Thursday, July 07, 2011

By the Lake

Vacay Photo/Text Essay Brought to You by Willa Cather, Because Even When We Play We Are Hard-Workin' Lit Critters in Roxie's World.

Photo/Text #1: This one goes out to our good buddy and summer reader Historiann, who will score 25 points and an extra large pisco sour if she can identify the source of the following revery upon Lake Michigan:
[le Michigan] is altogether different. It is a sea, and yet it is not salt. It is blue, but quite another blue. Yes, there are clouds and mists and sea-gulls, but -- I don't know, il est toujours pus naif.

Photo/Text #2: Here Cather supplies us with a clever title for a pic of Ms. Ruby and her cousin Scooter out for a long evening stroll beside the lake. We call it, naturellement, Shadows on the Rock:

(Photo Credits: Moose, 7/6/11)

The Moms and la Ruby are on the road for a few more days, headed south later today to gear up for a big eightieth birthday celebration for the Mother of the Moosians this weekend. Back to regular blogalicious programming soon, I promise. For now, we'll leave you with another pithy Cather quote on the particular loveliness of Lake Michigan, which Moose is so deeply delighted to have discovered once again:
[T]he great fact in life, the always possible escape from dullness, was the lake . . . . [I]t was like an open door that nobody could shut. The land and all its dreariness could never close in on you. You had only to look at the lake, and you knew you would soon be free.
We'll let Historiann tell you where that one came from, too, darlings. We've got a boat to catch! Peace out.


  1. Both quotes are from The Professor's House, and both are the thoughts of History Professor Godfrey St. Peter, who's a terrific swimmer and who escapes to swim in Lake Michigan whenever he gets the chance.

    Although I enjoyed the book (and the happy accident of my trip to Mesa Verde last week), I found St. Peter not entirely convincing as a character. The character of his star student Tom Outland was very underdeveloped, so I didn't really get why his memory played such a large role in the book. He seemed more like a character from a Dime Novel than a real boy/man, and why St. Peter found him so brilliant or attractive isn't really explained.

    I realize that was probably Cather's point, and she leaves St. Peter drying off from a swim at the end of the book musing about his misspent youth and determined to live out the solipsism of boyhood. Tom Outland is a kind of archetype of American manhood of his era, meant to counteract the "sivilizing" force of all of the women in St. Peter's life. Maybe he wasn't better realized because Cather made him such a fantastic character--plucky orphan/cowboy/amateur archaeologist/brilliant inventor/dead war hero. And there's clearly the underlying theme of the Man of Action (Outland) who's romanticized/fetishized by the Man of Letters.

    I could identify with the Professor not wanting to move out of his old study completely, as uncharming as it seemed to anyone but himself. I don't think it's completely unreasonable for a scholar to want to have more than just a room of one's own, quite frankly. I often threaten to check into a hotel for the weekend to get some damn work done if people don't get out of my hair, so I totally understand the appeal of a HOUSE of one's own!

    Sorry for the long comment. I hope Moose, Goose, and Miss Ruby are having a wonderful break on the lake. (Did you figure out if St. Peter lived in Michigan, Illinois, or Wisconsin? I couldn't decide.) We'll be heading off to the other side of the state of Michigan to enjoy a considerably smaller lake next month.

  2. Hey, that's some pretty impressive literary interp for a historian, Historiann! It comports with a lot of what Moose says in her discussion of The Professor's House in her book. She has mellowed a bit on St. Peter over the years, as middle age has made his surliness seem a little more understandable. Tom's fantastic qualities have always reminded her of Huck Finn, though you're right that much of the character does seem drawn from dime novels.

    As for location, the passages quoted clearly refer to St. Peter's childhood memories of being on the west side of Lake Michigan. Moose deleted a line about the sun rising out of the lake, because in South Haven, of course, the sun sets into the lake. Not sure if his adult experiences of the lake are in Wisconsin or Michigan, though she vaguely recalls thinking it was Michigan. She'll have to check when she's back home -- Only brought a couple of pages from the novel along on the trip, thinking maybe they'd come in handy for a blog post or something.

    *Slides an extra large pisco sour down the bar to the finest close reader in the high desert.*

  3. **Slurrrrp!** Thanks!

    Wisconsin would make sense w/r/t the "Kanuck" father. (Michigan's still a possibility, esp. the U.P., but for some reason I always think of Wisconsin as being a little wilder and settled later by Anglophones than Michigan.)

    I hear you on having more sympathy for St. Peter as one comes to inhabit middle age. I know I have more sympathy for him now than I would have 10 years ago, when the dressmaker's mannequins and the decision to revert to an all-male world that excludes his wife and daughters would have really tweaked me.

    Still, it would have been nice to see more development of the fantastic Tom Outland, so that we could understand more fully why his Dime Novel life was so compelling to St. Peter. Do you think Cather suggests in St. Peter the dangers of living too much the life of the mind? Or is she merely observing how it might play out for one middle-aged, middle-western history professor?


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