Father Vaillant: A Description

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
“The Bishop carried the candles into the dining-room, where the table was laid and Father Vaillant was changing his cook’s apron for his cassock. Crimson from standing over an open fire, his rugged face was even homelier than usual—though one of the first things a stranger decided upon meeting Father Joseph was that the Lord had made few uglier men. He was short, skinny, bow-legged from a life on horseback, and his countenance had little to recommend it but kindliness and vivacity. He looked old, though he was then about forty. His skin was hardened and seamed by exposure to weather in a bitter climate, his neck scrawny and wrinkled like an old man’s. A bold, blunt-tipped nose, positive chin, a very large mouth,—the lips thick and succulent but never loose, never relaxed, always stiffened by effort or working with excitement. His hair, sunburned to the shade of dry hay, had originally been tow-coloured; “Blanchet” (“Whitey”) he was always called at the Seminary. Even his eyes were near-sighted, and of such a pale, watery blue as to be unimpressive. There was certainly nothing in his outer case to suggest the fierceness and fortitude and fire of the man, and yet even the thick-blooded Mexican half-breeds knew his quality at once. If the Bishop returned to find Santa Fé friendly to him, it was because everybody believed in Father Vaillant—homely, real, persistent, with the driving power of a dozen men in his poorly-built body.”

From Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, Vintage Classics edition, 1990, page 37.

Something to Think About
In the classic tradition, appearance was used to signify character. A hero or heroine was not only virtuous, but also handsome or beautiful, but a villain tended to be shifty-eyed, sneering, scowling, or otherwise less attractive. Why do you think Cather described Father Vaillant as she did?