Speculation, tourism, and The Professor's House.
In the 1916 Mesa Verde article Cather pointedly ignores the commercial aspects of promoting travel to the relatively new national park, but because she was an established "authoress"--a fact proclaimed in the headline to her article, "Colorado Show Place as Authoress Sees It" (82)--her vision of the mesa and its inhabitants attracted tourist dollars to the area. Despite her implied criticism of the commodification of land, her article played into the speculative fever still strong in Colorado, whose economy was expanding from the extraction of natural resources to tourism.
Although Cather suppressed the economics of tourism in her article, on some level she must have recognized that the ruins--which she represents as preserving "like a fly in amber" (84) a "human record" (85) of an organic relationship to the land--had been treated as a commodity ever since their discovery by white explorers and settlers. Certainly in her later ruminations on the meaning of Mesa Verde in The Professor's House, she engaged rather than denied the complexities of Western history. She depicted the inextricable relationship between the stories used to recover the values of the past and the entrepreneur--a relationship that challenged her belief in the transcendence of art. Cather recycled in The Professor's House a great deal of material from the Denver Times article, basing Tom Outland's adventure at Blue Mesa on her earlier depiction of Dick Wetherill's discovery of Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde. (4) But from the later perspective she acknowledged what was anathema to her: the impossibility of imagining an ideal outside the language of business. (5)
Perhaps because her own father's speculation jeopardized the family's finances, Cather was deeply suspicious of land speculation and speculators. She had also been influenced by the populist movement of the 1880s and 1890s, which argued that speculation obliterated the ideal of an organic relationship to the land. (6) As Patricia Nelson Limerick explains, although white settlers in the West viewed "the acquisition of property as a cultural imperative," speculation
stripped the social fiction of property of all its softer, justifying touches. Speculation revealed ownership to be a purely conceptual act.... Property could never look more arbitrary or distant from the ideal of the farmer-citizen made secure and independent by his land. (55, 69)
Cather demonized speculation as the source of estrangement from the land in an early story, "El Dorado: A Kansas Recessional" (1901; Collected Short Fiction 293-310). But the phenomenon of speculation had so thoroughly permeated Western thinking that Cather--like the historical Dick Wetherill and her character Tom Outland--found it impossible to conceive of a reality free of it. The intoxication associated with its risky but possibly remunerative activity was an integral part of Western adventure. Speculation privileged above all else getting there first, making the discovery that would lead to wealth and fame. Populists' antispeculation campaign could not squelch its appeal; it had sunk too deeply into the emotional aura surrounding land settlement in the West.
"Tom Outland's Story" in The Professor's House represents Cather's belated, grudging understanding of the "real story" of Western adventure. Through Tom Outland, who like Dick Wetherill was both a consumer and a supplier of the tourist experience, she confessed that the idyllic world of Blue Mesa could not be kept separate from speculation. Thus she also confessed her awareness that speculation had indelibly shaped Tom's story--and her own as well. At first glance, this reading might seem at odds with Cather's many commentaries on aesthetics in which she sought to sever art from the commercial culture that she abhorred. Cather bluntly insisted that "Economics and art are strangers" (Cather on Writing 27). Like tourism, art for Cather was "a search for something for which there is no market demand ... where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values" (103). As John Hilgart points out, Cather struggled in her fiction "to preserve the thing of beauty from the marketplace" (377). (7) My claim also seems at odds with Cather's own stated intentions for "Tom Outland's Story." In a 1938 letter, she explained that she inserted Outland's Blue Mesa story of a "world above the world" (Professor's House 240) into the center of the novel to open a window onto a realm free from the commodification that stifled Godfrey St. Peter's home and American culture in general (Cather on Writing 30-32). Not surprisingly, then, critics have traditionally interpreted Tom Outland as a vehicle for Cather's idealism. Yet I argue that Cather's revisions of the meaning of Mesa Verde mark her surrender of youthful idealism and her consciousness of the indissoluble ties between land economics and storytelling. For Cather's bitter resistance to speculation's commodification of landscape spurred her to construct her ideal in opposition to it. Even as she sought to validate the authenticity of her 1916 vision of Mesa Verde in The Professor's House, she perceived that the drama of discovery bore the imprint of the very market forces that Outland--and she herself--had sought to escape.
Constructing a world above the world:
Cather and MesaVerde
When Cather visited MesaVerde in 1915, she became one of 663 tourists who visited that season. (8) C. B. Kelly, who had obtained the transportation concession in the park (Smith 93), drove her from the town of Mancos, Colorado, out to the park (Harrell 56). Cather stayed at the tent camp run by park concessionaire Oddie Jeep, the daughter of park superintendent Thomas P, Rickner and the wife of park ranger Fred Jeep (Harrell 56). There she met the Smithsonian archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes, a "romantic" whose goal was to make the "mystical red man known to the literate public" (Smith 71).Although Fewkes was later criticized for his shoddy work at the site (73), he could tell good stories, and Oddie Jeep--on the lookout for ways to please her paying guests--had asked Fewkes to tell campfire stories to tourists (Harrell 66). Fewkes obliged with interpretive tales that delighted tourists perhaps as much for their delivery as for their content. Jack Rickner, the superintendent's son, later recalled the special effects that made these tales memorable:
Dr. Fewkes gave talks at a camp fire on the ledge below the museum looking towards Spruce Tree House.... Across the canyon there was a ditch cut in the rock. We took black powder & fuse.... When he came to the point in his lecture where the ball of fire came out of the earth we set the powder off--and the Indians came out of the ground on to this earth. (qtd. in Harrell 66)
Cather spent a week on the mesa and must have been present for at least one of Fewkes's talks (66), but she did not write about them in her article on Mesa Verde for the Denver Times. In order to represent Mesa Verde as rising above "the bustling business of the world," she ignored Fewkes's stories, which were motivated by a mixture of his own romanticism, Oddie Jeep's commercialism, and a common admiration for Hollywood-type spectacle. To include these talks would have revealed the extent to which even those individuals with the best of intentions for the cliff dwellings also "meant to realize on them" to borrow the words of Tom Outland's worldly companion Rodney Blake (Professor's House 244).
