History: This book was written in 1925, in post-war America. In a similar fashion to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Cather narrates a story about the moral decline of a money-driven society.
Plot: When Professor Godfrey St. Peter and wife move to a new house, he becomes uncomfortable with the route his life is taking. He keeps on his dusty study in the old house in an attempt to hang on to his old life. Also the marriages of his two daughters have removed them from the home and added two new sons-in-law. As he is going through the changes of moving into his new house, he recounts his life, his family, and fondly remembers his former student and friend, Tom Outland. As he rejects the modernity thrown at him, St. Peter finds solace in memories and in the earth - in short, in what cannot be tempered by time, but that which fixedly stands alone.
The novel is in three parts, the central one deals with an exploration of an ancient cliff city in New Mexico by Tom who died in World War I.
In the final section, the professor, left alone while his family takes an expensive European tour, narrowly escapes death due to a gas leak in his study; and finds himself strangely willing to die. He is rescued, by the old family seamstress, Augusta, who has been his staunch friend throughout his trials. He resolves to go on with his life and make the best of things.
Review: The novel explores many contrasting ideas: that of loneliness, idealism vs. materialism, the sadness and resiliency of old age - the old vs. the new in the old house and the new house, the Professor or old generation vs. the new generation.
Also, Tom Outland's values vs. Louie Marsellus', the idea of the Professor as a scholar vs. his family relations, Indian tribes vs. the current world (of the 20s). My favorite part, Tom's story is so descriptive in the beauty of the landscape. Tom and the Professor both have a respect for nature, and admire the beauty of landscape throughout the book. Tom Outland's thrilling tale of a long-lost civilization is both an ironic contrast to the professor's staid outer life and a mirror of the imaginative interior life he experiences in his attic study.
Opening Line: "The moving was over and done."
Closing Line: "He thought he knew where he was, and that he could face with fortitude the Berengaria and the future."
Quotes: "No, Miller, I don't myself think much of science as a phase of human development. It has given us a lot of ingenious toys; they take our attention away from the real probelms, of course, and since the probelms are insoluble, I suppose we ought to be grateful for the distraction."
"If he lost an umbrella, it was a real misofrtune. He wasn't lazy, he wasn't a fool, and he meant to be honest; but he was intimidated by that miserable sort of departmental life. He didn't know wnything else. he thought working in a store or a bank not respectable."
"He seemed to be at the root of the matter; Desire under all desires, Truth under all truths. he seemed to know, among other things, that he was solitary and must always be so; he had never married, never been a father. He was earth, and would return to earth. When white clouds blew over the lake like bellying sails, when the seven pine- trees turned red in the declining sun, he felt satisfaction and said to himself merely; "That is right."
Rating: Very Good