In his study of the making of The Professor’s House, David Harrell asserts that the influence of Mesa Verde “accounts for more of the novel’s final form and meaning” than any other material. He concedes, however, that there were clearly many influences on the novel and that The Professor’s House apparently derived, “more thoroughly than other works, from disparate origins whose separation in both time and place were no doubt a challenge to the creative power that finally brought them all together” (5). In the historical essay to the Scholarly Edition of The Professor’s House, James Woodress, drawing on Harrell, notes written sources as diverse as Gustav Nordenskiöld’s 1893 archaeological study The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde, Anatole France’s 1897 novel Le mannequin d’osier, and Cather’s 1902 short story “The Professor’s Commencement,” adding that because Cather “had a very retentive memory, the hundreds of books she read lay in the deep well of her consciousness, to use William James’s phrase, as a literary source to be drawn upon” (302). I would suggest that several of the works of Chicagoan Henry Blake Fuller were among the sources that Cather retrieved from that “deep well” in creating The Professor’s House. In particular, at a time in her life when Cather was most concerned with the human consequences of modern material culture and with the passing of what she increasingly came to see as a nobler past, Fuller apparently provided themes, plots, and characters that enabled her to articulate her own fictional response to that modernized commodity-driven culture and to generational conflict and change.
Though little known today, Henry Blake Fuller was the leading Chicago novelist of the late nineteenth century. He originally established his literary reputation in the early 1890s with the publication of two Italian romances. His two major “realistic” novels of the 1890s—The Cliff-Dwellers, published in 1893, and With the Procession, published in 1895—both deal with the successful business and social classes of Chicago. William Dean Howells and other eastern critics praised the latter two books highly. Although he continued to write fiction, in the first two decades of the twentieth century Fuller spent much of his time writing book reviews and essays for the New York Times, the New York Evening Post, the New Republic, the Nation, the Dial, and other important periodicals. During this period, Harriet Monroe invited him to be an advisory editor for Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. He was considered by his contemporaries an excellent critic and interesting conversationalist; at the same time, however, a rather enigmatic and very reticent personality (perhaps a result of his homosexuality) contributed to a kind of social isolation. In 1919 he made a brief reemergence as a writer of fiction with his novel Bertram Cope’s Year. Poor health and his disappointment at the negative reaction to Bertram Cope’s Year apparently limited Fuller’s attempts to publish his fiction in the 1920s, although he published two novels in the six months before his death in 1929. 
Theodore Dreiser declared Fuller “the father of American realism” (1), but by 1954 the author of a scholarly article on Fuller’s career in American Quarterly characterized him as “only a footnote in the history of American writing” (Lawrence 137). Edmund Wilson’s lengthy 1970 New Yorker article seems to have done much to revive interest in Fuller, whom Wilson identified as one of America’s undeservedly “neglected” artists. He declared Fuller “a unique and distinguished writer” whose Chicago novels are characterized by an admirable “precision and elegance” of style (112, 114). Wilson, in fact, judged Fuller superior to Howells as a novelist of manners, an opinion that Howells himself had voiced. Three book-length biographies followed within a decade of Wilson’s article; since then, however, Fuller has again largely been ignored. 
So, then, what is the possible connection between Fuller and Cather, and, specifically, what influence might Fuller have had on The Professor’s House? Although there is no mention of him in Woodress’s biography or in Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout’s Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather, it seems highly likely that Cather would have heard of Fuller, especially during the 1890s, when his Chicago novels occasioned widespread comment in both the Midwest and the East. The Cliff-Dwellers was serialized in Harper’s Weekly from June to August 1893, and the novel appeared in book form in the late fall of that year. A starkly realistic condemnation of Chicago’s business world and of its upper middle class, the novel was found objectionable by writers of the genteel tradition.  However, Hamlin Garland declared that Fuller “had beaten the realists at their own game” (266), and Howells praised The Cliff-Dwellersas “a work of very great power” (“Cliff Dwellers” 863). With the Procession, published in March 1895, two months before Cather made her first trip to Chicago, evoked Howells’s praise of Fuller’s “perfect intelligence” (M. D. Howells, Life in Letters508) and James Huneker’s declaration, “In Fuller we have at last met the American novelist. . . . He has culture, courage, conviction, [and] sees his country from the objective viewpoint” (18). Moreover, once Cather herself became a novelist, she was likely aware of Fuller’s comments on her and her work. As Kenneth Scambray notes in his study of him, Fuller “promoted the works” of a number of writers, including Cather, in his reviews and essays (7–8). 
