‘The Professor’s House’ – Willa Cather
On the eve of his move to a new, more desirable residence, Professor Godfrey St Peter finds himself in the shabby study of his former home. Surrounded by the comforting, familiar sights of his past, he surveys his life and the people he has loved—his wife Lillian, his daughters, and Tom Outland, his most outstanding student and once, his son-in-law to be. Enigmatic and courageous—and a tragic victim of the Great War—Tom has remained a source of inspiration to the professor. But he has also left behind him a troubling legacy which has brought betrayal and fracture to the women he loves most.
Set after the First World War, this American novel follows Professor St Peter (yes, that is his name) who is resisting moving from his old house to a new build. Preferring his dingy yet comfortable study in the old house, the Professor cannot see why anyone would want to give up this comfortable space. The novel follows the Professor and his family, along with the ghost of Tom Outland. He died in the war and and left his then fiancée, one of St Peter’s daughters, a hefty sum of money. This creates a wedge between his two daughters and the entire story is haunted by the genuine warmth that Tom brought to the family.
The story is divided into three sections and the middle part tells us more about Tom Outland. Whilst it was interesting to read about Tom’s love for the treasures he discovers while out West, I found this section the most tedious. I understood the principles that Cather was referring to, but found the surrounding sections about the Professor and his family more of an absorbing read. I only wish that Cather had elaborated more on Tom’s discovery that led to him being so wealthy, and feel that I might have understood his character a bit more as a consequence.
I felt sorry for St Peter and how tiresome he feels towards life. Whilst his wife and family are off gallivanting in Paris, he is left, quite content, at home. When readers rejoin the Professor after Tom’s story, he is suddenly very tired of life around him and I felt so sorry for him that the rest of his family were not nearby. It is clear he held Tom in his highest regards and think that if given the opportunity he would do anything to spend some more time with his close friend.
I enjoyed reading this but don’t think I would read it again. The middle section was not as enjoyable as the rest of the story but I did find it clever how Cather made the Professor and Tom appear quite wistful in their ideals.