“The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (Post 2/2)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/2

Part IV: Uncle Pio

[43] Reference:

“That’s what one gets by hanging around a theatre and hearing nothing but the conversation of Calderon.”



Pedro Calderon de la Barca (1600 – 1681) was a dramatist, poet and writer of the Spanish Golden Age. During certain periods of his life he was also a soldier and a Roman Catholic priest. His themes tended to be complex and philosophical, and express complicated states of mind in a manner that few playwrights have been able to manage.

[44] Reference:

Lima celebrated its feast days by hearing a Mass of Tomas Luis da Victoria in the morning.


See Post 1, note [35] where Victoria was referred to as Vittoria (which he’ll be referred to as again in the next note).

[45] References:

The news finally spread abroad that he had returned with tomes of masses and motets by Palestrina, Morales and Vittoria, as well as thirty-five plays by Tirso de Molina and Ruiz de Alarcon and Moreto.



Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (~1525 – 1594) was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He had a lasting influence on the development of church music.

Tirso de Molina (1579 – 1648) was a Spanish Baroque dramatist, poet and Roman Catholic monk. He is primarily known for writing The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest, the play from which the popular character of Don Juan originates.

Juan Ruiz de Alarcon (~1581 – 1639) was a Novohispanic writer of the Golden Age who cultivated different variants of dramaturgy. His works include the comedy La verdad sospechosa, which is considered a masterpiece of Latin American Baroque theater.

[46] Reference:

The Perichole had appeared in a hundred plays of Lope de Vega.



Lope de Vega (1562 – 1635) was a Spanish playwright, poet and novelist. He was one of the key figures in the Spanish Golden Century of Baroque literature. His reputation in the world of Spanish literature is second only to that of Cervantes, while the sheer volume of his literary output is unequalled. Some 3,000 sonnets, 3 novels, 4 novellas, 9 epic poems, and about 500 plays are attributed to him.


He possessed the six attributes of the adventurer – a memory for names and faces, with the aptitude for altering his own; the gift of tongues; inexhaustible invention; secrecy; the talent for falling into conversation with strangers; and that freedom from conscience that springs from a contempt for the dozing rich he preyed upon.


[48] Reference:

He had long interviews with the Princesse des Ursins.



Marie Anne de La Temoillie, princesse des Ursins (1642 – 1722), was a French courtier and royal favorite known for her political influence, being a de facto ruler of Spain from 1701 to 1714.

[49] Reference:

[He] exhibited no care nor astonishment before the miracles of word order in Calderon and Cervantes.



Miguel de Cervantes (1547 – 1616) was a Spanish writer who is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the world’s pre-eminent novelists. His major work, Don Quixote, considered to be the first modern novel, is a classic of Western literature, and is regarded among the best works of fiction ever written.

[50] Vocabulary:

He dragged up the beach the bales of deep-red porcelain and sold the bowls to the collectors of virtu.



noun – 1. Knowledge of or expertise in the fine arts; curios of objets d’art collectively.

2. – (literary) – the good qualities inherent in a person of thing.


He was lonely, and proud in his loneliness, as though there resided a certain superiority in such a solitude.


[52] Vocabulary:

Here the Perichole would fling her face and arms upon the table amid the pomades.




noun – A greasy, waxy, or a water-based substance that is used to style hair.

[53] Reference:

A granddaughter of Vico de Barrera had arrived in Peru.


If this was a real person, I can’t find anything about him.


As her technique became sounder, Camila’s sincerity became less necessary.


[55] Vocabulary:

Don Andres de Ribera, the Viceroy of Peru, was the remnant of a delightful man, broken by the table, the alcove, a grandeeship and ten years of exile.



Grandee is an official aristocratic title conferred on some Spanish nobility, as well as Portuguese nobility and Brazilian nobility. Holders of this dignity enjoyed similar privileges to those of the peerage of France during the Ancien Regime.

[56] Reference:

Don Andres furnished her with the smart slang of El Buen Retiro.



Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid was a large palace complex built on the orders of Philip IV of Spain as a secondary residence and place of recreation (hence its name). The palace remained a royal residence until the late 18th century.


There was something in Lima that was wrapped up in yards of violet satin from which protruded a great dropsical head and two far pearly hands; and that was its Archbishop.