Like Fewkes's interpretive talks, the development of Mesa Verde--its transformation from an inconveniently located archaeological site into a tourist attraction and national park--represents the wedding of idealism and commercialism. The idealistic treatment of Mesa Verde as a cultural preserve was, moreover, only a second way to make money from the cliff dwellings. The first way, tied to an extraction economy, was more obviously exploitative: digging up pots and other artifacts to be sold as curios. In fact, many viewed the "resources" of the cliff dwellings as a commodity akin to gold or silver. And like the ore in mines, the artifacts at Mesa Verde were not limitless. Thus B. K. Wetherill, whose Alamo Ranch bordered the cliff dwellings and whose family guided tourists through the ruins, wrote to the Smithsonian in 1890 to warn that "the valleys of Mancos and Montezuma have been pretty thoroughly dug over, it being about the only means of support of quite a number of people" (Smith 40).Viewed from one perspective, B. K. Wetherill wrote to the Smithsonian in order to protect a national treasure. In the words of his son Al Wetherill, members of the family felt they "were the custodians of a priceless heritage" (Wetherill 130, Harrell 46). As Duane Smith explains, "Americans in the 1890s were showing more concern for conservation and preservation. The Wetherills, in their own quiet way, were in the vanguard of the so far unsuccessful movement to establish some form of protection for the ruins" (22). Seen from a different perspective, though, B. K. Wetherill's attempt to preserve the ruins before they were completely stripped grew out of a desire to preserve his family's investment in the tourist trade. Tourists wanted to see more than just empty ruins when they visited the cliff dwellings; they wanted to see whatever material evidence was left of the day-to-day lives of the cliff dwellers. For this reason, a museum housing artifacts was eventually established on the mesa (Smith 93). And of course, many wanted to take home a souvenir that would remind them of this past. In a cautiously worded response to later accusations that the Wetherill and their guests had in effect vandalized the cliff dwellings, Al Wetherill explained that "those who came as tourists were aware that we would allow no damage nor wanton pilfering" (Wetherhill 130; emphasis added). Allowing tourists to pilfer a pot or two was good for business. Having the ruins oficially recognized as part of the national heritage was even better. In the growing tourist trade, nationalistic rhetoric went hand in hand with economic development.
Simultaneously patriotic and speculative, the development of Mesa Verde must have "teased" Cather's imagination for years. (9) For the meaning of the cliff dwellings--as a national icon or as a commodity--could be reinterpreted by those who stood to profit from it and could change with changing attitudes toward the landscape. Thus B. K. Wetherill was soon joined by others who also petitioned to preserve the ruins before they were destroyed by pothunters and vandals. Under the administration of conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt, legislation to preserve the ruins as a national park was finally passed (Smith 56). Typically, setting aside land as a park was hotly contested; white settlers often resisted the creation of national forests, for example, because it would block them from developing "with minimum payment and little or no government regulation" (62) whatever resources lay on the land. When it was proposed that the cliff dwellings be set aside as a national park, however, the residents of Mancos and the greater southwestern Colorado area were overjoyed. The land around the cliff dwellings had been overgrazed, and the mining prospects were poor, so developing tourism to the area by creating a new national park was akin to striking a gold mine (62). After striking it rich by digging pots and exhausting the supply, these residents hoped to dig into the deep pockets of wealthy tourists. As in other areas of the US, tourism became the "answer to all economic problems" at Mesa Verde (Dona Brown 2). And the people of Mancos, like the Wetherills, saw no conflict of interest between preserving the historic ruins and preserving their investments. The testimony in support of the bills to turn Mesa Verde into a national park before the House and Senate in 1905 and 1906 reflects this mixture of idealistic and economic motives. The testimony
called attention to the national significance of the ruins, the destruction that had already occurred [from pothunters], the unfit nature of the land for agriculture and its classification as "poor range at best," and the potential tourist market. (Smith 57)
Cather, though, felt commercialism tarnished the experience of visiting the ruins, so she tried to remove it from her representation of the Mancos landscape. In her attempt to unearth the meaning of the cliff dwellings in her 1916 article, she found it necessary to suppress its economic aspects. Through her idealism, even the town of Mancos, which had developed itself into a mecca for tourists and had openly competed with the towns of Durango and Cortez for the distinction of gateway to the ruins (Smith 37-38), is transformed. Certainly she provides specific advice for tourists in her article, telling them, for example, that the conductor on the Denver & Rio Grande train to Mancos "has been on that run for fourteen years and ... can give you all sorts of helpful information" (82). But she takes great pains to conceal the dollars changing hands in the process. Thus, "the station agent, the hotel people and the camp outfitters," those individuals integral to the tourist trade in Mancos, are labeled "cordial" rather than, say, business-like. To describe the effect that such a trip has on a visitor, Cather writes: "Your business transactions become of minor importance, and before you know it you are staying on in Mancos because you like the people" (82-83). For Cather, visiting Mesa Verde is about recovering a period of time when people such as the cliff dwellers were "absolutely unenterprising in the modern American sense" (85).
