Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House presents a complex social world marked by status anxiety. St. Peter’s sense of place has depended on his status as a professor whose taste exceeds his means, or whose cultural capital exceeds his economic status. Thus, he sustains the illusion that his eminent good taste places him outside of materialistic concerns. Often described as anti-materialist, Professor St. Peter in fact is better understood as a strategic materialist. His new wealth causes him to feel displaced since he must now contend with being one of the nouveau riche. In astutely and acutely engaging the 1920s social world of her professor, Cather particularizes the ways social structures shape the individual choices and self-conceptions of her characters. Their struggles to create personal meaning in a changing world address the problematics of taste and truth.


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pp. 365-384
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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