The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

3.6 24
by Thornton Wilder, Sam Waterston

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This beautiful new edition features unpublished notes for the novel and other illuminating documentary material, all of which is included in a new Afterword by Tappan Wilder.  See more details below


This beautiful new edition features unpublished notes for the novel and other illuminating documentary material, all of which is included in a new Afterword by Tappan Wilder.

Editorial Reviews

New York Herald Tribune
A masterpiece
Jonathan Yardley
It is no exaggeration to say that on second reading I was completely blown away, not so much by Wilder's sensitive treatment of his central theme as by the richness and power of his prose…The Bridge of San Luis Rey deals in universals and just happens to be set in Peru. It is an entirely remarkable book, it has lost none of its pertinence in the eight decades since its publication, and I'm very glad indeed that my old friend sent me back to it.
—The Washington Post
Edmund Fuller
One of the greatest reading novels in this century's American writing...Wonderfully lucid reading.
Clifton Fadiman
A remarkably confident evocation of the secret springs of half a dozen men, women, and children...A very beautiful book. —The Nation
Library Journal
Hard to believe that Wilder slipped out of print, but it is good to have him back. These new publications are especially welcome, as along with the text, these include Wilder's notes and other scholarly material. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HighBridge Company
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4.46(w) x 1.45(h) x 7.12(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below. This bridge was on the highroad between Lima and Cuzco and hundreds of persons passed over it every day. It had been woven of osier by the Incas more than a century before and visitors to the city were always led out to see it. It was a mere ladder of thin slats swung out over the gorge, with handrails of dried vine. Horses and coaches and chairs had to go down hundreds of feet below and pass over the narrow torrent on rafts, but no one, not even the Viceroy, not even the Archbishop of Lima, had descended with the baggage rather than cross by the famous bridge of San Luis Rey. St. Louis of France himself protected it, by his name and by the little mud church on the further side. The bridge seemed to be among the things that last forever; it was unthinkable that it should break. The moment a Peruvian heard of the accident he signed himself and made a mental calculation as to how recently he had crossed by it and how soon he had intended crossing by it again. People wandered about in a trance-like state, muttering; they had the hallucination of seeing themselves falling into a gulf.

There was a great service in the Cathedral. The bodies of the victims were approximately collected and approximately separated from one another, and there was great searching of hearts in the beautiful city of Lima. Servant girls returned bracelets which they had stolen from their mistresses, and usurers harangued their wives angrily, in defense of usury. Yet it was rather strange that this event should have so impressed the Limeans, forin that country those catastrophes which lawyers shockingly call the "acts of God" were more than usually frequent. Tidal waves were continually washing away cities; earthquakes arrived every week and towers fell upon good men and women all the time. Diseases were forever flitting in and out of the provinces and old age carried away some of the most admirable citizens. That is why it was so surprising that the Peruvians should have been especially touched by the rent in the bridge of San Luis Rey.

Everyone was very deeply impressed, but only one person did anything about it, and that was Brother Juniper. By a series of coincidences so extraordinary that one almost suspects the presence of some Intention, this little red-haired Franciscan from Northern Italy happened to be in Peru converting the Indians and happened to witness the accident.

It was a very hot noon, that fatal noon, and coming around the shoulder of a hill Brother Juniper stopped to wipe his forehead and to gaze upon the screen of snowy peaks in the distance, then into the gorge below him filled with the dark plumage of green trees and green birds and traversed by its ladder of osier. Joy was in him; things were not going badly. He had opened several little abandoned churches and the Indians were crawling in to early Mass and groaning at the moment of miracle as though their hearts would break. Perhaps it was the pure air from the snows before him; perhaps it was the memory that brushed him for a moment of the poem that bade him raise his eyes to the helpful hills. At all events he felt at peace. Then his glance fell upon the bridge, and at that moment a twanging noise filled the air, as when the string of some musical instrument snaps in a disused room, and he saw the bridge divide and fling five gesticulating ants into the valley below.

Anyone else would have said to himself with secret Joy: "Within ten minutes myself...! " But it was another thought that visited Brother Juniper: "Why did this happen to those five?" If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those fives so suddenly cut off. Either we five by accident and die by accident, or we five by plan and die by plan. And on that instant Brother Juniper made the resolve to inquire into the secret lives of those five persons, that moment falling through the air, and to surprise the reason of their taking off.

It seemed to Brother Juniper that it was high time for theology to take its place among the exact sciences and he had long intended putting it there. What he had lacked hitherto was a laboratory. Oh, there had never been any lack of specimens; any number of his charges had met calamity, — spiders had stung them; their lungs had been touched; their houses had burned down and things had happened to their children from which one averts the mind. But these occasions of human woe had never been quite fit for scientific examination. They had lacked what our good savants were later to call proper control. The accident had been dependent upon human error, for example, or had contained elements of probability. But this collapse of the bridge of San Luis Rey was a sheer Act of God. It afforded a perfect laboratory. Here at last one could surprise His intentions in a pure state.