By ostensibly removing "modern" American-style enterprise from her portrayal of Mesa Verde tourism, Cather could redefine a trip to the cliff dwellings as "a reproach" (84) to the world of business. She sets up a series of oppositions between the past and the present, and through them constructs a gap that enables her to "maintain a sense of innocence" about the past, particularly about the commercial aspects of the "discovery" and development of the ruins. (10) This series of oppositions, moreover, represents one of the defining characteristics of the tourist experience; as John Urry points out, tourists are only willing to consume a particular experience if they believe it will "generate pleasurable experiences which are different from those typically encountered in everyday life" (1). In Cather's construction, the tourist experience represents an escape from what she would later call the "new commercialism" (Professor's House 140), though as Dona Brown argues, "far from opposing [commercialism], tourism was an integral part of it" (12). According to Cather, the cliff dwellers' architecture, "absolutely harmonious with its site and setting," contrasts with the "ugly little American towns" tourists pass through while traveling from the East to reach the park (84). The cliff dwellers' lives were "settled" and ritualistic--"generations went on gravely and reverently repeating the past"--while the present generation of Americans continues "battling for anything new" (85). (11) And Cather joins the tour operators whose livelihoods depend on constructing the tourist experience as an escape when she implies that tourists to Mesa Verde could regain this past in its pure form.
In Cather's scheme, Dick Wetherill, B. K. Wetherill's son and the supposed discoverer of the Cliff Palace ruin, becomes both the original and model tourist. Cather thus imaginatively ushers her readers into the mesa through Dick Wetherill's perspective:
Any approach to the Mesa Verde is impressive, but one must always think with envy of the entrada of Richard Wetherill, the first white man who discovered the ruins in its canons forty-odd years ago. Until that time the mesa was entirely unexplored, and was known only as a troublesome place into which cattle wandered off, and from which they never came back.... The Wetherills had a ranch west of Mancos. One December day a boy brought word to the ranch house that a bunch of cattle had got away and gone up into the mesa. The same thing had happened before, and young Wetherill said that this time he was going after his beasts. He rode off with one of his cow men and they entered the mesa by a deep canon from the Mancos river, which flows at its base.... After a long stretch of hard climbing young Wetherill happened to glance up at the great cliffs above him, and there, thru a veil of lightly falling snow, he saw practically as it stands today and as it had stood for 800 years before, the cliff palace--not a cliff dwelling, but a cliff village; houses, courts, terraces and towers, a place large enough to house 300 people, lying in a natural archway let back into the cliff. It stood as if it had been deserted yesterday; undisturbed and undesecrated, preserved by the dry atmosphere and by its inaccessibility. (83-84)
Cather marks this moment as the quintessential tourist experience. It represents what Urry calls a "departure" from the "established routines and practises of everyday life" (2)--for Wetherill, from the work of cattle ranching. In her description of Wetherill's discovery, Cather abruptly moves from the past tense to the present when she concludes, "That is what the Mesa Verde means" (84). In other words, Cather also assumes a universal tourist gaze. Mesa Verde has the same meaning now as it did to Wetherill: the preservation of the cliff dwellers' organic relation to the land in an "undisturbed and undesecrated" form. Tourists who view what Wetherill first saw can experience the same sense of reverence he felt toward these ruins. Their confrontation with this preserved culture would lead them to recognize the superiority of the cliff dwellers' values, "custom, ritual, integrity of tradition" (86), which had been reaffirmed by Dick Wetherill's awed recognition of their worth.
In order to render Dick Wetherill's tourist gaze as ideal, however, Cather had to suppress the fact that Dick and his family were speculators as well as would-be custodians of a cultural treasure--that he mixed
business with idealism and that he was a supplier as well as consumer of the tourist experience. Cather did not mention this in her article, but when she visited the park in 1915, she made a point of meeting with Dick's brother, Clayton Wetherill, (12) in order to hear what she later referred to as the "real story" of the discovery (Cather on Writing 32). It is not surprising that Cather sought out Clayton (Dick was dead by this time) or that she was able to find him 13 years after the Wetherill ranch was sold. The Wetherills' tourist business at Mesa Verde had made them famous. Their business actually started in 1887, the year before Cliff Palace's discovery, but picked up dramatically because of this new attraction (Wetherill 20). Throughout the 1890s, even after the Panic of 1893 and the subsequent depression, the Wetherills kept up a lively business guiding and boarding tourists (Smith 34).Al Wetherill later remembered that "between 1889 and 1901 nearly one thousand people visited the ranch to see the cliff dwellings" (Wetherill 181). Although we can never know precisely what Clayton Wetherill told Cather about the discovery, his story likely matched the story provided by others in the Wetherill family, including his brother Al, who wrote an autobiography that focuses on the family's relationship to the cliff dwellings. The Wetherills generally worked as a team (Smith 18-19). In 1914, the year before Cather's visit, brother-in-law Charles Mason wrote an account of the family's discoveries and excavations, and the brothers all signed it in agreement (Harrell 49).