Cather and Fuller also shared aesthetic ideas. In August 1917 the Dial published Fuller’s essay “A Plea for Shorter Novels,” which argues for an approach to fiction writing strikingly similar to that expressed by Cather in “The Novel Démeublé.” “The long novel,” Fuller says, “too often suggests the unpacked trunk—the contents have never been compactly brought together at all, but are spread loosely, and often at random, over bed, chairs, and floor” (140). Like Cather, who criticizes the realist’s tendency toward “mere verisimilitude” (40), Fuller admonishes the writer of fiction to “abolish set descriptions of places” and to “sweep away” all the “stuff” that too often “is dragged in because someone will think it ‘ought to be there’” (140). Criticizing the “swollen novels” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Fuller asserts that “construction” in a novel “is the art of leaving out”; lack of “discipline” in fiction writing “makes for diffuseness and formlessness” (139). In 1918 Fuller published On the Stairs, which put his theory of the “shorter” or “unfurnished” novel into practice.
These facts, of course, suggest only that Cather might have been familiar with Fuller and his work. Fuller’s fiction itself, however, provides the strongest evidence that Cather indeed had read his work and had been influenced by it. Major sources and background material for the middle section of The Professor’s House have generally been agreed upon and are discussed in detail in Harrell’s From Mesa Verde to “The Professor’s House.” Cather evidently began working on a southwestern story titled “The Blue Mesa” in 1916, which she seems to have finished in late 1922 or early 1923 (Harrell 323). At some point she had renamed the piece “Tom Outland’s Story,” and that story, “a turquoise set in dull silver” (epigraph, The Professor’s House), became the middle section of Cather’s novel.
Backgrounds for parts 1 and 3 of The Professor’s House have also been identified. John Hinz long ago pointed to Cather’s early story “The Professor’s Commencement” as a forerunner of The Professor’s House(79), and subsequently both David Stouck and Bernice Slote noted similarities between Cather’s story “Her Boss” (written in the latter part of 1917 and published in The Smart Setin 1920) and the first and third parts of the novel (Stouck 98; Slote, Introduction xv). Cather’s reading of Viola Roseboro’s novel Storms of Youth(1920) may also have piqued her interest in telling the story of a college professor: she wrote to Roseboro from Paris that she had read the book on her voyage to France, had found one of the characters, a professor, particularly interesting, and would like to have had a whole book on him (Cather to Roseboro, 5 June ).
Fuller’s works, however, may have been even more important than these other sources to Cather’s development of parts 1 and 3 of The Professor’s House. Fuller’s title “The Cliff-Dwellers” suggests an obvious connection, but his cliff dwellers are not the Anasazis of the Southwest but the Chicagoans who live and work in the city’s new skyscrapers. (In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the term “cliff dwellers” became widely used to designate anyone living in high-rise dwellings.) Although cliff dwellings in his novel are modern structures, Fuller nevertheless begins his book with an elaborate ironic juxtaposition of the southwestern landscape and the Chicago cityscape. In the modern city, “towering cliffs”—manmade structures— look down upon “great cañons” filled with “rushing streams of commerce”—“shoppers, clerks, and capitalists”—and “the confused cataract” of Chicago’s diverse citizenry (1, 54).
