...a high, narrow forehead, brilliant yellow eyes set deep in strong arches, and full, florid cheeks, - not blank areas of smooth flesh, as in Anglo Saxon faces, but full of muscular activity, as quick to change with feeling as any of his features. His mouth was the very assertion of violent, uncurbed passions and tyrannical self-will; the full lips thrust out and taut, like the flesh of animals distended by fear or desire.'

 

 

Did anyone else pick up similar descriptions and is anything known about Cather's being interested in Eugenics? 

 

 

 

 


 

"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: Eugenics?

I can't seem to find any references to Cather's interest, or disinterest, in either eugenics or phrenology in the biographical information online.  The US had a massive eugenics movement during Cather's lifetime, so it is likely that she at least knew of the movement.


Choisya wrote:

There were two descriptions which struck me as being influenced by Eugenics and Phrenology, which were fashionable at the time this novel was written. See, for instance, descriptions of Mexicans and Negros here

 

In the chapter The Lonely Road to Mora, an abusive husband is described:-

 

'He was a tall, gaunt and ill-formed, with a snake-like neck, terminating in a small bony head. Under his close-clipped hair this repellent head showed a number of thick ridges as if the skull joinings were overgrown by layers of superfluous bone.  With its small, rudimentary ears, this head had a positively malignant look. the man seemed not more than half human....'

 

Later, in the chaper The Old Order, the priest of Taos is described as having a 'full-cheeked, richly coloured, egg-shaped Spanish face - how vividly the Bishop remembered that face...a high, narrow forehead, brilliant yellow eyes set deep in strong arches, and full, florid cheeks, - not blank areas of smooth flesh, as in Anglo Saxon faces, but full of muscular activity, as quick to change with feeling as any of his features. His mouth was the very assertion of violent, uncurbed passions and tyrannical self-will; the full lips thrust out and taut, like the flesh of animals distended by fear or desire.'

 

 

Did anyone else pick up similar descriptions and is anything known about Cather's being interested in Eugenics? 

 

 

 

 


 

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Re: Eugenics?


Choisya wrote:

There were two descriptions which struck me as being influenced by Eugenics and Phrenology, which were fashionable at the time this novel was written. See, for instance, descriptions of Mexicans and Negros here

 

In the chapter The Lonely Road to Mora, an abusive husband is described:-

 

'He was a tall, gaunt and ill-formed, with a snake-like neck, terminating in a small bony head. Under his close-clipped hair this repellent head showed a number of thick ridges as if the skull joinings were overgrown by layers of superfluous bone.  With its small, rudimentary ears, this head had a positively malignant look. the man seemed not more than half human....'


Because this book is religious in theme and story line, this passage made me think of a serpent, evil, and the Devil.

 

Laura

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Laurel
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Re: Eugenics?

i had the same creepy thought, Laura.

Fozzie wrote:

Choisya wrote:

There were two descriptions which struck me as being influenced by Eugenics and Phrenology, which were fashionable at the time this novel was written. See, for instance, descriptions of Mexicans and Negros here

 

In the chapter The Lonely Road to Mora, an abusive husband is described:-

 

'He was a tall, gaunt and ill-formed, with a snake-like neck, terminating in a small bony head. Under his close-clipped hair this repellent head showed a number of thick ridges as if the skull joinings were overgrown by layers of superfluous bone.  With its small, rudimentary ears, this head had a positively malignant look. the man seemed not more than half human....'


Because this book is religious in theme and story line, this passage made me think of a serpent, evil, and the Devil.

 


 

"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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A change in narrator point of view, compared to other work

Choisya's post about eugenics and race got me thinking....

 

For those of us who've read some of Cather's other work, do you feel that the "narrator" of Death Comes for the Archbishop has a somewhat biased stance toward non-white peoples as compared to other novels?  I've read O,Pioneers and My Antonia and I get a far more "we're all in it together" and "help others as best you can" view than I do in this novel.

 

I really haven't found any instance of Cather converting or embracing Catholicism, either (she was raised Episcopalian); I haven't really thought about this much but it's been bouncing around in the back of my head.