Essentially, the Wetherill discovery was firmly grounded in the speculative fever that was so much a part of Westerners' lives in general. Al Wetherill, who may have been a little resentful that his father, B. K. Wetherill, constantly uprooted the family in his search for riches, describes him as a typical speculator: "one of the early seekers for the fulfillment of daydreams and air-castles" (31). B. K. Wetherill's search for "air-castles" led him to borrow money to "finance a gold-gathering expedition" (22). His search also led to lead and zinc mines, ranching and farming, and finally to Cliff Palace (42). To B. K. Wetherill and his sons, the discovery of the ruins must have seemed like the big strike. As Duane Smith explains, the initial exploration of Cliff Palace was infused with the emotional drama of a gold rush (22). When Dick Wetherill and Charles Mason (whom Cather refers to as a "cow man" in her article) started back to Alamo Ranch after their discovery,
they reached the camp of several friends, [and] they excitedly told of their discoveries in the canyons. Catching the fever, the whole group, joined by John Wetherill, set out on foot, with packs, to collect artifacts. Success rewarded their dig; John later wrote that they dug for about 30 days and took out a fine collection, which they carried back to the Alamo Ranch. (22)
The Wetherills viewed the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde as "holy ground," to use Al Wetherill's description (116), but their sense of the sacred was defined by their experience as speculators. Therefore, as Al remembers, digging pots was like "hunting gold," only "much more exciting ... because we never knew what we might find next" (119). When the Wetherills discovered that miners were extracting pots from the canyon in competition with their own excavations, the family offered to grubstake them. Al recalls, "we made an arrangement with them to go it on a larger scale, since we had the necessary equipment of tools and, the most important, horsepower. We grubstaked them and we were to see to getting the stuff [artifacts] out of the canons" (124). Al distances himself from these miners because they lacked the right attitude toward the pots; he writes, "to them, all was just so much stuff to get out to market" (125), but he and his family invested in their work nonetheless. Al's self-congratulatory attitude toward his own family's high-mindedness over the ruins becomes tenuous, though, when he describes their first exploration of Cliff Palace: "It is as though unseen eyes watched, wondering what aliens were invading their sanctuaries and why" (111). Al asserts that one must approach the mesa with "the proper spirit of romance" (114) in order to "bring back to life" the original inhabitants, but his sense that the spirits of the cliff dwellers question his and his brothers' motives for invading the ruins betrays his own uneasy awareness of their mixed motives--that they sought to resurrect an important part of the cultural heritage yet commodify this heritage to win "fame and fortune" (130). Cather would later build this same uneasiness into Tom Outland's recognition of the "mixed" (251) motives that characterized his early adventure at Blue Mesa. (13)
Cather thus launders Dick Wetherill's story when she depicts it as a departure from the routine of work; she knew that serving tourists was the focus of the Wetherills' work long before their discovery of Cliff Palace. Her erasure of speculation from the Wetherills' Mesa Verde experience reveals both her idealized conception of landscape and the very force that shaped this ideal. John Urry explains that the tourist's gaze is "constructed through difference":
The gaze in any historical period is constructed in relationship to its opposite, to non-tourist forms of social experience and consciousness. What makes a particular tourist gaze depends upon what it is contrasted with; what the forms of non-tourist experience happen to be. (1-2)
Cather reworks economic-driven expansion into its most innocuous form, reverent tourism, but speculation defines the tourist experience through contrast. Wetherill, ostensibly the "first white man" to explore Cliff Palace, arrives not to market it but to worship it, but his identity as an entrepreneur determines his form of worship.
Cather had already defined what she felt were the destructive effects of the speculator's gaze in "El Dorado: A Kansas Recessional," an early story that bears the unmistakable impress of populist rhetoric. The tale focuses on Apollo Gump, a land speculator and storyteller who lures Colonel Josiah Bywaters and others into buying land in an arid and isolated section of the Kansas prairie. Gump "told a good story so that it lost nothing in the telling," and his stories focus on "the fortunes made every day in Western real estate" (Collected Short Fiction 296). Although the Colonel "had his own scruples about land speculation"--specifically, "it seemed to him a good deal like gambling" (299)--he allows Gump to counsel him in its fine art, quick turnover rather than development: "Now, Colonel, you are buying this land to sell.... You don't want to bother with crops" (299). Like the other men enticed to this desolate section of the prairie, Bywaters falls into the trap. He speculates on the expectation that land values will increase when future settlers find their way to what has been billed as "El Dorado, the Queen City of the Plains, the Metropolis of Western Kansas, the coming Commercial Center of the West" (294). Of course, Bywaters and the other townsfolk have been swindled by Apollo Gump and Gump's brothers because no one shows up to buy the land. When the rest of the people abandon the town, Bywaters remains on the land because of his inability to desert his agrarian belief that land is inherently valuable, that the money he invested in his land "could not absolutely vanish" (295). What most troubles him is the towns-people's wholly commercial relation to the land. He recognizes that no one cares for the soil, but "every one wanted to speculate in it" (303). Colonel Bywaters's reflections on speculation give voice to Cather's populist anxieties. Specifically, he relates the Panic that destroyed the tiny town of El Dorado to the larger problem of land development in the West. Bywaters considers
whether some day the whole grand delusion would not pass away, and this great West, with its cities built on borrowed capital, its business done on credit, its temporary homes, its drifting, restless population, become panic-stricken and disappear, vanish utterly and completely, as a bubble that bursts, as a dream that is done. (303)
According to populists, speculators such as Gump were destroying the economic stability and moral fabric of the nation.
Perhaps Cather absorbed the populists' antispeculative rhetoric so readily because she bad grown up in a "temporary" home in Red Cloud because of speculation. As Mildred R. Bennett points out, Cather's father, Charles F. Cather, "claimed it was better business for him to rent [a house] and loan money than to buy or build" (20). Cather expressed her own often-noted sense of rootlessness (14) in her depiction of El Dorado's "drifting, restless population." Furthermore, "El Dorado" demonstrates that early on Cather viewed speculation as the source of this dislocation, a dislocation that also distinguished the Wetherills and later characters such as Tom Outland, whose parents--described as "mover people"--died as they "cross[ed] southern Kansas in a prairie schooner" (Professor's House 115). Cather's family had been lured out to the Nebraska prairie in part by the prospect of large tracts of inexpensive farm land (Woodress 33), but in 1885 Cather's father sold off his farm equipment, moved the family from their farm into the town of Red Cloud, and opened "an office to sell real estate, insurance, and to make farm loans" (43). He made a clear choice between the agrarian ideal--to invest money in the land and make it more productive--and speculation. Although he gave up farming, he held onto his large farm and continued to buy more land in Webster County (Brown and Edel 25), borrowing money to pay for it, as most others did. Mortgaged property served as collateral for loans to buy more land, but this strategy must have seemed a safe bet at the time. Cather opened his real estate office in the midst of "the great Western land boom," a period of "intense speculation in the appreciation of land values" (Randall 7). These were also the peak years of European immigration to Nebraska. The immigrants who continued to move into the Red Cloud area provided a seemingly steady market for land. And Red Cloud served as a division point for the Republican Valley Railroad. Eight passenger trains ran through town daily, encouraging settlement in the area (Bennet 43).
