Friday, March 14, 2014

The Professor's House

The Professor's House
I didn't like The Professor's House by Willa Cather as well as I liked her Death Comes for the Archbishop, but in some ways they seemed similar.
The Professor's House tells two stories: the story of Professor Godfrey St. Peter who has came to the later years of his life not quite sure how he got there and not entirely happy with where he has arrived and the story of one of his students, Tom Outland, who died in the war but has left a legacy to one of St. Peter's children. 
The tone of Outland's story is very typical of other Cather works I have read, while the St. Peter story reminded me (stylistically) of E. M. Forster. 
As a character I liked St. Peter, he is a somewhat selfish man, but has an awareness of his own faults that I felt made him sympathetic. His observations of the world around him, especially the women in his life, were insightful and seemed true. The contrast between the southwestern mesas of Outland's story and the domesticated world of the Professor's house (houses, actually) brings an interesting tension to the narrative.

A.S. Byatt has an excellent analysis of the work of Cather in her article "American Pastoral." The article includes the following quote which refers to Cather's work overall, but I think is a good summary of this novel:
"What did she write about? Acocella says "the great subject of early 20th-century literature, the gulf between the mind and the world". This is perceptive. Cather wrote about the subject of Ecclesiastes, the rising and setting of the sun, the brevity of life, the relation between dailiness and the rupture of dailiness, the moment when "desire shall fail"."

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