Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Professor's House by Willa Cather

"He had never learned to live without delight.  And he would have to learn to, just as, in a Prohibition country, he supposed he would have to learn to live without sherry.  Theoretically he knew that life is possible, may be even pleasant, without joy, without passionate griefs.  But it had never occurred to him that he might have to live like that."

Largely hailed for her sense of place, I've always believed that Willa Cather's talent for writing a realistic character is one of the core qualities that make her books so easy to love.  She writes of struggles and sorrows familiar to us all.  The Professor's House was a look at a man coming to terms with the fact that his life had shifted gears, and not necessarily for the best.  Looking back at his life as he nears retirement, he thinks about Tom Outland - the man whose life so greatly affected his family in a variety of ways.

Willa Cather's most famous setting is, perhaps, the Great Plains of Nebraska, but she is equally as talented in her magnificent descriptions of the canyons of New Mexico.  Her love for the majestic serenity of the Southwest is apparent.  My heart has never sung in adoration of that locale, preferring the lakes and trees of the Sierra Nevada Mountains I call home, but the more I read of Cather, the more I develop that love and respect for a landscape so different from my own.

Makes me want to go visit! (photo credit)
As I've read through Cather's oeuvre, I've noticed a quirk to many of her novels: in construction, she seems to prefer segmenting her story into two or three distinct sections.  She may jump to a different time, place, or point of view—or in this case, all three.  The best part of this small book was the middle section: Tom Outland's Story.  What a vivid experience, and perfect companion towards shaping a view of America around the time of the Great War.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  By virtue of location, as well as circumstance, Tom's early life captured the imagination of the professor's young family when they first met, and it captured my imagination as well.

Quiet and contemplative, as is to be expected, The Professor's House was not my favorite Cather book I've read, but it is worth a  read for the middle section alone.  Check out my other Willa Cather reviews here, and for a fabulous summary (and more info and discussion about The Professor's House,) I highly recommend checking out this post by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis.)

"He had let something go—and it was gone: something very precious, that he could not consciously have relinquished, probably.  He doubted whether his family would ever realize that he was not the same man they had said good-bye to; they would be too happily preoccupied with their own affairs.  If his apathy hurt them, they could not possibly be so much hurt as he had been already."


  1. I'll have to add this to my TBR list. Very nice review! Even though you said it wasn't your favorite Cather book, you make it sound like a very worthwhile read.

  2. I hadn't heard of this Cather work until know, being O Pioneers! and My Anthonia her two most well-known novels. I'm very intrigued by her technique and how she can make you long for a visit to the South East of the USA. I usually associate the area with hot, dry, desertic and very-hard-to-live-in places, but I guess you only ned a great writer like Cather to change that.

  3. Hi Melody,
    Glad to hear you enjoyed this one! I saw you had rated it on goodreads and was wondering if you would also post about it. Our reactions to Cather are similar, with the exception that I already was enamored with the southwest and it's canyons. The Tom Outland's Story section of this book is up there in my favorite reading of the past couple years.
    P.S. thanks for linking to me, too :-)

  4. This was my first Cather -- read for a graduate class with a great discussion -- and for that it will always hold a special place in my heart. I just love her work.


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