The Professor's House

The Professor's House Summary and Analysis of Chapter 10, Section 1: "The Family"

Scott picks up the Professor from the University and drops him off at the old house following a lunch Louie gave for the Association of Electrical Engineers at the Country Club. He says Louie was a good host but that the whole luncheon was about Tom Outland. Scott says that, though he was asked to speak about Outland as a friend, he is beginning to feel that Outland was just an idea and never a man.

This remark makes the Professor recall his first meeting with Outland, which occurred one spring day when Outland found his way to the Professor’s garden and announced that he wanted to attend the University. He was a tall, cowboy-ish, well-built young man from New Mexico and impressed the Professor favorably. Outland’s difficulty was that he had never attended high school but wanted to attend college all the same on the strength of tutoring by a French priest named Father Duchene. The Professor quizzed him on Latin and Spanish, and Outland admitted he’d never studied math or science. He explained to the Professor that he had sought him out instead of the registrar because he had read an article by him in a magazine. Outland also explained he had some money and was willing to work both academically and for money in order to enter the University the following fall.

Outland was an orphan who was adopted by a locomotive engineer named O’Brien and his wife after his pioneer parents died moving west across Kansas. He had worked as a call boy for freight trains and then worked as a cattleman. He goes into lunch with the Professor, Lillian and the two girls, and, after he falls awkwardly down the stairs, Lillian questions him about Indian pottery.

It emerges that Outland is a type of explorer who has excavated some of the cliff-dweller sites in the Southwest and has brought examples of pottery with him. He makes a present of one to Lillian and presents of two bits of turquoise to the girls. The whole family is impressed by Outland, principally by his generosity.

That summer, Outland studied and showed an aptitude for math. He was virtually adopted by the family, and Lillian found him housing and suitable clothing. He also was often at the house and played with the girls. From one of his comments to the girls it emerged that his father died of a cramp while swimming and that his mother died of illness soon after. She omitted to tell those around her, including his adoptive parents the O’Briens, how old he was, so he remained in ignorance of that fact, and also of his birthday.

He told stories of his life to the children, who heard about his adventures in the West with his good friend Roddy. His interaction with the Misses St. Peter was important to him; he was constantly at the house telling them stories and enjoying the hero worship he received from them.

In the present once more, the Professor reflects nostalgically on the happy family memories made in his old house, and connects his nostalgia specifically to his daughters.


This section contains the reader’s introduction to Outland the man. Hitherto he has been an almost mythical figure, as Scott implies, an idea that took the quiet family life of the St. Peters by storm and went away again, leaving treasure in his wake.

Outland is presented as a genius in math and a fair hand at Latin and Spanish. He is a stereotype of the honorable American cowboy who is quixotic and idealistic in personal relationships; this characteristic is displayed mostly by his generous gifts to Rosamund, Kathleen and Lillian.

Cather also uses this generosity to show that Outland is not one to count dollars and cents; he doesn’t value objects for their monetary worth but for their beauty and for their ability to make others happy. As such, Cather places him squarely in the Professor’s camp of art-religion-history as opposed to the enemy camp of science-technology-materialism.

This placement is a little odd given the fact that Outland is a brilliant scientist, and is later known to the world as the inventor of the revolutionary Outland vacuum, but his behavior and the values he evidently espouses, not only in this chapter but throughout the novel, place him squarely in the Professor’s camp.

Outland is presented as a true stranger to the Professor’s world; he is a self-made man who lacks education but is socially and academically acceptable in spite of it. His background makes him almost a foreigner to the tight academic world of Hamilton, but in spite of this “otherness,” Outland is embraced, not only by the Professor, but by his family and the community.