globulon's Reviews > The Professor's House

The Professor's House by Willa Cather
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's review
Feb 16, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: books-i-own, fiction
Read in February, 2015

I am not good at writing reviews on this site. Here I'm just going to think aloud a bit.

Want to review the characters and their positions. It's clear that the view of these characters is the one from the prof's mind. I think for the most part we are meant to take his views as accurate assessments though.

Rosamond: I think she is one of the most straightforward evolutions in the book. It seems pretty clear we are meant to be unhappy with her changes. She is becoming more and more concerned with having nice things and getting more unpleasant and judgmental in her personality. There seems to be a sense that this is somehow in tandem with the mother, although they are not shown interacting much. She seems to be tight with her money, she doesn't want her sister to have her furniture, won't help out with Augusta's financial trouble, and seems a bit high handed with the Crane's. The episode of the Chicago shopping trip with her dad also seems to cement the notion of her being self-centered.

The mother: She seems to be another fairly straight forward case, though less so than Rosamond. She likes both her son in laws it seems, but also she is getting seduced by Louis and his whirlwind lifestyle. There's some indication that the mother has some emotional disappointments of her own, (the conversation at the opera) but throughout we get the sense that she is coping with her lack of satisfaction by digging into things like a new house and the life Louis is offering, whereas the husband would seem to prefer her to cling more to values.

Louis: Is an interesting case. It seems that we are supposed to see him both as good and bad. It's argued several times, that he put a lot of work, and sales know-how, as well as a huge financial risk into developing the overland patent. One thing that bothered me here though is that this characterization seems to be employing a very common anti-semitic stereotype that argues that jews are good at exploiting the creativity of others for profit, while not really having creativity or ability of their own. Louis is always presented as being generous, not just with family but with others. The prof thinks he can be appealed to in the cases of Augusta and the Cranes. However, there is always an implication that this generosity is compromising for those that accept it, and there is something subtle about his manners that seem to smack of something slightly self-serving, such as when it is suggested that he will help the Cranes at least in part because he sees himself as drawing the displeasure of the community for his sudden success and that this will be a move calculated in relation to that point. I think all in all, the idea with Louis is that you can use money for good, such as getting nice things for people, and developing important products, but that the money is still corrupting. It seems telling that Rosamond and the mother both seem to be taking turns for the worse under the influence of Louis. However, there's also the the time of the drive to the country club where Louis makes a very forgiving speech and really seems to completely win over the prof.

Kathleen: she seems to be a mixed bag. She seems to have a more sympathetic connection with the father, she can paint him and no one else, she stayed behind with him one summer, she seems to express herself to him sometimes. On the other hand we are made to feel that her marriage to Scott was somehow false, this is reinforced by the scene in the car when it seems she is trying to convince herself and him of the trueness of her love for him. It's curious to wonder what her secret may have been. I took it to be something relating to Overland but am not quite sure what. She also seems to be an ugly case of jealousy. This jealousy is interesting because it seems to be partly her fault and partly the fault of her sister and brother-in-law.

Scott: another case of compromised by money. Again, he seems to want the money for no bad reason, he just wants to get married. But it seems that it's kind of a chain, because he wants money he does a job that he feels is beneath him, which makes him resentful (he hates to hear people discussing serious novels) and this warps his character so he would do something like blackballing Louis. Again, he's not all bad, he seems genuine in his concern for his parents in law, but he seems a bit used up by jealousy.

The Cranes: again their desire for money is not a case of simple greed or jealousy. It seems that if they weren't in such straitened circumstances crane would let principles and his feelings guide him. Obviously he genuinely deserves some compensation in a way, but it seems clear that we are meant to feel that it is none the less wrong for him to try to claim it. That because it was overlands project he should not try to profit from it, in much the same way that it was wrong for blake to sell the artifacts.

Overland: hard to judge him. He is too perfect in many ways. Everything about him is pure and right. (All the discussion of the purity of the water and air and the scenery, and the civilization of the cliff dwellers is undoubtably meant to characterize him as well due to his ability to appreciate it and take it in the proper spirit as opposed to blake who always had the idea of profit.) i think we are meant to feel that he was too strict with blake, but that somehow he was still in the right.

The prof.: obviously the most complicated. The idea i think is that because overland died young before his projects bore fruit he was able to retain his purity. I think in some ways we are meant to think that life is inherently compromising. So everyone has their compromises. The prof has been lucky that he has been able to retain his principles, which he himself seems to attribute to fortune. The time has come though where he is lost. He does not particularly love his family or his job anymore, but it is not really a question of going anywhere. His only real option to maintain his purity is to die, and so he does in a symbolic sense. He accepts that from here on out he is not really living honestly by staying in the situation and accepting the choices that are in some sense being made for him. More to be said here, but enough for now.
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