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Re: Eugenics?

Yes, phrenology became a pseudo-science in Dicken's time but later when eugenics became fashionable they became linked.  Eugenics arose through misinterpretation of Darwin's theories about natural selection and his cousin Galton became very prominent in the US movement. 

 

 

 


Laurel wrote:

Those descriptions struck me, too, and I thought immediately of phrenology. I don't see that that is necessarily connected to eugenics, though. I'm noticing phrenological references in Dickens's Little Dorrit, too. That just semed to be the pop science of that day.

 

Some of the early feminists were interested in eugenics, so possibly Cather was, if she indeed was a feminist (or if not).


Choisya wrote:

There were two descriptions which struck me as being influenced by Eugenics and Phrenology, which were fashionable at the time this novel was written. See, for instance, descriptions of Mexicans and Negros here

 

In the chapter The Lonely Road to Mora, an abusive husband is described:-

 

'He was a tall, gaunt and ill-formed, with a snake-like neck, terminating in a small bony head. Under his close-clipped hair this repellent head showed a number of thick ridges as if the skull joinings were overgrown by layers of superfluous bone.  With its small, rudimentary ears, this head had a positively malignant look. the man seemed not more than half human....'

 

Later, in the chaper The Old Order, the priest of Taos is described as having a 'full-cheeked, richly coloured, egg-shaped Spanish face - how vividly the Bishop remembered that face...a high, narrow forehead, brilliant yellow eyes set deep in strong arches, and full, florid cheeks, - not blank areas of smooth flesh, as in Anglo Saxon faces, but full of muscular activity, as quick to change with feeling as any of his features. His mouth was the very assertion of violent, uncurbed passions and tyrannical self-will; the full lips thrust out and taut, like the flesh of animals distended by fear or desire.'

 

 

Did anyone else pick up similar descriptions and is anything known about Cather's being interested in Eugenics? 

 

 

 

 


 


 

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Re: A change in narrator point of view, compared to other work

I have seen a reference to the fact that she did not convert to catholicism but that she was fairly religious.  She was commended for her insight into catholicism in DCFTA and this insight led folks to think that she was catholic.  I also read somewhere that she was accused of racism when My Antonia came out but I guess she was no more racist thant many people around her at that time.  This review of the literary critcism surrounding Cather's work is interesting and mentions how she was linked to both catholicism and racism. 

 

 

 


pedsphleb wrote:

Choisya's post about eugenics and race got me thinking....

 

For those of us who've read some of Cather's other work, do you feel that the "narrator" of Death Comes for the Archbishop has a somewhat biased stance toward non-white peoples as compared to other novels?  I've read O,Pioneers and My Antonia and I get a far more "we're all in it together" and "help others as best you can" view than I do in this novel.

 

I really haven't found any instance of Cather converting or embracing Catholicism, either (she was raised Episcopalian); I haven't really thought about this much but it's been bouncing around in the back of my head.


 

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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole

A summary of the novel, its characters, and themes, at well as list of resources:

 

 

http://kclibrary.lonestar.edu/deatharchbishop.htm

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole

This book review is written by a New Mexican,  who says it is ethnocentric, racist and anti-Hispanic.
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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole


Choisya wrote:
This book review is written by a New Mexican,  who says it is ethnocentric, racist and anti-Hispanic.

Ouch!  That's a tough review.  I'm going to have to think about whether I agree or not.

 

I don't believe I reacted to the characters in the book along the lines of race, ethnicity, or being (or not being) Hispanic.

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole

Hmmm, he's not terribly far off the mark (it is told, essentially, through eyes that are sypathetic to European Catholic viewpoints) but the review is harsher than I think deserved.


Choisya wrote:
This book review is written by a New Mexican,  who says it is ethnocentric, racist and anti-Hispanic.