Red Cloud, Nebraska, was not El Dorado, Kansas, but like Colonel Bywaters, the Cathers experienced both the heady expectation and despair caused by speculation. The Cather family finances suffered in the Panic of 1893, caused in part by falling land values and the overmortgaging of farms (Randall 7). Charles F. Cather, "like most of his neighbors, had indulged in undue speculation and owned a great deal of heavily mortgaged land" (7) when the bottom fell out of the real estate market. As Brown and Edel explain, "A large farm that he had under cultivation was abandoned. A bank with which he had dealings failed. He was in desperate straits to keep the land and to meet the expenses of a large family" (65). When Willa Cather returned to Red Cloud after graduating from the University of Nebraska, the town was at the bottom of its depression, and she helped the family by working in her father's office, which "at this time had to do mainly with land-titles and mortgages" (71).
"El Dorado" suggests that Cather viewed speculation as the primary force driving a wedge between humans and land; she later promoted tourism to Mesa Verde as an antidote. Speculation destroys the land because no one is willing to develop it or build anything permanent on it. The speculator, concerned only with quick money, was responsible for creating the "hundreds of ugly little American towns" travelers passed through on their way to Mesa Verde from New York. Like El Dorado, these towns were not "harmonious with [their] site and setting" because they had been built by individuals who were new to the area and thus had no understanding of the particular landscape. Rather than living in a "dignified relation" to the land, rather than "interpreting" and "personalizing" the relation of the buildings to the land, as Cather writes of the cliff dwellers, speculators merely grafted the buildings onto the land haphazardly, so much so that these buildings could easily be carted off to new locations when the speculations failed. When the Gumps' scheme is exposed and the mortgages called in, "the loan agents and various other creditors literally put the town into wagons and carried it off" (303).
In her 1916 article Cather claims, though, that once tourists "reach the mesa, all that [ugliness] is behind [them]" (84). As she imagines it, tourism enables individuals to recover the original relation to the land before the speculators ruined it, to undo the commodifying effects of speculation. Dick Wetherill's tourist gaze thus initiates a ritual that would help to heal modern society's estrangement from the land and from the values of the past. The tourists who would follow Cather's advice to visit Mesa Verde and see through Wetherill's eyes would engage in a collective act; like the cliff dwellers' participation in ritual, generation after generation of tourists would go on "gravely and reverently repeating the past," reverencing through repetition the meaning inherent in the lives of the cliff dwellers as it had been validated by Dick Wetherill's vision. Cather here participates in the development of tourism as a modern form of ritual. As Dean MacCannell explains, sightseeing "is a kind of collective striving for a transcendence of the modern totality, a way of attempting to overcome the discontinuity of modernity, of incorporating its fragments into unified experience" (13). The ritual enacted through tourism, furthermore, functions to ratify the tourist attraction as an object of "ultimate value" and thus functions to create a coherent sense of value within the larger culture (14). The meaning that Dick Wetherill "models" for Cather's readers would, as MacCannell explains of tourist rituals in general, "add to the ballast of our modern civilization by sanctifying an original as being a model worthy of copy or an important milestone in our development" (26). Later tourists to Mesa Verde would reaffirm the value Wetherill recognized in the ruins, and this collective reaffirmation would form a solid moral center in what Cather perceived as the empty bubble of modern society. Indeed, Cather concludes her Mesa Verde article by emphasizing the instability of modern life, insisting that a deeper reality lay in the cliff dwellers' culture, and claiming that tourists now would be able to recognize the difference. Through tourism, Cather says, "you begin to feel that custom, ritual, integrity of tradition have a reality that goes deeper than the bustling business of the world" (86).
As the "first white man" to see the ruins, Dick Wetherill initiates this ritual, but we also need to keep in mind that for Cather the significance of the cliff dwellings originates in his gaze: the cliff dwellings do not become real or authentic until he sees them. Cather's focus on Wetherill's "entrada" reflects a generalized perception that the significance of the West somehow begins when it is explored and settled by whites. This notion is reflected in Freeman Tilden's proposal that national parks should "preserve, in a condition as unaltered as humanly possible, the wilderness that greeted the eyes of the first white men who challenged and conquered it" (qtd. in Neumann 196). Moreover, Cather's focus on Wetherill's "discovery" suggests that sights like Mesa Verde assume authenticity in the modern mind only as they are validated and duplicated. (15) Mesa Verde becomes "real" only after Wetherill sees it and distributes its story. In adding her story to the reproductions available in park brochures and published advertisements, Cather helps to reaffirm the sight's/site's authenticity.
In fact, the need for a Mesa Verde story was particularly acute. Preserving a site for its cultural and historic meaning was new to most Americans, and Cather's article served as a guidebook to assign meaning to the ruins. Like the Wetherills and Dr. Fewkes, Cather interprets the Mesa Verde story as an essential part of our cultural heritage. Yet her determined efforts to fix "what the Mesa Verde means" for potential tourists suggest that on some level she recognized the existence of other stories. According to Cather, the park "is not, as many people think, an inconveniently situated museum. It is the story of an early race, of the social and religious life of a people indigenous to that soil and to its rocky splendors" (85-86). In other words, Mesa Verde is not a place where tourists admire the ruins from an aesthetic distance; rather, here they insert themselves into the story and relive it. In doing so they become "indigenous to that soil," able to overcome the same alienation from the landscape that led to the construction of the temporary towns springing up across the continent. For Cather, then, like the station agent, hotel people, camp outfitters, and guides such as Oddie Jeep and the Wetherills--everyone who had an economic stake in tourism--the story becomes all-important. But as Cather tries to cement sight and signifier, she reveals the instability--indeed the very interchangeability--of this relation. (16) For tourists tend to see what they have been told to see. In certain ways, then, Cather's Mesa Verde article is undistinguishable from Apollo Gump's El Dorado stories and the stories generated by the pioneering Wetherills, who advertised the ruins in 1895 in the Colorado Springs Gazette as the "homes of an extinct race, the oldest and most wonderful ruins in America" (Wetherill 180). All of these stories supposedly uncover the "true" value of the land, and all lure individuals to a new area to spend their money.