From this description Fuller turns to the business and social life of Chicago and delivers a scathing attack on the crassly materialistic, superficial, manipulative, and dishonest society of the day. (Needless to say, to a city congratulating itself on the overwhelming success of the Columbian Exposition, the novel was a great shock.) The opening allusion to the Southwest in The CliffDwellers reminds one of Cather’s juxtaposition in The Professor’s Houseof the Anasazi cliff dwellers and the office workers of Washington dc. In his study of Fuller, John Pilkington comments that Fuller’s “complaint against Chicago” was his belief that “the basic assumptions or premises upon which life rested in Chicago were destructive, or at least inimical, to the qualities which he considered requisite for satisfactory living” (91). Fuller’s “complaint,” of course, resembles Professor Godfrey St. Peter’s view of the world in which he lives and prefigures a number of comments Cather herself made in the 1920s about life in modern America.
The business theme is a major element in The Cliff-Dwellers, but Fuller himself declared in his essay “My Early Books” that his real intention had been to examine fundamental questions about marriage (Scambray 87), a topic that Cather also explored in The Professor’s House and other works. In this vein Fuller clearly set out to attack the depictions of happily married couples so prevalent in the popular “genteel” and sentimental fiction of the day. There are thirteen married couples of different ages in The Cliff-Dwellers; in all but one of the marriages, one or both of the partners feels dissatisfied or unfulfilled (Scambray 87–88). Lives of “quiet desperation” fill the novel, and Fuller skillfully examines the problematic situations and unsatisfactory relationships created by those who strive for and even achieve success (another topic Cather repeatedly examined in her works of the 1910s and 1920s).
At the center of these problems are the women, the wives and daughters, for whom the material success of the husband or father is clearly a mixed blessing. In both The Cliff-Dwellers and With the Procession, Fuller depicts strong-willed women who too often measure their own and their families’ worth largely in material terms. The same acquisitive spirit that typifies St. Peter’s wife, Lillian, and his older daughter and the same envy that haunts the relationship between Rosamond and her sister Kathleen in Cather’s novel appear repeatedly in The CliffDwellers. As one critic has said, the wives and daughters in The Cliff-Dwellers“divert their considerable nervous energies into the channel of social rivalry. Their husbands [however] are not expected to follow them into this world, merely to pay the bills” (Bowron 135). In one relationship after another, the characters question whether they had married the right person. Godfrey St. Peter’s bemused statement about Euripides might as well have come from the mouths of several of the male characters in The Cliff-Dwellers: “when he [Euripides] was an old man, he went and lived in a cave by the sea, and it was thought queer, at the time. It seems that houses had become unsupportable to him. I wonder whether it was because he had observed women so closely all his life” (154).
These obvious thematic similarities between The Cliff-Dwellers and The Professor’s Houseare intriguing, but specific plot and character parallels between The Professor’s Houseand With the Processionstrongly suggest Cather drew on the novel, consciously or unconsciously, as a source. In With the Procession (1895), Fuller softened his tone and produced a study less stark, less bitter, and less uncomplimentary to Chicago and its ruling class. The world of modern business and the social and domestic dramas are still important, but Fuller here explores a theme that he saw as fundamental to the America of the late nineteenth century: an older generation’s being passed by and its values being ignored or rejected as the world changes. In this case, Chicago’s effort at “uplift,” the popular term for the attempt to create a positive environment for “culture,” is rendered difficult because the older, moneyed, upper class finds itself engaged in an apparently futile struggle with the emerging, uncultured nouveau middle class. One critic explains that in this second Chicago novel Fuller “now determined to focus his attention upon those whose allegiance was to the old Chicago but who were forced to live in the new era” (Pilkington 97).
The chief representative of that older culture is Mrs. Granger Bates, but the focus of the narrative is the Marshall family, in particular David Marshall, a sixty-year-old businessman. The Marshalls had earlier withdrawn from “the procession,” the continual march to make more money and to move higher in society. However, the Marshall women—David’s wife and two daughters—now discover that they, unfortunately, have fallen behind their contemporaries and have slipped down the social ladder. The question for the women in the family is how to reestablish themselves, how to rejoin the “procession” or “caravan.”
