The title character, a professor of history at the University in Hamilton who, when the story opens, has just finished his magnum opus, an eight-volume history entitled Spanish Adventures in North America. This work is a history of the exploits of the Spanish explorers in America, and the Professor has spent years on it. Subsequent to the publication of the final volume, St. Peter has achieved a certain degree of international academic prestige. He received a prize for his work, which he used to build a new house, though he remains attached to the he rented since the beginning of his marriage and tenure at the University.
He is a complex man in many ways. He lives in paradoxes; he loves his family but he arranges his time so that he spends as little time as possible with his wife and daughters. He loves his work but is losing interest in it until Tom Outland comes along and revitalizes his sagging intellectual curiosity. At the end of the book when he is “learning to live without delight,” he says he has never contemplated suicide but he attempts it when a chance series of events makes it possible.
Lillian St. Peter
The Professor’s wife is critical of her husband’s social attitudes and behavior, principally his taciturnity and reserve. It is for love of her that St. Peter is driven to take almost the first academic post offered him. She pushes and prods forward his careby using her social gifts. She is jealous of the Professor’s affinity with Outland. When the story opens, she has taken up the causes of her sons-in-law and is busily occupied in attempting to push their careers forward.
The Professor’s eldest daughter, the dark-haired beauty of the family who becomes engaged to Tom Outland before he is killed in World War I and to whom Outland leaves his invention of the Outland vacuum. She and her husband Louie Marsellus have done very well out of the commercial exploitation of the discovery. She is pretentious, extravagant and ostentatious, and wealth has made her rather hard, insensitive and miserly, especially toward her sister Kathleen.
An electrical engineer whose “zest for life,” social ambition and pretentiousness occasionally make him insensitive. He more than makes up for those shortcomings by his great generosity, which he shows to family and strangers alike. He is married to Rosamund, and he puts in the time and money to accomplish the commercial exploitation of the invention that Tom Outland left her when he died in World War I. He is Jewish, and is described by Cather as rather “exotic” in the small social world of Hamilton.
Sir Edgar Spilling
An English academic in the Professor’s own field of Spanish history who visits from Saskatchewan and attends a dinner party at the Professor’s new house.
An impecunious writer who is scornful toward the Marselluses because of their pretentiousness and social ambition. He is married to Kathleen, and is scraping a living by writing jingles and editorials for a local paper. He intended himself as a great writer, and the fact that he is not causes him to be rather bitter. He knew Outland as a student.
The Professor’s younger daughter, the light-haired, pert sister who is married to Scott and is an amateur artist. Though she used to worship Rosamund as a young girl, she has lately grown jealous of her sister’s wealth and resentful of the way the Marselluses look down their noses at others, principally her and her husband.
Professor St. Peter’s most brilliant student, a scientific, mathematical and archaeological genius who became almost like the Professor’s own son while he was a student at the University. An orphan who was brought up working for his bread from a young age in the American Southwest, Outland excavated the ruins of the cliff dwellers’ civilization on the Blue Mesa with his good friend, Rodney Blake. When the scientists at the Smithsonian Institution prove uninterested in the ruins, Outland returns home where he finds he has been betrayed by Blake, who has sold the artifacts, and he throws Blake out, never to see him again. He then travels to Hamilton and enrolls in college, helps the Professor with his book on the Spanish explorers and endears himself to the Professor’s entire family. He uses Professor Crane’s expertise to invent the Outland vacuum, patents it and leaves the discovery to his fiancée, Rosamund, before he goes off to die in World War I. Rosamund and her husband thereafter live very well off of the proceeds of his patent, and he is remembered by all with fondness and awe.
Outland is a singular person; his mind is multifaceted while his personality is very simple and quixotic. He is very like the Professor in terms of his cast of mind; he is single-mindedly devoted to his work, though he makes room in his life for love, when it finds him. He esteems an outdoor, western sort of life, and has a withering contempt for the middle-class lifestyle he observes among the office-workers of Washington.
The Professor’s old landlord, a widower with a small garden, who agrees to rent the Professor his old house for another year.
Professor Horace Langtry
The Professor’s old nemesis from the University, another professor of European history who once attempted, with the help of well-connected family members, to oust St. Peter from his professorship. Never a standout academic, Langtry has made a name for himself at the University by being “an influence” on the students by setting an example as to manners and dress.
A professor of physics and claimant to the Outland fortune because he was involved in its genesis at the University. He helps Outland conduct the experiments that lead to the discovery and the patent; though he makes no claim at the time of the application for the patent, or at the time when Outland’s estate is being settled, he decides to make a claim after the Marselluses are well settled in to their newfound wealth.
