Monday, April 22, 2013

A Novel of Contrasts, from Cather

Published in 1925, Willa Cather's The Professor's House is a character study of Professor Godfrey St. Peter, the book's protagonist.  St. Peter is a scholar and a family man with two married daughters, very stuck in his ways.  Even though his family moves into a new house, he continues to work in the study of his old one.  The novel is divided into three sections - the first and last focus on St. Peter and we learn through this lens about one of his most brilliant students, Tom Outland, who was also engaged to one of St. Peter's daughters before Outland's untimely death.  The second section of the novel focuses on Outland's story of discovering the remains of a cliff dwelling city in New Mexico, and for me was the most beautifully written part of the novel.  The themes of the novel are many, but the most interesting to me is the that of embracing modernity and change versus holding on to the beauty of nature's simplicity and a lost era.  While this is a departure from Cather's rural novels mainly set in Nebraska, I enjoyed the exploration of life in a small university town.  For me, this doesn't hold a candle My Antonia, which for me thus far is Cather's greatest masterpiece.  

Some of my favorite quotes:

"...the muscular, many-lined palm, the long, strong fingers with soft ends, the straight little finger, the flexible, beautifully shaped thumb that curved back from the rest of the hand as if it were its own master.  What a hand!  He could see it yet, with the blue stones lying in it."

"St. Peter was so pleased with his flowers that it hadn't occurred to him to get more; but all his life he had regretted that he didn't buy two bunches, and push their fortunes a little further."

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