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B A R B A R A W I L D West Vancouver, B.C. “The Thing Not Named ”in The Professor's House The Professor’s House by Willa Cather1 has intrigued readers for half a century and prompted many reactions, many interpretations. One of the most recent is David Stouck’s essay in his book Willa Cather1s Imagination? in which he identifies this novel as a satire on “American society and its preoccupation with material wealth.”3 I think this inter­ pretation fits and illuminates the novel. It also shows a well-defined, unifying strand in the three-part fabric of a book whose structure has caused some unfavorable comment. “Rough carpentry”4 is the criticism of James Woodress and “unsymmetrical”5says Leon Edel, although they allow that the house motif, as explained by E. K. Brown0 does form a symbolic link. Whether or not we admire Cather’s way of placing “Tom Outland’s Story” between Books I and III of The Professor’s House, the satiric theme of “the acquisition of wealth as a source of envy 1(New York: Vintage Books, 1973). All references are to the same text. 2(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975). 3Stouck, p. 100. 4Willa Cather: Her Life and Art (New York: Pegasus, 1970), p. 211. r'“Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House: An Inquiry Into the Use of Psychology in Literary Criticism,” Literature and Psychology, 4 (1954), 79. BWilla Cather: A Critical Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953), pp. 236-247. 264 Western American Literature and disaffection”7certainly provides a genuine unity of interest. Another source of unity and emotional power, a very obvious one perhaps which has not received much attention, is the great friendship between the two men, Tom Outland and Godfrey St. Peter, men a generation apart, yet mentally and spiritually kindred spirits. E. K. Brown, Edel, and Woodress all see an important connection between events in the author’s life and The Professor’s House: it “is among her most revealing novels”8 and “the portrait of the Professor is not entirely understandable without recourse to the author’s own life.”9 I believe, however, that the novel stands by itself, that we do not need to know about Cather’s personal struggles in order to make sense of those of the Professor. But we do need to realize the existence of something which is never named but which permeates the work. Though Tom Outland is already dead at the beginning of the novel, it is a story of a great friendship between two rather unusual men. We ought not be surprised that the fine quality of such an important relationship remains unstated in any literal way. The technique of sug­ gesting rather than defining is characteristic of Cather’s fiction. She explains it herself in the article “The Novel Démeublé” : Whatever is felt upon the page without being specifically named there — that, one might say, is created. It is the inexplicable presence of the thing not named, of the overtone divined by the ear but not heard by it, the verbal mood, the emotional aura of the fact or the thing or the deed, that gives high quality to the novel . . ,10 And even within The Professor’s House, St. Peter reflects along similar lines as he works at the annotating of Tom Outland’s diary. He admires Tom’s “plain account” (p. 262) of the many lovely and intriguing articles found in the Cliff City, noticing that his words “were used to present the objects under consideration, not the young explorer’s emo­ tions. Yet through this austerity one felt the kindling imagination, the ardour and excitement of the boy, like the vibration in a voice when the speaker strives to conceal his emotion by using only conventional phrases.” (pp. 262-3) Here within the novel itself is a description of the very 7Stouck, p. 105. 8Brown, p. 237. 9Woodress, p. 210. 10On Writing (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962), pp. 41-2. Barbara Wild 265 techniques that are shaping it. It suggests not only Cather’s awareness of what she is doing, but also that both St. Peter and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 263-274
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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