The Professor's House

The Professor's House Summary and Analysis of Chapter 12, Section 1: "The Family"

On a teaching morning, the Professor breakfasts alone over the post. Then he goes upstairs to his wife and tells her Mrs. Crane, Professor Crane’s wife, wants to talk to him in his work-room. Mrs. Crane is described as a very homely woman with three daughters and financial troubles due to her husband’s ill health and periodic operations.

When Mrs. Crane arrives at the Professor’s, she appeals to him for help over the couple’s claim to Outland’s estate, asserting that Professor Crane’s help was crucial to Outland’s successful invention. When the Professor says he can do nothing because Outland didn’t mention Crane in his will, Mrs. Crane recounts her version of the history of the Outland discovery.

Louie Marsellus arrived in Hamilton to install a power plant just at the time when the town was reeling from the news of Outland’s death at the front and extracted information about the invention from Professor Crane. According to Mrs. Crane, Marsellus and Rosamund unfairly appropriated Outland’s papers and apparatus through their lawyers and cut Professor Crane out of any financial gains from the invention.

The Professor says he appreciates her difficulty, but that Outland’s will is quite an obstacle, and that Crane wouldn’t have been able to commercially develop the invention based on what Outland had left behind. He says that Louie poured a lot of time and money into it, time and money that Crane and St. Peter didn’t have.

Mrs. Crane then paints a bleak picture of her family’s economic circumstances, and the Professor promises to act on his belief that Rosamund should give the Cranes some type of informal monetary recognition. Mrs. Crane then says that she and her brother plan to take steps to settle the matter legally and leaves.

The Professor then reflects on his friendship with Professor Crane and how they banded together at the University against the commercialization of education and the encroachment of business and farming interests upon the traditional academic curriculum. Socially, Crane is strictly religious, boring and even slightly misanthropic; he is incompatible with the Professor’s way of life. Academically and professionally, the two men are close.

The Professor believes Crane should get something from the Outland fortune and resolves both to speak to Louie about it and to dissuade Crane from taking legal steps.


In this chapter, the reader is given a clearer idea of how Outland’s invention was left when he went off to fight in World War I and how it was monetized afterwards.

Apparently Outland got a patent on it before he left, but it still required a lot of money and time and promotion before it started to make money. These resources were provided by Louie Marsellus, who made the promise of Outland’s discovery into dollars and cents.

What is less clear from this chapter, and indeed from the events recounted in the novel as a whole, is how Louie and Rosamund got together. Did Louie seize the opportunity to marry the woman who was to inherit such wealth as a result of his hard work? Did Rosamund spy a brilliant entrepreneur who would make her undeveloped patent turn into cold hard cash? Or was it a love match? Was Rosamund simply on the rebound from Outland? This is a question that is shrouded in mystery not only in this chapter, but throughout the novel.

In another example of academic brilliance reduced to money-grubbing, Mrs. Crane puts to the Professor the proposition that Outland wouldn’t have been able to develop his invention without her husband’s help, and that her family should get something from the estate for her husband’s pains, despite the fact that Crane isn’t mentioned in the will. The Professor, ever wary of getting enmeshed in personal squabbles, is cautious but resolves to do what he can for Crane.

Only in a modern, scientific, materialistic world would an otherwise proud academic be reduced to arguing over the proceeds of an academic achievement, Cather seems to say. This situation would only transpire with respect to a scientific achievement.