In the early 20 th century, architects were preoccupied with the idea that buildings could grow organically from their sites, their forms taking cues from where they were built. But Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishopprominently features a building project at radical odds with this idea. Surveying the desert of the American Southwest, Jean-Marie Latour remarks, “I wish to leave nothing to chance, or to the mercy of American builders….Our own Midi Romanesque is the right style for this country.” Latour’s choice is partly a matter of verisimilitude. Jean Baptiste Lamy, the inspiration for Latour, indeed built the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in a style imported from France. But this paper reads Cather’s novel alongside contemporary architectural writing to argue that there is more to Latour’s insistence on Midi Romanesque. I argue that architectural style becomes a key idiom for examining European legacies in the American West and that reading architectural style in literary texts offers fresh purchase on much broader questions of genre and regionalism.
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