Doing so requires first that David Marshall’s two daughters be accepted into Chicago high society. For Rosamund, the darkhaired, very attractive, self-willed daughter, who “was teaching her father how to spend [his] money,” this is no problem. Her looks, confidence, and superior air make her a natural in that social world. Godfrey St. Peter also has two daughters. The dark-haired, more confident and assertive of his daughters is also named Rosamond—a mere coincidence, or a tip of the hat to Fuller? Notably, while Cather’s Rosamond receives a bracelet with “a turquoise set in dull silver” (106), Fuller at one point describes his Rosamund as looking “like a garnet set in dull gold” (106). The other Marshall daughter, Jane, certainly cannot match her sister’s looks or confidence. She is, however, her father’s favorite, just as Kathleen, her counterpart in Cather’s novel, is her father’s favorite. Like the Professor, David Marshall constantly hears the “hubbub of female voices” from another room (With the Procession 22), but he is generally uninterested in and largely uninvolved in the “domestic drama” (The Professor’s House 100) that goes on in the house. He is immersed in his own affairs and is “altogether alien to the amenities of the great world” (89). As he says, “There are lots of other things to think about” (152).
Having achieved great success—that is, having made a great deal of money—David realizes that though he is growing older, he is still useful: he writes checks to finance the social and domestic activities of his wife and daughters. The biggest check he is preparing to write is one for a new house. Frustrated that her home does not measure up to those of the people she now knows, Rosamund asks her mother, “Are we going on forever living in this same old place?” (156). Rosamund and her mother finally decide that the family must move to a new house in a better neighborhood. Plans are developed and Mrs. Marshall and her daughters spend hours discussing the various details of architecture, furnishings, and decorations.
As mother and daughters discuss plans for the new house, David, resigned to a move he does not want to make, responds to their project with “unillumined indifference” (176). In The Professor’s House we see the same attention to constructing and decorating two houses—the Professor’s own new house and Louie and Rosamond’s new house, “Outland”—and Godfrey St. Peter is similarly resigned and indifferent to both. Fuller’s Rosamund, like Cather’s Rosamond, will have her ideal house, “a palace and a show-place” (With the Procession 233), but Jane sums up her father’s feeling about new houses when she remarks, “It may be a nice house, but it will never be home . . . our dear old home” (209). 
The prospect of surrendering his old home and a series of problems with his business take a heavy toll on David Marshall. As his son Roger observes, “Father is not the man he used to be” (226). David has long felt alienated from his family, and he feels increasingly alienated from the new generation he now confronts. He has vowed to try to get to know and come to like Rosamund’s fiancé, but he finds a disturbing distance in their relationship. David is too inexperienced in the drama of modern business to detect or to respond successfully to the materialism, insincerity, hypocrisy, and unethical practices of those around him. Obviously lacking the consumer mentality and concern with social standing of the other members of his family, he clearly is not “with the procession.” With a “pathetic pride,” Fuller says, he insists on “standing at his post” (251), as a representative of an older world that has given way to a “new and careless public” (273). Like Godfrey St. Peter, David Marshall is “tired.” With a bitter irony, Fuller tells us that on “a chilly day in early November . . . wrapped in shawls and bolstered up with pillows,” David is moved from his old house to the new house. Lying in bed in that cold, unfurnished structure, he prepares to die.
Whether Cather had read The Cliff-Dwellers and/or With the Processionwhen they first appeared in the mid-1890s, or at a later point, Fuller’s examination of modern American society would no doubt have seemed particularly relevant to Cather in the early 1920s. She, like any number of other American writers at the time, had cause to question the less than positive consequences of “progress” (as does Godfrey St. Peter) and certain negative values and attitudes that had come by this time to be seen by many as distinctly “American.” As Honor McKitrick Wallace notes in her essay on Cather and commodity culture, a broad shift occurred circa 1900 with the transformation from a society “emphasizing production and property to one emphasizing consumption and spending” (145). Interested in much older New World cultures and events, Godfrey St. Peter might not have fit well into the pre-1900 world; the world of the early twentieth century is even more foreign to him.
