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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Saturday, April 15, 2017


Willa Cather' 1925 novel, The professor's house, as noted yesterday, is a novel that's against Cather's type, or against her type-caste - a campus novel in some regards but actually more than that it's a character study and family drama. The professor, Godfrey St. Peter , is toward the end of his career at a non-prestigious Midwest university and he's recently achieved modest wealth and renown through his series on the Spanish explorers. Both of his daughters , Rosalind and Katherine, have seemingly married well - but there's a great deal of family tension: r initially married St. Peter's best student , who died in the world war leaving behind several patents on engines. R remarries Louis Marcellus and thru his business expertise, as St. Peter grudgingly admits, he has become extremely wealthy. As a result K always feels inferior, and in particular St. Peter is torn - he likes the comforts that Louis can provide but he he feels in some ways that Louis's success is a perversion of his student's genius. As the novel progresses we get more of a sense of what these judgments are about: it's at first hinted and then stated outright that Louis is Jewish- so as a result his expenditures are considered crass rather than tasteful, he's discouraged from applying for club membership because they say he hasn't lived in the area long enough (hmph), and his business skills are disparaged as if the crass world of commerce is a corruption of the pure pursuit of knowledge and scientific discovery. It's obvious what underlies these seemingly mild and benign criticism and judgments - and this is a topic rarely examined in American lit prior to 1925 - another and unexpected way in which Cather was a "pioneer."

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