Some days he regarded his bulk ruefully; but the distress of remorse was less poignant than the distress of fasting.


[59] References:

He could find nothing more nourishing than the anecdotes of Brantome and the divine Aretino.



Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantome (~1540 – 1614) was a French historian, soldier, and biographer. A fall from his horse compelled him to retire into private life around 1589, and he spent his last years in writing his Memoirs of the illustrious men and women he had known.

Pietro Aretino (1492 – 1556) was an Italian author, playwright, poet, satirist and blackmailer who wielded immense influence on contemporary art and politics and invented modern literate pornography.


He had to repeat over to himself his favourite notions: that the injustice and unhappiness in the world is a constant; that the theory of progress is a delusion; that the poor, never having known happiness, are insensitive to misfortune. Like all the rich he could not bring himself to believe that the poor (look at their houses, look at their clothes) could really suffer.



He regarded love as a sort of cruel malady through which the elect are required to pass in their late youth and from which they emerge, pale and wrung, but ready for the business of living.


[62] Vocabulary:

In society she cultivated a delicate and languid magdelinism.


This word, with this spelling, appears to only be found in Bridge of San Luis Rey. A similar word, magdelenism, means “prostitution.”

I’m assuming the word comes from Mary Magdalene, who traveled with Jesus as one of his followers after he cast demons from her. From context, Wilder seems to be implying a pious but feminine (and perhaps reformed) attitude.

[63] References:

There were even saints who had been actors, – there was Saint Gelasius and Saint Genesius and Saint Margaret of Antioch and Saint Pelagia.



Pope Gelasius I (d.496; sainted) was a prolific writer whose style placed him on the cusp between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. (I can’t find reference of him being an actor.)

Genesius of Rome is a legendary Christian saint, once a comedian and actor who had performed in plays that mocked Christianity. According to legend, while performing in a play that made fun of baptism, he had an experience on stage that converted him.

Margaret the Virgin, known as Margaret of Antioch in the West, and as Saint Marina the Great Martyr in the East, is celebrated as a saint by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. Her historical existence has been questioned. (I can’t find reference to her being an actress.)

Pelagia was a legendary Christian saint and hermit in the 4th or 5th century. She was the “foremost actress” and a prominent harlot in Antioch before turning to religion.

[64] Reference:

Gambling all through the night in sums that would have raised another Escurial.



The Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a massive historical residence of the King of Spain, in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, northwest of the capital, Madrid, in Spain. It functions as a monastery, basilica, royal palace, pantheon, library, museum, university and hospital.

[65] Vocabulary:

Don Jaime, at seven years, was a rachitic little body.



noun – (pathology) – rickets; inflammation of the spine.


Like all solitary persons he had invested friendship with a divine glamour: he imagined that the people he passed on the street, laughing together and embracing when they parted, the people who dined together with so many smiles, – you will scarcely believe me, but he imagined that they were extracting from all that congeniality great store of satisfaction.


[67] Reference:

“On Corpus Christi Day they gave Belshazzar’s Feast where you were so wonderful.”



Belshazzar’s feast, or the story of the writing on the wall (chapter 5 in the Book of Daniel) tells how Belshazzar holds a great feast and drinks from the temple vessels. A hand appears and writes on the wall. The terrified Belshazzar calls for his wise men, but they are unable to read the writing. The queen advises him to send for Daniel.


“Do not try to understand either. Don’t think about me, Uncle Pio. Just forgive, that’s all. Just try to forgive.”



Like all beautiful women who have been brought up amid continual tributes to her beauty she assumed without cynicism that it must necessarily be the basis of anyone’s attachment to herself; henceforth any attention paid to her must spring from a pity full of condescension and faintly perfumed with satisfaction at so complete a reversal. This assumption that she need look for no more devotion now that her beauty had passed proceeded from the fact that she had never realized any love save love as passion.



Many who have spent a lifetime in [passion] can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday.


[71] Simple yet haunting final lines of Part 4:

Uncle Pio said that when they had crossed the bridge they would sit down and rest, but it turned out not to be necessary.


Part V: Perhaps an Intention

[72] Reference:

Under the sword of Damocles.



