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#3060: Willa Cather to Marie-Christine Carel, February 2, 1939

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Dear Mlle. Carel1:

First as to the title: When Madame Franklin-Grout22 read the book in English at Aix-les-Bains23, six months before her death, she wrote me: "In French the title must be LA MORT ET L'ARCHEVEQUE". I feel sure that her wide experience as the literary executrix of her uncle, Gustave Flaubert24, would give any title selected by her convincing authority. It seems to me the best possible title for a French version of the book.

(1) The last division of the story25, Part IX, should repeat the title of the book, and should be LA MORT ET L'ARCHEVEQUE. There is a definite reason for the repetition; furthermore, there is something rather sentimental and commonplace about L'APPEL DE LA MORT26, is there not? I have often noticed that expression in the death notices of provincial towns in France27.

(2) It is necessary to distinguish always between Mexico28 and New Mexico. Mexico is a foreign country, with its own government. New Mexico29 is one of the States in the United States30. How and when it became a part of the United States is explained in the Prologue of this book.

(3) There are two races living in New Mexico; the Indians, and the Spanish-speaking people whose ancestors came up from Old Mexico long ago. (The two races have remained distinct, - have not blended.) The word indigene cannot be applied indiscriminately to both. When the text speaks of a Mexican or an Indian, the translation would be much clearer if you used those words. Indigene is vague and confusing.

(4) Please use the word adobe throughout the text: terre battue would describe only the floors of adobe houses.

(5) Please use all the foreign words as they occur in the text, simply putting them in italic, not in quotation marks. Meérimeée31 does this in all his stories of foreign countries; Corsica32, Spain33, Lithuania34. He gives a French translation of these local words, even of whole sentences, in a footnote at the bottom of the page. I am taking the liberty of sending you an Italian translation5 of this book in which Merimee's method is successfully used. The notes are brief, inconspicuous, and give the Italian reader some conception of what these local words mean. It is impossible to translate mesa, pueblo, hogan, arroyo, etc., into French or Italian, because these things are native to New Mexico and Arizona35 and are not to be found elsewhere.

(6) Perhaps you are wondering why I am so much concerned about the characteristics of the country itself, of the American Southwest. In this book the country is the protagonist of the story. The surface of the earth, its deserts, mesas, arroyos, formed the chief difficulty against which the missionary priests had to struggle. The long passages describing the country are not "landscape painting" or ornamental writing. They merely state the perplexing realities which confronted these two priests every day. I have spent much time in the Southwest36, and have ridden on horseback over many of the roads and trails over which Archbishop Lamy37 and Father Machebeuf38 travelled. I have spent some time in all the Indian villages and little Mexican settlements mentioned in the story.

(7) If the surface of the earth and the great distances were the greatest difficulty these two priests had to face, they had other difficulties as well. (a) The strange religion of the Indians, as it existed at Acoma39 and Santo Domingo40; half Catholic, half nature worship. (b) The corruption of the New Mexican Catholic Church under such priests as Padre Gallegoa41 and Padre Martinez42.

I am writing a new book43 and cannot now spare the time to examine throughout the translation you send me, but through pages 40 to 90 I have made suggestions and corrections which I think very important. If you are interested in making a thoroughly good translation, you, like the two priests, must courageously face the geographical and geological difficulties. Such a translation is possible: it has been brilliantly done in Swedish7, and I think well done in the Italian version which I am sending you. I am attaching to this letter a printed statement regarding the sources from which I worked.

These explanations, the Italian version, and the corrections on pages 40 to 90, may give you a little enthusiasm for the country, and make clear to you some things which are now vague.

Very sincerely yours,

Note: I understand that a translation of the book19 by Fordiította Boldizsaár Ivaán20 was to have been published a year ago by Franklin-Taársulat Kiadaása – Budapest21.