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Professor's House, The

novel outland life cather

a novel by Willa Cather, published in 1925. The novel is intricately constructed and symbolic at many different levels. Its central figure, Professor St Peter, is a man in late middle age, who is about to leave the house where he has lived all his married life and where he has done his finest work (he is an authority on the Spanish in America). As the novel opens, he is very aware that he has arrived at a new and bleak stage of his life, when he must perhaps learn to live without joy. Both his daughters are married, one to a rather sycophantic worldling, the other to a hopeless and embittered journalist. Both couples are preoccupied with materialistic concerns—another reason for the Professor's increasing feeling of isolation. This is exacerbated by the memory of one of his students, the brilliant Tom Outland, who was killed in the Great War. Ironically, it is he who has enabled the family to live as well as they do, since the money from his patented discovery has been bequeathed to St Peter's daughter, Rosalind. Outland's story, describing his discovery, as a boy, of a mesa village in the New Mexico desert, and his subsequent attempts to defend it against exploitation, is inset into the novel. It is perhaps his memories of Outland which eventually help the Professor to come to terms with life, although not before he has attempted suicide by allowing himself to fall asleep in a room full of gas. But as the novel ends, it is apparent that this self-destructiveness will not be permitted to recur, and that the protagonist has gained a new spiritual strength from his reflections. Both the Professor's predicament and Tom Outland's story reflect the changes—the capitulation to materialism and the loss of the pioneer spirit—which Cather felt were overcoming America itself.

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