Damocles is a figure featured in a single moral anecdote commonly referred to as “the Sword of Damocles,” an allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power. According to the story, Damocles was pandering to Dionysius, his king. In response, Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles so that Damocles could taste that fortune firsthand. Damocles sat on the throne surrounded by every luxury, but a huge sword hung above the throne, held by a single hair of a horse’s tail. Damocles begged to be allowed to depart the throne.


There are a hundred ways of wondering at circumstance.



He was possessed of all the bitterness that Brother Juniper lacked and derived a sort of joy from the conviction that all was wrong in the world.


[75] Reference:

“Now she lies in the splendor of Monreale.”



Monreale is a town and commune in the province of Palmero in Sicily, Italy, on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking the very fertile valley called The Golden Shell.

[76] Translate:

[Brother Juniper] secretly drew up a diagram of the characteristics of fifteen victims and fifteen survivors, the statistics of their value sub specie aeternitatis. Each soul was rated upon a basis of ten as regards its goodness, its diligence in religious observance, and its importance to its family group. Here is a fragment of this ambitious chart:

GOODNESS              PIETY             USEFULNESS

Alfonso G.            4                               4                           10

Nina                       2                                5                           10

Manuel B.           10                              10                            0

Alfonso V.          -8                            -10                           10

Vera N.                  0                               10                           10


(Wilder shows some humor, intelligence, and irony here: A man who gets  a perfect score in Goodness and Piety gets a 0 in usefulness to family. Another has the opposite.)

sub specie aeternitatis

Latin: under the form of eternity.

adverb – viewed in relation to the eternal; in a universal perspective.


The discrepancy between faith and the facts is greater than is generally assumed.



“Everyone knows that in the world we do nothing but feed our wills. Why perpetuate this legend of selflessness?”



The art of biography is more difficult than is generally supposed.

Brother Juniper found that there was least to be learned from those who had been most closely associated with the subjects of his inquiry.



I shall spare you Brother Juniper’s generalizations. They are always with us. He thought he saw in the same accident the wicked visited by destruction and the good called early to Heaven.


[81] Reference:

The choir had restudied the pages that, as his farewell to music, Tomas Luis had composed for his friend and patron, the Empress of Austria.



Archduchess Maria of Austria (1528 – 1603) was the spouse of Maximilian II, Holy Emperor and King of Bohemia and Hungary. She was the patron of Tomas Luis de Victoria (Post 1, note [35]; note [44] and [45]). The great Requiem Mass he wrote in 1603 for her funeral is considered among the finest and most refined of his works.


She had accepted the fact that it was of no importance whether her work went on or not; it was enough to work.


[83] Reference:

She leaned her forehead upon her hand, following the long tender curve that the soprano lifts in the Kyrie.



Kyrie is a common name of an important prayer of Christian liturgy, also called the Kyrie eleison.

[84] Translate:

She thought of the vast ritual of the church, like a chasm into which the beloved falls, and of the storm of the dies irae where the individual is lost among the millions of the dead, features grow dim and traits fade.



Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) is a Latin hymn dating from at least the thirteenth century, though it is possible that it is much older. The poem describes the day of judgment, the last trumpet summoning souls before the throne of God, where the saved will be delivered and the unsaved cast into eternal flames. The “Dies Irae” was used in the Roman liturgy as the sequence for the Requim Mass for centuries.

[85] Translate:

“They told me that in the autos sacrementales you were a very great and beautiful actress.”



Autos sacramentales are a form of dramatic literature which is exclusive to Spain, though in some respects similar in character to the old Morality plays of England. It may be defined as a dramatic representation of the mystery of the Eucharist. They are usually allegorical, the characters representing, for example, Faith, Hope, Air, Sin, Death, etc.


But where are sufficient books to contain the events that would not have been without the fall of the bridge?



“In love our very mistakes don’t seem to be able to last long.”



“Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”


Read this book. Everyone. Re-read it. Give it as a present.

I can’t compliment Wilder enough for being able to combine cleverness with compassion. He makes this about characters while raising compelling questions and ideas and never descends into sermonizing. We are allowed to think and believe and take from it what we need to.

A rare perfect book.

Next week, let’s start the new year visiting Salem’s Lot.


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