The Professor's House Essay - Critical Essays

Willa Cather

Critical Evaluation

During her lifetime, Willa Cather was known primarily for her novels, notably One of Ours (1922), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and such classics of midwestern and Western life as O Pioneers! (1913), My Ántonia (1918), and Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927). However, later studies of her life and works have led critics to conclude that Cather deserves an even higher place in the annals of American literature than she has generally been given. They point not only to her influence on other writers, especially the help she gave those who were new and unknown during her years as an editor of McClure’s, but also to the craftsmanship she displayed in hundreds of articles, reviews, and essays, as well as in her short stories, many of which appeared in national magazines noted for the high quality of their fiction.

Cather is no longer called a local color writer or a women’s writer. Instead, critics have become ever more impressed with the depth of Cather’s knowledge, as revealed in her subtle and effective allusions; with her technical virtuosity, anticipating the methods of modernism; and with her profound vision, which enabled her to identify the most troublesome issues of her time.

Although it is not among Cather’s most famous novels, The Professor’s House is one of her most interesting. The work is dominated by the character of the protagonist. Godfrey St. Peter is a rather unlikely hero, in that he is a middle-aged professor established in his profession but not famous outside his discipline, a married man without plans for an extramarital affair, and a father whose daughters are married and out of the house. His immediate problem, the move to a new house, would seem to be a purely domestic matter.

However, Cather soon makes it clear that there is much more at issue than a change of environment. The professor is caught between three worlds, and ill at ease in all of them. His movements among these worlds, in search of a home, constitute the real plot of the novel.

The world where the professor is happiest is the house where he spent the early days of his marriage....

(The entire section is 892 words.)