Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Professor's House

Willa Cather
The Professor's House - $4.65
Published in 1925

Willa Cather was a Pulitzer Prize winning American writer. She was a very confident writer, working for years on novels to produce a very specific voice. She did not fit in with other women writers of her time and is said to have “regarded most women writers with disdain, judging them overly sentimental and mawkish.” She is now recognized as a major American writer and the foremost woman writer.

In undergrad, I had the pleasure of taking a Willa Cather course with a renowned Cather Scholar Dr. Margaret Doane. Dr. Doane has published over 60 articles and papers dealing with many themes in various Cather novels. We read several novels by Willa Cather and The Professor’s House was the one that made the most impact on me.

The novel is split into three parts. The first concerns the family of Professor Godfrey St. Peter and the midlife crisis he is experiencing after winning an award for his life’s work. He has lost his lust for life after publishing his life’s work and still having a life to live after. He has become estranged with his family and is mourning the death of a brilliant pupil, Tom Outland. The second part is the story of Tom Outland that the Professor is editing from Tom’s journals. The last part concerns the Professor trying to hang on to his old life while his family is away on a trip in Europe.

The novel, like most great novels, has inspired a wide array of readings. A common reading of the novel is that it’s a “story about the moral decline of a money driven society.” This was a popular reading of the novel for many years until the novel and Willa Cather began to be studied more widely. Dr. Doane was the first to do a feminist reading of The Professor’s House. Willa Cather was a woman writing a man’s view of women. Generally, the views of the male characters were viewed as her views. It wasn't until doing a feminist reading of the novel that you can see that “the Professor strongly feels women, particularly those in his family, are destructive and petty.” The Professor is always amazed with women even though he finds fault with them. Professor “St. Peter and other males’ --thoughts about women shows a perspective which is both prejudiced and insensitive.”

The readings of the novel range from societal critique to feminist readings and more recently homosexual readings. Whichever reading you choose to use, The Professor’s House is a novel worth reading. This is not her most famous novel or the one she won awards for, but it is the one that defines Willa Cather for me. Download a sample and check out the foremost American woman writer.

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