Willa Cather, born in Virginia in the 1873, is an author and a poet best known for her works depicting frontier life on the Great Plains, O Pioneers! (1913) and My Ántonia (1918) being two of her most recognized novels. One of Cather’s lesser esteemed but no less admired novels is The Professor’s House (1925).
The Professor’s House is a slice of life narrative about a middle aged professor, Godfrey St. Peter, who finds himself, at what should be the pinnacle of his life, despondent and disillusioned.
In attempts to ward off his ever growing depression, St. Peter turns to fond memories of his past, in particular his friendship with one-time student Tom Outland. Tucked within the professor’s tale is a story within a story, “Tom Outland’s Story”.
The Professor’s House is “one of my all-time faves,” wrote Caryl Barnes when recommending the book for WaR selection. “The story within the story, Tom Outland’s Story, is sheer magic. The book as a whole covers all possible themes of human life!”
The book was well received by In Print WaR members. Of particular note was Cather’s depth of character, and her skill at descriptive writing and setting the scene with few words.
Remarking on the beauty of Cather’s vocabulary, one attendee commented, “Her language is the language of art. Her words are art.”
Cather’s mastery of story structure was another quality that impressed WaR members.
Utilizing a basic A-B-A technique, the novel starts out with a third person narrative entitled “The Family”. Nearly two-thirds into the book, Cather strategically inserted the first person account “Tom Outland’s Story” a vividly rendered tale of adventure on the fictitious Blue Mesa, a location which was inspired by the 13th century cliff dwellings of the Native American Anasazi.
Lastly, Cather sought to portray St. Peter’s decline into solitude with the final section of the novel, “The Professor”, told again in third person.
A detailed description of the story’s structure can be found here.
For WaR members in attendance at the April meeting, it was a unanimous thumbs up for The Professor’s House by Willa Cather.
The WaR book selection for May is the first book, “Dawn”, in Octavia E. Butler’s sci-fi trilogy Lilith’s Brood. Our discussion will be on Tuesday, May 3rd, at 6:30 pm at Barnes & Noble in Cherry Vale Mall.