The Professor’s House by Willa Cather (1925)

The Professor's House by Willa Cather - 1925 - cover

The Professor’s House by Willa Cather, published in 1925, is one of this American master’s mid-career novels. The story of Professor Godfrey St. Peter, one might say it tells of a midlife crisis before the term was coined.

When the professor and his wife move into a new house, he begins questioning the path that his life has taken. His daughters have grown up, and he loses much of his will to live, not finding anything to look forward to. 

Though it hasn’t achieved the enduring stature of some of Cather’s better-known works, The Professor’s House, in her skilled hands it becomes a touching story of personal and spiritual self-reflection.

From the Vintage reissue edition, 1990:

“Willa Cather’s lyrical and bittersweet novel of a middle-aged man losing control of his life is a brilliant study in emotional dislocation and renewal.

Professor Godfrey St. Peter is a man in his fifties who has devoted his life to his work, his wife, his garden, and his daughters, and achieved success with all of them. But when St. Peter is called on to move to a new, more comfortable house, something in him rebels.

And although at first that rebellion consists of nothing more than mild resistance to his family’s wishes, it imperceptibly comes to encompass the entire order of his life. The Professor’s House combines a delightful grasp of the social and domestic rituals of a Midwestern university town in the 1920s with profound spiritual and psychological introspection.”

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A Lost Lady by Willa Cather

See also: 7 Later Novels by Willa Cather
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From the 1953 Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf edition:

The Professor’s House by Willa Cather is a masterly study in introspection, telling the story of Godfrey St. Peter, a scholarly professor in a Middle Western university. He is passing through the critical, uneasy period between middle age and old age.

Reluctant to move into a new, more comfortable house, he remains in the old room he has been used to work in despite the protestations of his wife and daughters. The reader finds him a man in the middle fifties, a little dissatisfied and tired, but at the zenith of his intellectual powers — and follows him through a major emotional crisis and several smaller crises.

A major subplot in this richly patterned novel is supplied by Tom Outland, at one time engaged to be married to one of the professor’s daughters, involving Outland’s scientific investigations in the Southwest, among the Cliff-Dwellers.

Another of the leading characters is Marsellus, a young Jew married to the professor’s daughter to whom Outland had been engaged. But the unifying theme of the novel is the professor’s adjustment to a life that he sees as being “without joy, without passionate griefs.” It is through the complexities and simplicities of her art that Willa Cather makes her sympathy clear and living.

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The Professor’s House  is also available on Amazon*

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Quotes from The Professor’s House

“A man long accustomed to admire his wife in general, seldom pauses to admire her in a particular gown or attitude, unless his attention is directed to her by the appreciative gaze of another man.”

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“The man he was now, the personality his friends knew, had begun to grow strong during adolescence, during the years when he was always consciously or unconsciously conjugating the verb ‘to love’ — in society and solitude, with people, with books, with the sky and open country, in the lonesomeness of crowded city streets.”

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“There are times when one’s vitality is too high to be clouded, too elastic to stay down.”

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“Man can do anything if he wishes to enough, St. Peter believed. Desire is creation, is the magical element in that process. If there were an instrument by which to measure desire, one could foretell achievement.”

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“In great misfortunes, people want to be alone. They have a right to be. And the misfortunes that occur within one are the greatest. Surely the saddest thing in the world is falling out of love–if once one has ever fallen in.”

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“I can’t altogether tell myself, Lillian. It’s not wholly a matter of the calendar. It’s the feeling that I’ve put a great deal behind me, where I can’t go back to it again—and I don’t really wish to go back. The way would be too long and too fatiguing.”

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More about The Professor’s House by Willa Cather

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