The Professor's House

The Professor's House Summary and Analysis of Chapter 8, Section 1: "The Family"

A week has passed since the end of the previous chapter and the Professor and Lillian travel by train to Chicago with the Marselluses. The Professor is due to give his lecture at the University of Chicago and both couples have tea at the Blackstone hotel. The St. Peters had planned to stay at a less luxurious hotel on the South Side, but Louie surprises them by telling them he has booked the very room they are having tea in for the St. Peters and has arranged an evening at the opera for them. In short, he has become their host in the city.

The St. Peters sit down to the opera Mignon at 8 in the evening. The music and the production please the Professor and his wife and put them in nostalgic mood. They remember their days in Paris attending the Opera Comique and lament the loss of their youth and the onset of middle age. The Professor says they should have been shipwrecked when they were young and in love and Lillian agrees, to the Professor’s surprise. She also says that it wasn’t the children who came between them, and there is a moment of mutual understanding and forgiveness between husband and wife.

That night before drifting off, the Professor dreams of being shipwrecked, not with Lillian but by himself in Spain.

Louie arranges Rosamund’s birthday dinner directly after the Professor’s lecture and invites three of the Professor’s colleagues to it. Rosamund wears the emerald necklace and all goes off without a hitch. Louie comes out of it looking especially munificent as he produced the whole show.

The whole party travels back to Hamilton only to be greeted by winter storms and wind. Lillian warns the Professor not to go to the old house on the morning after they get back because the stove is liable to be blown out by the wind and poison the Professor with gas before he notices. She also rebukes him for extravagantly spending a year’s rent on the old house just for the sake of a few hours a day in the work-room. He gets angry and refuses to listen to her warnings.


This chapter witnesses the only moment in the novel where Lillian and Godfrey seem somewhat reconciled. Their relationship has been rocky since Outland came between them and lately has been growing more so, as is evident from the beginning of the story.

In this section, the couple bond over shared memories of their early days in Paris, where they met, and over, unsurprisingly, a piece of art, the opera Mignon. It is in this section that the reader is given any real sense that the Professor was once truly in love with his wife; throughout the rest of the novel, this love is mentioned but not demonstrated. While watching the opera, husband and wife express a desire to have been shipwrecked together while they were in love, to have stopped time during their happiest period together, before the children, before Outland, and before the Professor’s great magnum opus.

This dream of reconciliation is dealt a serious blow, however, when the Professor has a dream that night: of being shipwrecked, yes, but by himself in a situation that is later revealed to have been based on a memory of the time he conceived the structure of his work on the Spanish explorers. The Professor’s dreams, still, hinge on his work; his wife has no part in them, and the reader is left to conclude that his relationship with his family is becoming dangerously strained.

As if in confirmation of this conclusion, the Professor and his wife have a row when they get back to Hamilton; the Professor is determined to go to work in his old work-room and his wife warns him against the dangers of the gas stove and the unreliable window, but he doesn’t listen to her. Where his work and his personal habits are concerned, St. Peter listens to no one.

Lillian’s words are more farsighted than she could realize; before the end of the novel, the gas stove, the window and the winds from Lake Michigan will play a very important part in the story.