Title

Willa Cather's The Professor's House and the Socialization of American Law

Authors

Leah F. Ordonia

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2002

Abstract

The American novelist Willa Cather, whose career spanned the first four decades of the twentieth century, avidly immersed herself in the public issues of her time. The progression of her novels suggests a thematic shift from a celebration of nature and frontierism in the 1910s to a cynical vision of mortality and loss in the 1920s. Not coincidentally, this shift parallels the transformation of American law from individualist law to what Bernard Schwartz, author of The Law in America (1974), calls a 'socialization of law,' a refocusing of legal principle toward collective society and groups. One of the transformation's advocates was the progressive Judge Roscoe Pound, once a colleague and acquaintance of Willa Cather in the University of Nebraska and a pre-eminent legal scholar in the 1920s and the 1930s, who popularly asserted his Darwinistic theories of 'sociological jurisprudence' and 'social engineering.' Cather's 1925 novel The Professor's House 'ostensibly a story of a historian's mid-life depression ' conjures issues of inheritance, contracts, university politics, and legislation among others, exploring the practical applications of legal thought and social consciousness as well as the ideologies that influence them.Through her portrayal of the antagonistic human relationships within the novel, Willa Cather complicates the distinction between individualism and collectivism, reflecting her own ambivalent responses to the legal discourse in American jurisprudence at a time when the country's legal system was forced to accommodate the rapid growth of big business, an increasingly visible working class, and a growing tendency toward government intervention in matters of 'rights.' The novel's pessimism has to do with Cather's inability to accept either a traditional individualism or a modern collectivism as a source of optimism concerning society and social relations.

Advisor

J. Swift

Department

ecls

Support

Ford Research Fellowship

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