 

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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole

Yes I agree it is rather harsh although Cather has been commended for her insight into the roman catholic viewpoint and I suppose that if you are a descendant of Pueblo Indians with an entirely different set of beliefs, you would not be so sympathetic.  As I think I commented somewhere else, I do not have much sympathy for evangelical missionaries who descend upon other cultures who seem to me to have perfectly acceptable gods of their own in the first place.  I feel much the same way towards Jehovah Witnesses who turn up on my doorstep:smileyhappy:.

 

In general, I think we have more respect for other cultures these days and adopt a more 'live and let live' approach to religion, which was not the case in Cather's day.       

 

 

 


pedsphleb wrote:

Hmmm, he's not terribly far off the mark (it is told, essentially, through eyes that are sypathetic to European Catholic viewpoints) but the review is harsher than I think deserved.


Choisya wrote:
This book review is written by a New Mexican,  who says it is ethnocentric, racist and anti-Hispanic.


 


 

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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole

"Cather at her most matter-of-fact and, as a consequence, her most powerful. She based this book on the life of Bishop Jean Baptiste L'Amy—she calls him Father Latour—the French-born Ohio cleric who was assigned by the church to rebuild the faith in New Mexico after the territory was annexed by the U.S. in 1831. With an old friend, Father Vaillant, Latour sets out for Santa Fe. He will find the church there to be fragmented and corrupt, with priests taking wives and charging exorbitant fees to perform marriages. Latour embarks on a decades-long effort to reform and reinvigorate the diocese. The style and structure of this book are strange, unemphatic, as if Cather had simply laid the scenes side by side in a tapestry. She compared the book to a legend, in which no event is given much dramatic weight. If this sounds like a formula for boredom, it's not. Her serene language, with its immemorial simplicity, gives the story a weight mere drama could never provide.—R.L."

 

From Time 100 Novels

 

Bold added.

"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole

". . . as if Cather had simply laid the scenes side by side in a tapestry."
 
Good description. I kept thinking of a huge landscape painting.

Peppermill wrote:

"Cather at her most matter-of-fact and, as a consequence, her most powerful. She based this book on the life of Bishop Jean Baptiste L'Amy—she calls him Father Latour—the French-born Ohio cleric who was assigned by the church to rebuild the faith in New Mexico after the territory was annexed by the U.S. in 1831. With an old friend, Father Vaillant, Latour sets out for Santa Fe. He will find the church there to be fragmented and corrupt, with priests taking wives and charging exorbitant fees to perform marriages. Latour embarks on a decades-long effort to reform and reinvigorate the diocese. The style and structure of this book are strange, unemphatic, as if Cather had simply laid the scenes side by side in a tapestry. She compared the book to a legend, in which no event is given much dramatic weight. If this sounds like a formula for boredom, it's not. Her serene language, with its immemorial simplicity, gives the story a weight mere drama could never provide.—R.L."

 

From Time 100 Novels

 

Bold added.


 

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Re: A change in narrator point of view, compared to other work


pedsphleb wrote:

For those of us who've read some of Cather's other work, do you feel that the "narrator" of Death Comes for the Archbishop has a somewhat biased stance toward non-white peoples as compared to other novels?  I've read O,Pioneers and My Antonia and I get a far more "we're all in it together" and "help others as best you can" view than I do in this novel.


I don't remember overt bias in O, Pioneers or My Antonia.  In DCFTA, I can recall biased statements about both whites and Hispanics.  However, I took all in stride as part of the feelings of the times. 

Laura

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Re: DCFTA: Week 4, Chapter 9 and the Novel as a Whole


Peppermill wrote:

"...The style and structure of this book are strange, unemphatic, as if Cather had simply laid the scenes side by side in a tapestry. She compared the book to a legend, in which no event is given much dramatic weight. If this sounds like a formula for boredom, it's not. Her serene language, with its immemorial simplicity, gives the story a weight mere drama could never provide.—R.L."

 

From Time 100 Novels

 

Bold added.


I was taken completely by surprise by the style of the book.  To me, the book read as a series of interconnected short stories, much like several modern books I have read in the past couple of years.  However, not knowing or expecting this going into the book caused me to spend more time thinking about the style of the book than I would have liked.  I did enjoy the book though.

Laura

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.