The influence of Thorstein Veblen and the relevance of his work to The Professor’s House have been clearly demonstrated by Guy Reynolds (124–49) and others. In 1920 and 1922 Sinclair Lewis lambasted American materialism in Main Street and Babbitt. In Cather’s One of Ours Claude Wheeler is appalled by his brothers’ fascination with “mechanical toys” (35); the cluttered Wheeler cellar symbolizes an end result of the American desire to own “things.” In the same year in which The Professor’s House was published, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway would lament the corruption of Gatsby’s dream and, implicitly, of the original American Dream as well. The modern consumer mentality, they all recognized, often encourages much of what is worst in mankind, breeding anxiety and disappointment for those who embrace it as well as for those who disdain it. Jay Gatsby’s pride in the number of shirts in his closet and George F. Babbitt’s satisfaction with his alarm clock, bathroom towel rack, and toothbrush holder are paralleled in The Professor’s House by the desire of the St. Peter women (encouraged by Louie Marsellus) for beautiful furs and showy jewelry, a painted Spanish bed, the right faucets, and glass doorknobs. Their fascination, if not obsession, with material goods, exemplified in a trip to Chicago that becomes “an orgy of acquisition” (152), is presented as typical of a modern America whose values both the Professor and Tom Outland, rightly or wrongly, find far different from and disappointingly inferior to those of the simple and noble cliff dwellers described in the middle section of the novel.
The attempt to come to terms with, or the tendency to react against, the emphasis on commodity and consumerism is, of course, fundamental to modernist philosophy. The complex consequences of having money and therefore being able to purchase and possess “things” would also, no doubt, have interested Cather in the early 1920s, for it was with the commercial success of Youth and the Bright Medusa and especially One of Ours that she finally achieved financial success. Sales of those two volumes in 1923 brought her over $19,000 (Lewis 115), equivalent in today’s (early 2010) terms to almost $240,000. As both Janis Stout (Introduction) and Mary Ann O’Farrell have argued, Cather’s attitude toward her own material success must have been ambivalent. While she long was seen as someone who was more interested in art for its own sake than in popular success and the financial rewards of authorship, more recent revelations about the extent to which she was directly involved in the marketing of her books (see Porter, for example) and the repeated references in her letters to various niceties—a comfortable apartment, good food, fine wine, tickets to the opera, nice clothes, the opportunity to travel—make it clear that those “things” and experiences that money could buy were central to her life.
For Cather, aesthetic appreciation and the emotions and memories associated with what she owned apparently were more important than the things themselves. During the early to mid1920s, however, she seriously considered the costs and negative consequences of commercial success, concerns explicitly reflected in “Coming, Aphrodite!” (1920) and in what Patrick Shaw calls Cather’s “conflict narratives”: A Lost Lady, The Professor’s House, and My Mortal Enemy (95). Shaw contends that Cather’s use of unsatisfactory or broken marriages in these works also reflects her concern with a broken world (95), in which the traditional value system has been replaced by “quite another” otherwise grounded, modern system inferior to and incapable of providing a satisfactory sense of purpose and meaning. The same feeling is evident in a 1922 letter to Dorothy Canfield Fisher [17 June 1922]) in which Cather notes that the contemporary world is different from the world they had known earlier, and, of course, in Cather’s well-known remark, “The world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts” (“Prefatory Note” v). According to Stout, “Uncle Valentine,” published six months before The Professor’s House, makes clear the relationship between A Lost Lady and the two novels that followed it (Writer and Her World 204); all these works look back, to one extent or another, to “a bygone period of American life” around the turn of the century before those changes that “made all the world so different” (“Uncle Valentine” 3).
During the time Cather was working on what became The Professor’s House, Fuller’s previously mentioned 1917 essay “A Plea for Shorter Novels” might have interested her; during the late 1910s and early 1920s she herself was developing her ideas about the art of fiction. The publication of Fuller’s Bertram Cope’s Year in 1919 might also have caught her attention. Indeed, many striking parallels between Bertram Cope’s Yearand The Professor’s Housestrongly suggest that Cather had read Fuller’s novel.