Wife of Professor Crane, who is a claimant to the Outland fortune. She is advised by an unscrupulous brother named Homer Bright that she and her husband should take legal action to formalize their claim. She appeals to the Professor to help them in their claim, but he says it is impractical because they were not mentioned in Outland’s will.
The unscrupulous, showy attorney brother of Mrs. Crane, a claimant to the Outland fortune.
One of Tom Outland’s friends who hasn’t been seen for years when the story opens and who has been impersonated several times as a claimant to the Outland fortune. Outland meets him when he is working as a fireman for the same railroad Outland works for as a call boy and he becomes good friends with Outland, nursing him through pneumonia and working with him on the range with the Sitwell Cattle Company. Eventually, Outland and Blake excavate the cliff-dwellers’ ruins on the Blue Mesa together, but when Outland’s mission to interest the Smithsonian Institution in their discoveries proves unfruitful, Blake sells all the artifacts to a German without Outland’s knowledge. He puts the proceeds in a bank account under Outland’s name. When Outland returns from Washington and hears of the sale, he throws Blake out of their cabin, and though Outland later regrets his decision and attempts to find him, he never sees Blake again.
The matriarch of the Professor’s host French family who looks after the Professor when he is a student in Versailles. She is severe but dependable.
One of the Thierault sons, who are the Professor’s close friends both in his student days and throughout his married life. Charles owns a cork business and a ship which he allows the Professor to use to sail around Spain and do research for his book on the Spanish explorers.
Another of the Thierault sons, who are the Professor’s close friends both in his student days and throughout his married life. Pierre still lives in Versailles.
Another of the Thierault sons, who are the Professor’s close friends both in his student days and throughout his married life. Gaston is killed during the Boxer Rebellion in China.
Tom Outland’s tutor in New Mexico, a French priest to taught him Latin and the Classics. He helps Outland and Blake excavate the Mesa site and adds his knowledge to their archaeological conclusions about the cliff dwellers. It is also Duchene’s example that leads Outland to journey over to Europe to fight during World War I.
Tom Outland’s adoptive father, a locomotive engineer.
Tom Outland’s adoptive mother.
Tom Outland’s father, a schoolteacher from Missouri who died of a cramp while swimming as he and his wife pioneered West across Kansas.
Tom Outland’s mother who died of illness shortly after her husband while the family pioneered West across Kansas.
The foreman of the Sitwell Cattle Company who warns Outland against trying to summit the Mesa. Rapp is his last name.
An English down-and-out who has had work as a cook and a steward and who Rapp finds homeless in Tarpin. Rapp brings him to Outland and Blake’s winter cabin as a cook, and he proves a pleasant and loyal friend. Unfortunately, though he helps Blake and Outland with much of the excavation of the Blue Mesa, he dies of snakebite in the middle of the project.
The liveryman at Tarpin who helps Blake and Outland with men and supplies from Tarpin while they explore the Mesa. He also is the one to break the news to Outland that Blake has sold all the artifacts when Outland returns from Washington.
The secretary of the director of the Smithsonian, who goes to lunch with Outland to discuss his discovery and sets him up with an appointment with the director.
A stenographer at the Smithsonian who is sympathetic to Outland and arranges a meeting for him with Mr. Wagner. She also tells him that everyone in Washington is simply out for what they can get, that the whole place works on connections rather than merit and that officials will do anything for a good free lunch.
The female half of the couple who rents Outland a room in Washington. She is intended as the picture of unhappy middle-class womanhood; she constantly worries about her appearance and about how her husband will get ahead at work.
The male half of the couple who rents Outland a room in Washington. He has a position in the War Department and represents unhappy middle-class masculinity; he constantly worries about his wife’s appearance and about how he will get ahead at work.
A German who buys all of the Blue Mesa’s artifacts that Blake and Outland dug out from Blake for $4000 without Outland’s knowledge.
The Professor’s grandfather who lived with the family when St. Peter was a boy and who used go about muttering, reflecting and meditating on life. He was in his 80s when St. Peter was a boy, and St. Peter remembers his grandfather when he is daydreaming during the summer Lillian spends in France.
The St. Peters’ family doctor, to whom the Professor goes for a medical opinion on his physical well-being at the end of the summer Lillian spends in France and who tells the Professor there’s nothing wrong with him.
The Professor’s House Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Professor’s House is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.