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It tells the story of several interrelated people who die in the collapse of an Inca rope bridge in Peru , and the events that lead up to their being on the bridge. A friar who witnesses the accident then goes about inquiring into the lives of the victims, seeking some sort of cosmic answer to the question of why each had to die.
The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in , and was the best-selling work of fiction that year. The first few pages of the first chapter explain the book's basic premise: the story centers on a fictional event that happened in Peru on the road between Lima and Cuzco , at noon on Friday, July 20, A rope bridge woven by the Inca a century earlier collapsed at that particular moment, while five people were crossing it, sending them falling from a great height to their deaths in the river below.
A deeply pious man who seeks to provide some sort of empirical evidence that might prove to the world God's Divine Providence, he sets out to interview everyone he can find who knew the five victims. Over the course of six years, he compiles a huge book of all of the evidence he gathers to show that the beginning and end of a person is all part of God's plan for that person.
Part One foretells the burning of the book that occurs at the end of the novel, but it also says that one copy of Brother Juniper's book survives and is at the library of the University of San Marco, where it now sits neglected. The daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant, the Marquesa was an ugly child who eventually entered into an arranged marriage and bore a daughter, Clara, whom she loved dearly. Clara was indifferent to her mother, though, and became engaged to a Spanish man and moved across the ocean to Spain where she married.
Pepita goes along as company and to supervise the staff. Later, she asks Pepita about the letter, and Pepita says she tore it up because the letter was not brave. She writes her "first letter" actually Letter LVI of courageous love to her daughter, but two days later, returning to Lima, she and Pepita are on the bridge of San Luis Rey when it collapses.
When they became older, they decided to be scribes. They are so close that they have developed a secret language that only they understand.
Their closeness becomes strained when Manuel falls in love with Camila Perichole, a famous actress. Perichole flirts with Manuel and swears him to secrecy when she retains him to write letters to her lover, the Viceroy. Esteban has no idea of their relationship until she turns up at the twins' room one night in a hurry and has Manuel write to a matador with whom she is having an affair.
Esteban encourages his brother to follow her, but instead Manuel swears that he will never see her again. Later, Manuel cuts his knee on a piece of metal and it becomes infected. The surgeon instructs Esteban to put cold compresses on the injury: the compresses are so painful that Manuel curses Esteban, though he later remembers nothing of his curses.
Esteban offers to send for the Perichole, but Manuel refuses. Soon after, Manuel dies. When the Abbess comes to prepare the body, she asks Esteban his name, and he says he is Manuel.
Gossip about his ensuing strange behavior spreads all over town. He goes to the theater but runs away before the Perichole can talk to him; the Abbess also tries to talk to him, but he runs away, so she sends for Captain Alvarado.
Captain Alvarado, a well-known sailor and explorer, goes to see Esteban in Cuzco and hires him to sail the world with him, far from Peru. Esteban agrees, then refuses, then acquiesces if he can get all his pay in advance to buy a present for the Abbess before he departs.
That night Esteban attempts suicide but is saved by Captain Alvarado. The Captain offers to take him back to Lima to buy the present, and at the ravine spanned by the bridge of San Luis Rey, the Captain goes down to a boat that is ferrying some materials across the water. Esteban goes to the bridge and is on it when it collapses. Uncle Pio acts as Camila Perichole's valet, and, in addition, "her singing-master, her coiffeur, her masseur, her reader, her errand-boy, her banker; rumor added: her father.
His life "became too complicated" and he fled to Peru. He came to realize that he had just three interests in the world: independence; the constant presence of beautiful women; and the masterpieces of Spanish literature, particularly those of the theater.
He finds work as the confidential agent of the Viceroy of Peru. Over the course of years, as they travel from tavern to tavern throughout Latin America, she grows into a beautiful and talented young woman. Uncle Pio instructs her in the etiquette of high society and goads her to greatness by expressing perpetual disappointment with her performances. She develops into Camila Perichole, the most honored actress in Lima.
After many years of success, the Perichole becomes bored with the stage. Through it all, Uncle Pio remains faithfully devoted to her, but as Camila ages and bears three children by the Viceroy she focuses on becoming a lady rather than an actress. She avoids Uncle Pio, and when he talks to her she tells him to not use her stage name.
When a smallpox epidemic sweeps through Lima, Camila is disfigured by it. She takes her young son Don Jaime, who suffers from convulsions, to the country. Uncle Pio sees her one night trying hopelessly to cover her pockmarked face with powder; ashamed, she refuses to ever see him again. He begs her to allow him to take her son to Lima and teach the boy as he taught her.
Despairing at the turn her life has taken, she reluctantly agrees. Uncle Pio and Jaime leave the next morning, and are the fourth and fifth people on the bridge of San Luis Rey when it collapses. Brother Juniper labors for six years on his book about the bridge collapse, talking to everyone he can find who knew the victims, trying various mathematical formulas to measure spiritual traits, with no results beyond conventionally pious generalizations.
He compiles his huge book of interviews with complete faith in God's goodness and justice, but a council pronounces his work heretical, and the book and Brother Juniper are publicly burned for their heresy. The story then shifts back in time to the day of a funeral service for those who died in the bridge collapse.
The Archbishop, the Viceroy, and Captain Alvarado are at the ceremony. A year after the accident, Camila Perichole seeks out the Abbess to ask how she can go on, having lost her son and Uncle Pio. Camila gains comfort and insight from the Abbess and, it is later revealed, becomes a helper at the Convent.
She is greatly moved by the work of the Abbess in caring for the deaf, the insane, and the dying. The novel ends with the Abbess' observation: "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.
Thornton Wilder said that the book poses the question: "Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual's own will?
However, the central idea of the work, the justification for a number of human lives that comes up as a result of the sudden collapse of a bridge, stems from friendly arguments with my father, a strict Calvinist. Strict Puritans imagine God all too easily as a petty schoolmaster who minutely weights guilt against merit, and they overlook God's ' Caritas ' which is more all-encompassing and powerful. God's love has to transcend his just retribution.
But in my novel I have left this question unanswered. As I said earlier, we can only pose the question correctly and clearly, and have faith one will ask the question in the right way. When asked if his characters were historical or imagined, Wilder replied, "The Perichole and the Viceroy are real people, under the names they had in history [a street singer named Micaela Villegas and her lover Manuel de Amat y Junyent , who was Viceroy of Peru at the time].
Most of the events were invented by me, including the fall of the bridge. Squier 's woodcut illustration of the bridge as it was in , Wilder replied: "It is best, von Hagen, that I make no comment or point of it. In , the book was rated number 37 by the editorial board of the American Modern Library on the list of the best 20th-century novels. A play for puppets and actors was based on the novel, adapted by Greg Carter and directed by Sheila Daniels:.
A play adapted by Cynthia Meier has been performed in Arizona and Connecticut. An opera by German composer Hermann Reutter was based on the novel:. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Novels portal. The New York Times. Retrieved Letter , 6 Dec. Thornton Wilder: A Life. Harper, October 16, Retrieved May 25, The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 19 March Archived from the original on Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Guthrie Jr. Thornton Wilder. Hidden categories: All articles with unsourced statements Articles with unsourced statements from May Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history.
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