The Professor's House

The Professor's House Summary and Analysis of Chapter 15, Section 1: "The Family"

During dinner at the Marselluses’ one night in March, Louie lets St. Peter in on his plans to pack the St. Peters off with Rosamund to France for the summer. His reasons are multiple: he wants the pleasure of the St. Peters’ company, but also wants to meet some of the Professor’s academic, intellectual friends.

Rosamund chimes in that the Professor’s foster family the Thieraults can help find inexpensive furnishings for the new house, and that Charles Thierault’s shipping line can help with transporting them back to the U.S. The Professor, knowing he will never agree to go, nevertheless says he will think it over.

Reflecting on the plan later, the Professor laments the fact that he wouldn’t be able to do what he wanted to do in France if he traveled with Louie, and resolves again to decline the offer. He reflects, however, that Lillian would enjoy the trip and that both she and Louie share the desire to get the most out of social situations; it is this “worldliness” that draws them together, St. Peter muses.

The Professor plans to decline the invitation based on the pressure of his work, an excuse he is comfortable with and has used over the years. It goes over well with Louie, who is respectful, but badly with Rosamund and Lillian.

Speaking to her husband alone about it later, Lillian rebukes him for drawing increasingly away from his family and becoming less human. He counters that he simply feels fatigued, that the zest for life has gone out of him since he kept up his teaching life, his family life and his authorial life with such vigor for so many years. He simply wants to rest, he says.


The Professor’s disdain for his son-in-law Louie is on display in this chapter. Louie, with seemingly the best and most generous motives, invites the Professor and Lillian to France with him and Rosamund for the summer and expresses a desire to meet some of the Professor’s academic colleagues there. Both the Professor and Lillian have repeatedly acknowledged that Louie is wholeheartedly interested in the Professor’s work and intellectual pursuits, and that Louie is a singularly generous and well-meaning individual.

However, in spite of his knowledge of these benevolent motives, the Professor throws cold water on the idea, looking down his nose at Louie while seeming to negate the idea that he knows any academics famous enough to interest the Marselluses in France. This contempt, it must be concluded, stems not from Louie’s personal characteristics, which are appealing, but from his status as a commercial engineer, a materialistic scientist, two of the things which the Professor and Cather most despise.

The Professor rejects the trip also because he knows that numerous social and familial demands will be placed on him in France; it is yet another symptom of his withdrawal both from society and from his family. Lillian recognizes this and rebukes him for it, but since she is one of the people he is withdrawing from the most, it does little good.

Cather here uses the term “worldliness” to describe Lillian and Louie’s enjoyment of social gatherings and situations, their desire to get the most out of interactions with other people. “Worldliness” is more commonly used in a religious sense to imply moral decay and irreverence; here, Cather invokes the word’s negative connotations without utilizing its religious origins.

When refusing the invitation, the Professor uses his desk as a metaphor for his work: “The desk was a shelter one could hide behind, it was a hole one could creep into.” The Professor is clinging to his work now not because he is in love with it, but because he is increasingly out of love with his family and needs a refuge.