On some level Cather must have known that in suppressing the marketplace transactions that were an integral part of the Mesa Verde experience, and thus helping to sell Mesa Verde, she was complicit in the bustling business of tourism. But she believed that her story, the Mesa Verde experience itself, could rehabilitate the language and paradigms of Western expansion. We see this most clearly in her focus on the discovery of Cliff Palace by Dick Wetherill, a scene so integral to the meaning of Mesa Verde that she reworks it twice more in "Tom Outland's Story": when Outland first views Cliff City and again when he views its wholeness after Rodney Blake's departure. Cather plays with the facts in her portrayal of Wetherill's find. She writes that "until that time the mesa was entirely unexplored," but as David Harrell points out, Cather knew that by 1888, the year of Dick Wetherill's so-called discovery, the mesa had been "explored by several parties and individuals; artifacts had been removed; and the canyons and ruins had been surveyed, mapped, sketched, photographed, and described" (98). This information was available to Cather in park brochures (20). Furthermore, Cather undoubtedly was aware that it was widely debated as to who actually discovered Cliff Palace (93). There were many claimants, and even if we focus on those within the Wetherill family we find a complicated story. By 1888, the Wetherill brothers had thoroughly explored most of the ruins, but Al Wetherill was the first of the family actually to see Cliff Palace. That particular day, however, he was too tired to explore the ruins, so he informed his brothers of his discovery, and thereafter they went out actively looking for them (Smith 22). Al seems to have spent the rest of his life regretting that he had not followed up by exploring the ruins himself and thus secured his claim (Wetherill 110). Furthermore, when Dick Wetherill first caught sight of Cliff Palace, he was accompanied by his brother-in-law, Charles Mason. In her article Cather casually mentions that Wetherill "rode off with one of his cow men" (83) into the mesa. She leaves Mason nameless and seemingly reduces his status to hired hand (Harrell 49), so that the focus falls clearly on Wetherill. In simplifying a complex story, Cather asserts Wetherill's imaginative title to the ruins by making him the one who gets there first. In turn, she suggests, tourists seeing what Wetherill had seen--can also gain imaginative possession.
But why is getting there first so important? Cather had been influenced by the emotional drama of speculation that was such an important part of Western thinking. The imaginative possession of landscape that for Cather marks the cliff dwellers and Dick Wetherill as superior arises from the intoxicating rush that accompanied taking economic possession of land. As Patricia Nelson Limerick explains, there were other ways (such as intention or need) to decide who actually owned a parcel of land, a mine, or other natural resource, but the principle of "first in time, first in right" gained widespread influence in "selecting among conflicting claims" (66). Thus, the "idea of getting there first" eventually took on an "almost mystical weight" in the West (66). Limerick points out that speculation invested priority with excitement:
To take up a piece of undifferentiated land, assign it boundaries, and then watch it acquire value was one of the most exhilarating experiences available in the Western economy. This addictive and pleasurable experience came to be known as speculation; prosaic and monetary as it was, speculation still fit in the category "adventure," involving equal doses of risk, unpredictability, and imagined reward. (67)
Cather would have us envy Dick Wetherill's first sight of Cliff Palace because he was discovering a cultural treasure. At this stage of her life, she believed that she could transform this speculative model and sever it from economic taint. But most Westerners--including the historical Dick Wetherill, whose own rush energized him to dig up pots for 30 days--would recognize this as the excitement of staking a claim. (17)
Tom Outland and tourism
In The Professor's House Cather bases Tom Outland on her own younger, more idealistic self, who believed that she could disentangle reverence for the cliff dwellings from their economic value as a tourist commodity. (18) Yet she distances herself from Outland and renounces the idealism of her 1916 article. (19) The Professor's House dwells instead on the failure of sightseeing as a ritual to purify modern life, for Cather emphasizes in her novel that this supposed escape from modern American enterprise is controlled by speculation. This reading contradicts the conventional view of Tom Outland as Cather's idealistic surrogate. As David Harrell notes, critics have been "profuse with their praise of Tom Outland" (185). (20) There are skeptics, however. Susan J. Rosowski, for example, notes what she calls "a troubling undercurrent of human values betrayed" (133) throughout Tom's story. She finds Tom's excavations on the mesa particularly problematic: "Outland appreciated the beauty and dignity of Cliff City; at the same time, he was a modern version of the 'brutal invaders' who ravaged the ancient tribe" Like Rosowski, Matthias Schubnell argues that "Outland is not a timeless, mystical hero" (105). According to Schubnell, readers need to recognize that Outland is "the product of his time and culture, destined to make decisions and to take actions that can only be explained by the historical matrix into which he was born." Schubnell specifies that "as the child of 'mover people,' adopted by a railroad engineer who himself moves from place to place, Tom grows up in an age of mobility and expansion," I would add that what complicates Tom's character is his complicity in the economic forces driving expansion; the brutal invasion that Rosowski detects in Outland's actions on the mesa develops out of his speculative instinct--an integral part of Dick Wetherill's, Tom Outland's, and Cather's historical matrix that critics have not yet fully explored. Like the Wetherills' "invasion" of Cliff Palace, Tom unwittingly carries into the ruins both the "spirit of romance" and the values of the business world.
