The historical novels of Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, and countless others have been interested primarily in exploiting the dramatic potential of historical events and the significant real and fictional personalities that took part in them. These writers are concerned mostly with the visible turbulence of history. Willa Cather, I argue, does something very different in Death Comes for the Archbishop: she portrays everyday life as embodying the long past that defines a culture. Cather renders the everyday as the mass of human experience that changes slowly over time and that provides the material basis for those instances of disorder that draw our attention by their intensity. In other words, Death Comes for the Archbishop is a novel of the history of what Fernand Braudel calls “the structures of everyday life.” But, in a contradictory fashion, Cather's novel also suggests that the deep past that makes the everyday historical is exactly what disqualifies native culture from history. This is the colonial paradox that most interests me in Cather's rethinking of the historical novel: Indian culture is excluded from the alternative space that Cather opens up for the quotidian precisely because it has the same historical structure as the quotidian.
Enrique Lima; Willa Cather's Rewriting of the Historical Novel in Death Comes for the Archbishop. Novel 1 August 2013; 46 (2): 179–192. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2088094
Download citation file: