The Professor’s House by Willa Cather

It was fairly dire when I was at the library last week, there seemed to be nothing worth taking out. Possibly not all their fault as for some reason my mind tends to go blank. Why don’t I write a list? Well, quite often I do but then I forget to take the list with me – as you do.

Anyway, I spotted this Willa Cather book and as I had read somewhere on the blogosphere a couple of comments on her, I thought it was time to give her a go.

I’ve got a feeling that she might be the literature equivalent of marmite or marzipan in that you either love her or hate her, going by peoples’ comments.

It turns out that I love her!

The Professor’s House was written around about half-way through her writing career I think, so I’ll need to start at the beginning now and work my way through them.

It’s written in three parts with book 1 being called The Family and setting the scene. Book 2 is Tom Outlander’s Story and book 3 is called The Professor. In some ways it reminded me a bit of du Maurier’s Rebecca in that the house is such a big part of the book and an important character is already dead before the story begins.

There are similarities in the lives of Godfrey St Peter and the young Tom Outlander. St Peter had been a big part of the Thierault family when he had been a student in France, whilst for Outlander it had been the St Peters who had acted as a surrogate family.

If you haven’t read the book already and you intend to do so, maybe you should stop reading now.

The copy of this book which I read was a Virago. Don’t read the introduction until the end as they always tell the whole story. It was only after reading it that I realised the significance of some of the names though. A.S.Byatt wrote the introduction but she doesn’t mention anything about the rivalry between the two sons-in-law, one of whom is of Scottish ancestery whilst the other is Jewish. They despise one another and pass the feelings on to their wives causing difficulty in the family.

For me, this had a parallel in book 2 as it was thought that the extinct Mexican Indians had probably been wiped out by a rival tribe.

There were a few things within the book which, for me, had the distinct whiff of Scottish Presbyterianism and so I had to find out a bit about Willa Cather. I felt the same about Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain and sure enough they had Scottish fathers and step-fathers.

Although most of the biographies of her only spoke about Virginia and Nebraska, I eventually found something which mentioned that the family had originated in Ireland in the 1750s. As there was so much to-ing and fro-ing between Scotland and Ireland at that time, it all amounts to the same place really. It’s the Celtic connection.

Willa’s mother’s maiden name of Boak is actually the Scottish word for vomiting. How unfortunate!

2 thoughts on “The Professor’s House by Willa Cather

  1. I haven’t read the Professor’s House but have a copy (Vintage International, not Virago) on my to-read shelf, loot from a library book sale. I’ve read My Antonia and O Pioneers and loved both of them. I’ll have to try and move it up on the to-read list.

    • I’ve just finished reading Alexander’s Bridge which is her first novel. Haven’t reviewed it yet but it wasn’t as good as The Professor’s House, she got better with practice obviously. It’s still worth reading it though.

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