Like so many of Cather's characters, then, Tom Outland is a composite, in this case formed from Cather's youthful idealism and from a generalized sketch of Dick Wetherill and his family, who gazed reverently at the cliff dwellings but whose ultimate standard of value was economic. (21) This point enables us to understand why Tom and Rodney Blake, having spent so much time together and having formed a "happy family" finally fall out over a misunderstanding as to the true "value" of the cliff dwellings (Professor's House 198,245). When Tom discovers that Rodney has sold the artifacts while he was away in Washington, D.C., trying to sell the idea of the ruins to Smithsonian officials, Tom tells Rodney "that such a thing as selling them had never entered my head," yet he realizes that Rodney "thought I was lying" (242). Tom goes on to explain why he had not talked about his feelings toward the mesa: "it was the kind of thing one doesn't talk about directly" (239). But Tom and Rodney had discussed the cliff dwellings. In fact, Tom remembers that when he returned to camp after his first sight of the ruins, "we talked and speculated until after midnight" (203). Tom thus sets up the fiction that he and Rodney speculate in different ways. He portrays Rodney as an economic speculator whose actions sully the purity of the mesa while he himself deals solely in an imaginative form of speculation. But the self-deception of Tom's position drives a wedge between the two men. Like the Wetherills, Tom may be high-minded, but Rodney accurately perceives that Tom's language and actions cannot easily be distinguished from his own.
Tom begins his story with the "accident" through which he first meets Rodney Blake: "It began with a poker game" (179). Rodney cleans everyone out in a high-stakes game in which players must buy $100 worth of chips (180). High stakes, high risk, and high drama, gambling was speculation in its most basic form. Cather had made this connection in "El Dorado," when she explains that to the Colonel, land speculation "seemed ... a good deal like gambling." Although Tom deplores that other so-called friends have double-crossed Rodney, have in effect set him up, Tom does the same here. It is not by chance that Tom introduces Rodney as a gambler; rather, it constitutes another example of the cultural frame-ups, the plots used to "[incriminate] the innocent," that Jean Schwind asserts are at the core of The Professor's House (72). Rodney, the defender of the wrongfully accused Alfred Dreyfus, is himself victimized. Tom ostensibly defends Rodney by explaining that he was "not trained by success to a sort of systematic selfishness" (185), but he also depicts Rodney as fully immersed in the game of speculation. Tom sympathizes with Rodney because his friends in Old Mexico had "skinned him" by investing all of his "savings into an oil well," but Tom's inclusion of this fact again betrays Rodney by calling attention to his economic speculation.
Tom works beside Rodney in extracting the pots, but he criticizes him for not having the right attitude toward them. Like early explorers and miners in the Mancos Valley, Rodney's relationship to the cliff dwellings is based unabashedly upon an extraction economy; he digs up artifacts in order to sell them, viewing them as just like "anything else a fellow might run on to: a gold mine or a pocket of turquoise" (245). Rodney assumes a business risk to excavate the ruins. He invests his labor and his earnings from the Sitwell Cattle Ranch because he expects "big figures" (241) in return. As Rodney later explains to Tom, he "meant to 'realize'" on the ruins, just as he thought Tom meant to, because "it would come to money in the end. 'Everything does'" (244). When "Uncle Sam" doesn't come through with the big reward for the discovery that both Rodney and Tom had hoped for, Rodney sells the artifacts to the German Fechtig for $4,000 (238). Rodney explains his decision in terms of the luck that was such an important part of speculation: "It was a chance in a million, boy.... There's only one man in thousands that wants to buy relics and pay real money for them" (241). Like Al Wetherill, who condemned the miners his family grubstaked for viewing the pots as "just so much stuff to get out to market," Tom refuses to recognize his own complicity in what he sees as Rodney's form of speculation. In fact, after their quarrel, Rodney believes that Tom has merely been grubstaking his work. He tells Tom, "I see now I was working for you like a hired man, and while you were away I sold your property" (245). As David Harrell observes, "Outland's indignation ... belie[s] all of his assumptions--that they were partners in the enterprise, that they both had hoped and expected to 'realize' something out of it" (128). Tom quarrels with Rodney, destroying what is left of his "happy family" after the death of Henry Atkins, in order to deny his relatedness to economic speculation.
Tom emphasizes Rodney's speculation in order to set off his own imaginative speculation, an ideal form that supposedly allows him to value truly the "world above the world" that is Blue Mesa and thus to rise above the corrupt values of the speculator. Tom calls attention to his ideal speculation at two points in his narrative: when he discovers the cliff dwellings and later when he "first" sees them "as a whole" (250) after the artifacts have been removed and Rodney has departed. As other readers have noted, Tom's discovery of the ruins mirrors Dick Wetherill's as Cather had depicted it in her 1916 article (Rosowski and Slote 86-92, Harrell 98). Like Wetherill's, Tom's discovery represents a "departure" from his everyday routine of cattle herding. And like Wetherill, Tom sees the ruins "through a veil of lightly falling snow" and realizes that they have been "preserved in the dry air and almost perpetual sunlight like a fly in amber" (201, 202). Cather thus reenacts Dick Wetherill's tourist gaze three times: once in her 1916 article and twice in "Tom Outland's Stow." However, the repetition of the tourist gaze in this case does not ratify the authenticity of her earlier depiction of Wetherill's sighting. Rather, Tom repeats the tourist gaze because--as he finally realizes--his initial gaze at the cliff dwellings had not represented speculation in its pure form but had been infected by economics.
Tom's initial confrontation with the cliff dwellings, like Dick Wetherill's, teasingly combines aspects of the idealized tourist and the speculator. Cather prepares Tom for this experience in much the same way that she had prepared the town of Mancos. Although Mancos had actively marketed itself as the gateway to the ruins, Cather cleansed the town and its members of the taint of "modern" commercialism. Similarly, Tom undergoes purification before he confronts the ruins. This makes little sense to Tom, but as soon as he immerses himself in the Cruzados River and crosses to the other side, he feels that "I had never breathed in anything that tasted so pure as the air in that valley. It made my mouth and nostrils smart like charged water, seemed to go to my head a little and produce a kind of exaltation" (200). Tom's emphasis on the purity of the mesa leads readers such as David Harrell to interpret this experience as a form of baptism (108). In this sense, Tom implies that he, like the cliff dwellers he identifies with, is "purifying life by religious ceremonies and observances" (Professor's House 220). We could also say, though, that Tom's intoxication reflects the adrenaline rush experienced by speculators, or, as Tom puts it, "the excitement of my first discovery" (251). After all, Tom's exploration of the mesa was spurred by the priority integral to speculation; quite simply, he and Rodney had long wanted to "be the first men up there" (187).
