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M A R G A R E T D O A N E California State College, San Bernardino In Defense of Lillian St. Peter: Men's Perceptions of Women in The Professor’s House Cather’s The Professor’s House is told from Professor Godfrey St. Peter’s point of view; he feels society has become marred by greed and materialism — partially represented by his own family — and thus justi­ fiably isolates himself from these people and values. St. Peter believes he has long loved his family and that he has had an excellent relationship with his wife and daughters for many years; their growing concern with materialism, however, has caused his recent retreat from them and from what they represent. Critics frequently have adopted St. Peter’s point of view: for them, the book becomes a critique of an American society filled with “ambition and greed,” with a “social malaise . . . [that] finds its focus in [St. Peter’s] relationship to his own family;”1it tells of the Professor’s “disgust with the materialistic money-grubbing of the America of the twenties” and his difficulties in dealing with daughters who no longer need him and with a wife whose concerns are increasingly worldly.2 While the effect of money is an issue in the work, another major concern is the Pro­ fessor’s point of view. His observations appear to be objective but are not; readers find out as much about St. Peter’s prejudices as they do about what his family actually has done. One of these prejudices — shared by many men in the book — is against women: women are representative of a mundane world that destroys artistic capabilities. General statements by other men in the book as well as specific statements the Professor makes 1David Stouck, Willa Cather’s Imagination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975), p. 100. 2John H. Randall III, The Landscape and the Looking Glass: Willa Cather’s Search for Value (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1960), p. 203. 300 Western American Literature against his wife and daughters support this view of women as petty, mater­ ialistic, and a distinct threat to the higher values of males. A further exam­ ination of the Professor, however, shows him to be remarkably obtuse and unfair to his wife, who emerges as generally kind, sympathetic, and long ago abandoned by her husband. Many men in the book make irrelevant derogatory remarks about women. Mother Eve, a mummy found by Tom Outland and Roddy Blake, has a “great wound in her side”3; this, for Tom’s friend Father Duchene, is the sole reason for implying she was an adulteress: Perhaps when the tribe went down to the summer camp, our lady was sick and would not go. Perhaps her husband thought it worth while to return unannounced from the farms some night, and found her in improper company. The young man may have escaped. In primitive society, the husband is allowed to punish an unfaithful wife with death, (p. 223) The priest moves from pure supposition to certainty in a string of state­ ments that may reveal more about his perspective on women than it does about Mother Eve. Tom believes that if “you have to get a man when he isn’t where he ought to be . . . there [is] usually a reason at home for that” (p. 116); Louie, who has been blackballed from the Arts and Letters Club by his brother-in-law Scott but who has found out his fate from the talk of two women, proclaims “the ladies, the ladies! What they do to each other” (p. 168) in blaming not Scott but the conveyor of the information. Tom “[goes] over, like a girl in a novel” (p. 238) when he finds Roddy has sold the relics; Tom feels he could have fought Roddy if it had only been Tom’s girlfriend Roddy had “made free with” (p. 246), but what Roddy has sold is much more valuable: Tom would have “sold [his] own grandmother as Mother Eve — [he]’d have sold any living woman first” (p. 244). In addition to these irrelevant remarks, men generally have not fared well with women: Roddy’s mother...


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pp. 299-302
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