Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

Five People Fall Off a Bridge

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder, begins at the end of the story.  Five people fall to their deaths when the old Inca plank bridge they are walking on breaks.  Each of the five is very different, yet connected.

The event leads a monk, Brother Juniper, who witnessed it to ponder- “Why did this happen to these five?” and attempt to recount their history and tally up the spiritual “worth” of each.  What follows is a history of the five.

Wilder’s gift for description is extraordinary.  His depiction of the local archbishop alone is priceless, and so good that I have to quote nearly the whole of it;

“He loved his cathedral; he loved his duties; he was very devout.  Some days he regarded his bulk ruefully; but the distress of remorse was less poignant than the distress of fasting and he presently found deliberating over the secret messages that a certain roast sends to a certain salad that will follow it.  And to punish himself he led an exemplary life in every other respect.  He read all of the literature of antiquity and forgotten all about it except a general aroma of charm and disillusion.  He had been learned in the Fathers and the Councils and forgotten all about them save a floating impression of dissension that had no application to Peru.  He had read all of the libertine masterpieces of Italy and France and reread them annually…”

Wilder lets the reader get to know the five, their individual stories, and showing how they were connected to one another and to the community.  He never answers the question posited by Brother Juniper- because the question is not really meant to be answered at all.  The book has larger themes of fate and the questions asked by humanity to itself and to the nature of existence.  I could go on, but it is better to just read it.

2 Thoughts on “Five People Fall Off a Bridge

  1. I loved the descriptions of the archbishop too.

    Here’s my review …

  2. Great review! I think this is one I’d really enjoy, thanks for including that quote!

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