The Professor's House

The Professor's House Summary and Analysis of Chapter 13, Section 1: "The Family"

The evening following the Professor’s discussion with Mrs. Crane, he goes over to the Physics building to see Crane. He waits in Crane’s ascetic study while Crane finishes some notes and observes anew that Crane is a square-faced, red-bearded, pale man with a somewhat nervous and uncomfortable manner.

As the Professor broaches the subject of Outland’s invention with Crane, it emerges that this is the first time the two men have ever discussed the matter. Crane says, in answer to a question from the Professor, that Outland often used to express the wish that the invention would make money with which he and Crane could conduct further experiments.

Crane also says that, though he doesn’t know whether Outland would have arrived at his discovery without Crane’s help, and that the idea of the invented gas was entirely Outland’s, Outland often required Crane’s help with proper laboratory technique.

The Professor rebukes Crane for not coming to an understanding with Outland about the gas while Outland was applying for his patent, and Crane defends himself by saying he lost interest. The Professor then reproaches Crane for not making a claim on the patent sooner, when he delivered Outland’s papers to his executor.

Crane responds by saying that he never thought about the commercial potential of the discovery, and also points out that the Professor now profits indirectly from the proceeds of the patent while his claim on the discovery was less definite than Crane’s.

At this, the Professor urges Crane to put in an informal claim to Marsellus, and Crane replies he is advised by Bright to take legal action instead. The Professor advises against trusting Bright, a lawyer he believes to be a windbag, and Crane is taken aback, saying that he has evidence to back up his lawsuit. This exchange concludes the interview.

The Professor then takes a solitary walk in the dark, musing on how avaricious Crane appeared to him during their interview. The cast of the world in general appears melancholy and depressed to him.


Cather shows in this chapter the corruption of an intellectual by financial concerns. Crane, described as a reasonable colleague of the Professor’s and also as a close friend, has suddenly become one of the money-grubbing horde laying claim to the Outland fortune. Cather’s, and the Professor’s, disdain toward Crane, for his desire to get his share of money out of Outland’s patent, is very strong.

It is hard for the reader to condemn Crane as strongly as St. Peter does, however. Crane is ill, has a family to support, lent Outland much of his time, expertise and equipment, and feels betrayed by Outland’s ignoring him in his will. He is determined to see the matter through legally and to test his claim in the courts. This sounds, under the circumstances, reasonable. St. Peter is not in financial difficulties, and Crane is. Has St. Peter any right to condemn Crane’s actions?

In the final paragraphs of this chapter, the Professor foreshadows his later feelings of profound fatigue and acceptance of suicide. His life seems insupportable to him, and he feels that he can no longer inhabit the world.

In terms of what has come before these musings, they seem out of place. All that has happened is that the Professor has become enmeshed in discussions of the monetization of his star pupil’s invention and the money-grubbing unpleasantness that succeeded it.

Actually, as critics have argued, Cather may have subscribed to a point of view that posited that once civilization has reached an advanced stage in which people are focused on money, status and scientific “advancements,” civilization is doomed to unravel until humans are once again reduced to primitivism, living off the land in a simple fashion and building themselves back up to the advanced stage they tumbled from.

If Cather indeed subscribed to this point of view, the Professor’s despair in the face of this money-grubbing obsession that has gripped his colleagues and family is more understandable if St. Peter is taken as representative of “civilization.” The Professor, and civilization, are at that final material stage, and the only way forward is down.