You and I can see that coming from anyone but Brother Juniper this plan would be the flower of a perfect skepticism. It resembled the effort of those presumptuous souls who wanted to walk on the pavements of Heaven and built the Tower of Babel to get there. But to our Franciscan there was no element of doubt in the experiment. He knew the answer. He merely wanted to prove it, historically, mathematically, to his converts, — poor obstinate converts, so slow to believe that their pains were inserted into their fives for their own good. People were always asking for good sound proofs; doubt springs eternal in the human breast, even in countries where the Inquisition can read your very thoughts in your eyes.

This was not the first time that Brother Juniper had tried to resort to such methods. Often on the long trips he had to make (scurrying from parish to parish, his robe tucked up about his knees, for haste) he would fall to dreaming of experiments that justify the ways of God to man. For instance, a complete record of the Prayers for Rain and their results. Often he had stood on the steps of one of his little churches, his flock kneeling before him on the baked street. Often he had stretched his arms to the...

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What People are saying about this

Clifton Fadiman
"A remarkably confident evocation of the secret springs of half a dozen men, women, and children...A very beautiful book."
Edmund Fuller
"One of the greatest reading novels in this century's American writing...Wonderfully lucid reading."

Meet the Author

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) was an accomplished novelist and playwright whose works, exploring the connection between the commonplace and cosmic dimensions of human experience, continue to be read and produced around the world. His Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of seven novels, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928, as did two of his four full-length dramas, Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943). Wilder's The Matchmaker was adapted as the musical Hello, Dolly!. He also enjoyed enormous success with many other forms of the written and spoken word, among them teaching, acting, the opera, and films. (His screenplay for Hitchcock's Shadow of Doubt [1943] remains a classic psycho-thriller to this day.) Wilder's many honors include the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Book Committee's Medal for Literature.

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Bridge of San Luis Rey 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
-justmyopinion- More than 1 year ago
I recently found that this is our next years Big Read book. I wanted to be ahead of the game and read it in 2 days. It is something that I would not normally read. It's a story set back in the 1600's in South America. The footbridge fell, sending 5 people to their death. A monk witnessed it, and decided to find out about the 5 people who were on that bridge. Was it divine intervention or fate? This book tells about each of those people and the events that led up to them being on that bridge when it collapsed. For me, it was a challenge to read at first. Once I got past that first character, I couldn't put the book down until it was finished.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is horrible, it talks about random things that make absolutely no sense. Do not waste your time
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read Wilder in high school during the 60s and found its motifs captivating. Throughout life I have given the book as a gift for those that examine life on a deeper level - a very postmodern examination before Wilder's time. Now, as a professor in psychology, the examination of human experience by Wilder gives case studies for people to examine some of the deepest concepts in modern psychology. Still a favorite and reading this edition is like walking into the Kingdom and gaining a glimpse of Wilder while thinking out the bridge's interaction with a select group of travelers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very slow moving, but captivating towards the end. Because of the length, it allows for an easy read. Good beach book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Please do not think that this book is simply about a bridge. The bridge is nothing more than a link, a wampeter, as Vonnegut would say. The books details the lives of extraordinarily interesting individuals until they all share their demise on the the bridge of San Luis Rey. It also sneaks in deep religious question. These questions are the purpose of critiquing the fall of the bridge, and the victims, if you would refer to them as such. A good book to read casually, a good book to read anyway.
Anonymous 18 days ago
She gets out of the car and walks up the steps. She unlocks the door and holds it open for Sasuke. "Come on in." She smiles.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Has no more meaning than any other it is the human fate to die. The arabs call this kismet you can not ecape it it is neither punishnent or reward and beyobd human comperhension. The usual form of the novel will concentrate on who survived a disaster or isolate a group in danger whuch akways makes a good movie if you dont kill off the star though the killee may win best supporting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Personally, I didn't really get the story, and it seemed way too confusing. There were too many side stories, with pretty much nothing in common besides their fateful end. Not worth the time.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
What a beautiful book. The plot is deceptively simple, but with a bit of careful attention layer upon layer falls away to reveal new twists and connections. The author's style is simple and clear a real pleasure to the mind. Every other page contains a pithy quote, yet the flow never stumbles or stiffens. As I said: a beautiful book, and one worth devoting some time to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There was a old movie with the same title which was made in the 1940's I believe. Is this the same story? I remember seeing the movie as a little girl.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Bridge of San Luis Rey was a good novel to read and I enjoyed it. There are some parts of the book that makes you want to keep reading it and there are parts of the book where its gets boring. Another thing is that if you dont really pay attention to some parts you may not understand the rest of the chapter or you might get confused. Other than that it was a good book to read!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a good book. I especially like the way the people's lives were told. You get to see how different people lived and try to make a connection to why they were chosen to die. To me, some of their lives were uninteresting which made the book seem a little boring.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A short, concise, spare book accounting the lives of people who die together when a bridge collapses. Investigating the nature and patterns of love, fate and happenstance, religion and science, Peruvian theatre, mother/daughter, brother/brother, mentor/protege relationships, and more. All in a mere 150 or so slight pages. A mediation on life. Well meaning, with many gorgeous passages and pared down to the bare essentials.