The Professor's House

The Professor's House Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4, Section 1: "The Family"

The next chapter opens on Monday, the day after the previous chapter began, in the afternoon as the Professor reclines on his couch in the work-room of his old house. He reflects on the trials of the beginning of the school year, including the ongoing struggle to maintain high standards of academics to the exclusion of athletic, agricultural and commercial interests that constantly threatened to encroach on scholarly pursuits.

Rosamund enters and attempts to persuade her father to let her build him a new study in the backyard of the new house. He declines, citing the fact that it is easier for him to work in his old room.

Rosamund then drops a bombshell of her own, saying that she and her husband want to settle some of Outland’s money on him so he can give up teaching and devote himself solely to writing and research as it is what Outland would have wanted. The Professor, shocked, says quickly that there is no evidence it is what Outland wanted and that he won’t take a penny of the income. He says that it would cheapen and bring down to a social level what was a high and pure mental association. Rosamund then says she thinks the Professor wouldn’t have wanted her to take Outland’s money either, but he dismisses this, saying Outland definitely wanted her to have his discovery.

Father and daughter then discuss other claimants to the Outland fortune who they have had to warn off, including Rodney Blake, an apparent friend of Tom’s, who has been impersonated several times, and the Cranes. The female half of the Crane sketch apparently is advised by her brother, an unscrupulous character named Homer Bright. The Professor encourages Rosamund to be generous with the Cranes, however, and Rosamund leaves the room.

The Professor then muses on his other daughter Kathleen, whose very perkiness and jauntiness always awoke his protective instincts, especially when she was a student at the University. She is a talented watercolor artist, and did good portraits of her father, though none of her mother. Mentally, the Professor reflects, she has flashes of brilliance, unlike her slower sister, but she never considered developing her artistic talent.

She willfully rebelled against both her parents when she married Scott McGregor, an impecunious young journalist who scraped together enough to live on just prior to their marriage. Though the Professor likes Scott, he hoped for a more intelligent husband for his daughter. Lillian, on the other hand, supported the couple after the initial shock, and St. Peter suspects this support benefited Rosamund in some way, because just as he favors Kathleen, Lillian favors Rosamund.


The pivotal event in this chapter is Rosamund’s offer of some of Outland’s money to the Professor and his violent rejection of it. St. Peter is an advocate for art, history, beauty and religion as defined against modern science, technology, and materialism. For Rosamund to “cheapen” Outland’s intellectual achievements by deriving money from them is bad enough, but for her to offer some of this money to the Professor is anathema. It is the Professor’s firm belief that academic inquiry for curiosity’s sake is the noblest vocation in the world, and that the attachment of money to that endeavor defeats the purpose of it.

This exchange also shows that Rosamund has very different values than her father. If she had really known his preferences and beliefs, she might have offered him some of Outland’s academic papers or some such present rather than mere money. However, it is money that she prizes, and money that she assumes others prize as well. In this way, Rosamund is very different from her sister Kathleen, and very like her mother and husband.

St. Peter’s thoughts of his daughter Kathleen are much kinder. They reveal that Kathleen is his favorite daughter not merely because of her paradoxical combination of vulnerability and independence, but because she has artistic talent and intellectual agility, both of which her sister lacks. St. Peter values art in every form, whether actual or potential, and Kathleen’s ability constitutes potential art.

The family politics evident in this chapter are, though presented in a matter-of-fact way, rather disgusting. St. Peter, while he likes to think of himself as above all the social squabbles of family life, is as much a part of these maneuverings as anyone. As he stands up for Kathleen, his wife stands up for Rosamund, and so, Cather says, it has always been.

Despite the fact that both daughters have attended college, the marriage game is revealed to be an important one in the world of Hamilton; while Rosamund has married advantageously, in an economic sense, Kathleen has married disadvantageously. Thus, the world of The Professor’s House is marked as one in which gender equality has not yet found a place.