In The Professor’s House, Cather explores the thoughts and emotions of a man making the difficult transition from middle to old age and finding, as he looks back over his life, that he has lost sight of the person he once was. The first symptom of Professor Godfrey St. Peter’s growing internal crisis is his reluctance to leave his attic study when he and his wife move to a new house. For St. Peter, the study—uncomfortable and inconvenient as it has always been—represents the constancy of his working life and the years devoted to his massive history of the Spanish explorers in North America. Unwilling to relinquish this tie to the past, the professor continues to rent his old house and visit it when he works.
As time passes, however, a growing sense of alienation from his family and even his work seems to overtake St. Peter. His two daughters have grown and have developed qualities with which he is impatient, and his relationship with his wife has become a matter of habit rather than interest. Questioning whether he has followed the right path in his life, he finds himself thinking that he has lost the boy he once was, opting instead for a set of social conventions. The spiritual malaise that has seized hold of him very nearly brings the professor to tragedy when he realizes that his life is in danger from a gas stove and he chooses to do nothing. Saved by the family’s longtime sewing woman, St. Peter finds that he has somehow let go of those remnants of his boyhood self and is now able to resign himself to the years ahead of him.
Many critics feel that The Professor’s House is Cather’s most revealing book in terms of her state of mind and her own conflicts regarding the artist’s uneasy relationship with society. For Cather, it was essential that...
(The entire section is 738 words.)