Set in a midwestern university town, rather obviously Evanston, Illinois, the novel focuses on the various social adventures and problems of Bertram Cope, a twenty-four-year-old English instructor. One of the major themes in the novel is the relationship between the older and younger generations, a theme that Bernice Slote long ago saw as taking on “a kind of archetypal significance in [Cather’s] imaginative world” (xiv). One of Bertram’s acquaintances is Basil Randolph, a scholar in his midfifties, who is very much aware that he is growing older. Like Professor St. Peter, who bemoans the indifference and lack of graciousness of his students, Randolph finds most of the younger generation “commonplace,” “noisy, philistine, glaringly cursory and inconsiderate toward their elders” (13). Despite his desire to teach them “civilized” ways and to help promote their careers, they clearly have little use for him.
A few of them, however, “he would have enjoyed knowing, and knowing intimately” (13). Bertram Cope is such a young man. Just as Godfrey St. Peter had found Tom Outland the most remarkable young man he had ever met, Randolph finds Cope a notable exception among the students at the university. Just as St. Peter’s knowing Outland causes him to think of his youth, to rediscover his “original ego,” “the original, unmodified Godfrey St. Peter” (265, 263), Randolph’s relationship with Cope evokes much the same response: Randolph, we are told, “thought of his own early studies and of his own early self-sufficiencies. He felt disposed to find his earlier self in this young man—or at least an inclination to look for himself there” (41).
Bertram Cope’s Year was perhaps the most important, if not the first, homosexual novel published in the United States in the early twentieth century. It deals frankly with the topic and addresses it with skill and grace. In 1922, Carl Van Vechten called Fuller’s treatment of homosexuality “refined” and “studiedly refrained.” He could not think of another American writer, he said, “who could have dealt with the subject so thoroughly, from so many angles, and yet have written it so discreetly” (295). Some critics have read St. Peter’s relationship with Outland as homosexual or homoerotic. Doris Grumbach, for instance, says the novel “hints at a private, unconfessed, sublimated” homosexual relationship (339), and John Anders sees the relationship as “overtly eroticized” (99). Despite Van Vechten’s comments about Fuller’s “discreet” treatment of homosexuality in Bertram Cope’s Year, Fuller is nevertheless far more direct than Cather— if, indeed, Cather intended to portray a homosexual relationship indirectly. Whether or not Cather read Bertram Cope’s Year and/ or comments on it by Van Vechten and other critics, Fuller’s novel provides a crucial context for interpreting the meaning and significance of Cather’s portrayal of a cross-generational friendship between a younger and an older man in a university setting. One might argue that Bertram Cope’s Year gave her the idea of at least inviting readers to entertain the idea of a homoerotic attraction between St. Peter and Outland in her own novel, as she continued to examine gender and sexuality issues reflected in a number of her previous works.
Fuller’s fiction, then, apparently provided fictional material that Cather appropriated for her own uses, a common tendency for a writer who admitted late in her career that she had “invented” very little (Cather to Carrie Miner Sherwood, 29 April 1945). As can be seen in studies of influences on many of Cather’s works, her fictional creations generally were imaginative collages created from a variety of materials.  She, in fact, revealed the workings of her creative imagination in several interviews given in the early 1920s. In 1921, for example, she told Eleanor Hinman, “It happened that my mind was constructed for the particular purpose of absorbing impressions and retaining them (Bohlke 44). And in 1925, she remarked to Flora Merrill, “Your memories are like the colors in paints, but you must arrange them” (Bohlke 77). As David Harrell has made clear, The Professor’s House was made up of many “disparate” elements. A number of striking similarities between Fuller’s three novels and The Professor’s House suggest that Cather, remembering or rediscovering elements from Fuller’s fiction, likely drew upon and rearranged them in her own.
Shortly after the publication of One of Ours, Cather wrote to a reader who had discovered subtle allusions to the Parsifal legend in the novel, declaring that she thought she had “buried” the references so deeply that no one would detect them (Cather to Johns, 17 November 1922). Might she have used much the same technique here? In his 1982 article “The Uses of Biography: The Case of Willa Cather,” James Woodress asserted that literary analysis cannot “unlock the ultimate secrets of an artist’s act of creation” (202). However, awareness of possible source material for Cather’s novels, in this case her possibly having drawn upon Fuller’s works, certainly can provide insight into her creative method.