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The Professor's House by Willa Cather
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The Professor's House (1925)

by Willa Cather

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1,272256,200 (3.75)169
Recently added byprivate library, Eileeeen, KimiJo5468, varwenea, EmilyD1037, pammosk, ShyPageSniffer, AmieB7, akmbloom
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    The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (2below)
    2below: These are both poignant stories about the disruption and disorder that results from not being where we want to be in life and living in denial of that sad truth.
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What happens when a house is much more than a house, triggering feelings and a longing that a newer, more modern house cannot replace? Even more, these feelings remind one of an old self that had been lost and a price to be paid if one should keep this restored self.

In “The Professor’s House”, Professor Godfrey St. Peter has reached a new success with his Spanish history books, resulting in a new comfortable house with all the modern conveniences – in which he is reluctant to work and live. Though his family is lovely, wife and two well-married daughters, it is the deceased Tom Outland who occupies his thoughts. Tom was the Professor’s best student, confidante, and ex-almost-son-in-law, who had died young; Tom’s imprint is evident by, "Just when the morning brightness of the world was wearing off for him, along came Outland and brought him a kind of second youth." In a complex and sometimes circumferential manner, we learn Professor’s hesitation with the direction of his life despite how it looks storied and accomplished.

I am highly conflicted on whether I like or would recommend this book. A couple of dislikes: The book alluded to at least one twist that never materialized. Even the Professor’s own melancholy was circumferential and easily more of a not-old-enough yet too stubborn man of 52. It would be more interesting if he just had an affair, rather than pining for a life not lived. But I still like Willa’s writing – the descriptiveness and the character relationships. I found myself drawn to Roddy Blake, Tom’s friend, whom Tom dismissed for an honest, well-intentioned mistake. My emotions raised, feeling his hurt, and angry at Tom’s treatment of his first real and only friend. (Does Tom really understand what he did??) Any book that stirs emotions have got to be worth something, right?

Some quotes:

On fortunes and rewards (from the wealth generated by commercializing Tom’s patent):
“If Outland were here to-night, he might say with Mark Antony, My fortunes have corrupted honest men.”
And
“…He had made something new in the world – and the rewards, the meaningless conventional gestures, he had left to others.”

On shopping – I laughed:
“…Too much is certainly worse than too little – of anything. It turned out to be rather an orgy of acquisition… She was like Napoleon looting the Italian palaces.”

On pretentiousness – gawd, I have met a few of these in my days:
“...I was amazed and ashamed that a man of fifty, a man of the world, a scholar with ever so many degrees, should find it worth his while to show off before a boy, and a boy of such humble pretensions, who didn’t know how to eat the hors d’oevres any more than if an assortment of cocoanuts had been set before his with no hammer.”

On office jobs – this hits home in the modern world:
“…How it did use to depress me to see all the hundreds of clerks come pouring out of that big building at sunset! Their lives seemed to me so petty, so slavish…”
And
“…I left Washington at last, wiser than I came. I had no plans, I wanted nothing but to get back to the mesa and live a free life and breathe free air, and never, never again to see hundreds of little black-coated men pouring out of white buildings. Queer, how much more depressing they are than workmen coming out of a factory.”

On life and death – I can relate:
“He did not regret his life, but he was indifferent to it.”
And
“But now he thought of eternal solitude with gratefulness; as a release from every obligation, from every form of effort. It was the Truth.” ( )
1 vote varwenea | Jan 31, 2016 |
Godfrey St. Peter, by all accounts, is doing well. He is a professor of history with a distinguished publishing record, a beautiful wife, two married daughters one of whom has become surprisingly wealthy, and over the years he has had a few pleasant colleagues, a handful of good students, and one very important, even transformative, relationship with a student, protege, and later fiance to his oldest daughter. Unfortunately, Tom Outland then went off to do what he could in the First World War and died there, leaving all his worldly possessions, including a patent on a gas that would become very lucrative, to St. Peter’s daughter. At the opening of the novel, Godfrey and his wife are in the process of moving into a new house that he has built with money his multi-volume historical work on Spanish adventurers has won. But Godfrey is uncomfortable in his new house and wants to keep his pokey study in the old house that they rented. The truth is that Godfrey is uncomfortable in his own skin, and like his former protege, he would like to shed it.

The novel follows Godfrey over the course of a year with one extended intermission telling the story of Tom prior to his arrival in the university town of Hamilton. It is utterly fascinating. Characters step forward and recede without a later nod. St. Peter’s daughters and their spouses reveal admirable and not so admirable facets of character but without apparent purpose. Indeed, all are merely window dressing for the existential crisis that Godfrey is about to undergo.

I’m astounded by the surety of Cather’s writing and the fact that every novel of hers that I read seems to be a new departure. As is the case with all challenging novelists who challenge themselves. Well worth reading, pondering, and then reading again. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Dec 30, 2015 |
  living2read | May 12, 2015 |
  books4micks | May 12, 2015 |
A quiet novel, but somehow a compelling one. The descriptions are beautiful but never overwrought or cliche. The characters are human, by turns delightful and flawed. ( )
  brleach | Jan 26, 2015 |
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Epigraph

A turquoise set in silver, wasn't it?. . . Yes, a turquoise set in dull silver."
-Louie Marsellus
Dedication
First words
The moving was over and done.
Quotations
That night, after he was in bed, St. Peter tried in vain to justify himself in his inevitable refusal. He liked Paris, and he liked Louie. But one couldn't do one's own things in another person's way; selfish or not, that was the truth.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Godfrey St Peter, a professor in a Mid-western American university is a scholarly, compassionate man who finds the tranquil and ordered life of his middle years threatened by worldy success. His family have now abandoned the shabby but beloved house where he has done his greatest work. But he cannot, and in its attic study through one long summer he reflects upon his life and the people he has loved:Lillian, his charming, elegant wife; his two daughters - Rosamond, beautiful but pretentious, Kathleen, sympathetic but lost. Most of all he remembers Tom Outland, the brilliant young pioneer whose discoveries have revolutionised their lives; whose greatness inspired renewal and passionate love but whose legacy is corruption - and betrayal. This haunting novel examines human love and human isolation in all its manifestations, expressing, without rancour, the inevitable anguish of ideals destroyed, love extinguished. A parable which records the decline and fall of her own heroic tradition, this is Willa Cather's most fascinating and beautiful work of fiction.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679731806, Paperback)

A study in emotional dislocation and renewal--Professor Godfrey St. Peter, a man in his 50's, has achieved what would seem to be remarkable success. When called on to move to a more comfortable home, something in him rebels.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:11 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The professor's house was published in 1925, when she was fifty-two. At the time she was an author with a worldwide reputation, having won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for One of ours. Reaching the top of her profession had produced a letdown, and she later wrote that around the time she won the Pulitzer she had felt that for her the world had broken in two. The situation of the professor in this novel reflects the troubled time in Cather's own life. Behind this story of Godfrey St. Peter, a man who, despite his successes, has at mid-career experienced a profound disappointment with life, is the fierce story of how he decides to continue living despite his disappointment. Sandwiched between St. Peter's stories is the thrilling tale of his one brilliant student, Tom Outland, who discovers the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. Profound and disturbing, The professor's house has taken its place as one of its author's most important works.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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