Like the Wetherills before him, Tom views the ruins as "holy ground" even as he approaches them as a prospector, and his language throughout his story carries what Cather now recognized as a problematic duality that was impossible to dispel. Tom thus explains that the ruins inspire reverence; when he and Rodney first explore the cliff dwellings, he describes how "we went about softly, tried not to disturb anything--even the silence" (208). Yet as soon as their stint for the Sitwell Cattle Ranch is finished, Tom and Rodney pack food, "an ax and spade" (207) and head off into the canyon to begin "what we called excavating" (211). Tom's obvious discomfort with the word "excavating" reveals Cather's second thoughts on the purity of Dick Wetherill's vision. Tom knows that he has no other terms available to describe their adventure on the mesa besides those shared by archaeologists and miners, and he realizes that the ax and spade clearly identify them with those who view the landscape as a commodity. Yet his use of "excavating" suggests that, like Cather's earlier attempts to rehabilitate the speculative model of discovery and its attendant excitement as aesthetic possession, Tom means to imply that their excavations are not economically motivated. But this problematic duality characterizes their adventure on the mesa as a whole. We see it, for example, when Tom keeps an "account" of each artifact they unearth in a "merchant's ledger" (212) and when Rodney "stakes" (224) Tom for his trip to Washington, D.C., with the money won in the high-stakes poker game. We see it, too, when Tom takes what he calls his "business" (225) to Washington in order to return to the mesa with men who will "appreciate it and dig out all its secrets" (224).
Tom's language identifies him with speculators, and his actions on the mesa follow the typical sequence for land speculation: survey and map the land, measure it, register it--and once it acquires value, sell it. In this way, Tom and Rodney's adventure is virtually indistinguishable from other speculators' adventures. When the reader first sees the canyons and caverns of Cliff City through Tom's eyes, the landscape has already been surveyed and measured, the first steps taken by land speculators who would then use the grid to divide the land into salable units. The speculator's gaze dominates when Tom describes the walls of the canyon as "anywhere from eight hundred to a thousand feet high, as we afterward found by measurement" (200). The cavern in which the cliff dwellings sit is "three hundred and sixty feet long, and seventy feet high in the centre" (204). Tom's trip to Washington to "register" their discovery and sell the Smithsonian on developing the site, and Rodney's sale of the artifacts in the meantime, complete the speculator's cycle. Washington housed not only the Smithsonian but also the General Land Office, the bureau "charged with confirming land patents sent in from the district offices" (Limerick 59). When Tom had to go through the "formalities of securing his patent" (259) on the Outland vacuum before rushing off to war, he probably visited Washington once again. For Tom and other speculators, Washington represents the external authority, the way to authenticate one's claim so that it can be sold.
What further complicates Tom's position as model tourist is that like Dick Wetherill and Cather before him, he is not only a consumer of the tourist gaze but a supplier as well. Rodney sells the artifacts while Tom visits Washington on business to market and promote the development of their find. The problem lies in the fact that Tom needs "proper specialists" (222) from Washington not only to affirm the value of his discovery but also to help him understand precisely what he is selling. When Tom and Rodney reveal to Father Duchene their plan to send Tom to Washington, Duchene suggests that Tom petition the director of the Smithsonian Institution to send an archaeologist to "interpret all that is obscure to us" (222). Duchene believes that this specialist will "revive this civilization in a scholarly work," a necessary project because Cliff City will "[throw] light on some important points in the history of [the] country."
Tom is, then, a would-be "custodian" of our national heritage, a role also undertaken by the Wetherills when they petitioned the Smithsonian in 1890 to help excavate and protect the cliff dwellings, and by Cather in her Mesa Verde article. What Rodney derisively refers to as Tom's "Fourth of July talk" (245) sheds additional light on his plans for the ruins and further connects him with the idealistic but speculative Wetherills. When Tom proclaims that the ruins belong "to this country, to the State, and to all the people" (242), he reveals his vision of Cliff City as not only being revived in a scholarly work targeted at an elite readership but also as a tourist attraction, perhaps even a national park held in "trust" for all Americans (244). But Cather again dismisses Tom's attempt to achieve a pure perspective outside the realm of speculation. For Tom's patriotic talk echoes the speculative talk of the people of Tarpin, who also believe that "them ruins didn't belong to Blake any more than to anybody else" (237), and therefore they should have been cut in on the $4,000 deal with Fechtig. (22)
In her Mesa Verde article, Cather had constructed Dick Wetherill as a model for succeeding generations. His gaze ostensibly initiated a tourist ritual that would heal the alienation from the land that characterized modern life and instill a sense of authenticity. But "Tom Outland's Story" reverses the assumptions of the Mesa Verde article. Tom's gaze leads to experience dominated by notions of profit and loss and marked by his alienation from the land and from others. The first evidence that Tom finds of the cliff dwellers' civilization, their irrigation mains (193), identifies them with the agrarian life championed by populists. Tom explains' that "there is something stirring about finding evidences of human labour and care in the soil of an empty country. It comes to you as a sort of message, makes you feel differently about the ground you walk over every day" (194). The cliff dwellers' "labour and care" are also reflected in their architecture. When Tom sees the village, he realizes "one thing we knew about these people; they hadn't built their town in a hurry. Everything proved their patience and deliberation" (212). Tom may feel differently about the ground he walks on, but this experience cannot rehabilitate the speculative paradigm that pervaded Western life. Tom admires Blue Mesa, but he builds an "El Dorado." Rather than modeling his life on the cliff dwellers' agrarian civilization, he prospects. Rather than deliberately personalizing his relation to the mesa, he quickly brings in tools and workmen from Tarpin to construct his own cabin and build roads to facilitate excavation (210). Not only does Tom's construction resemble that of miners who needed easy access to precious metals or coal but the hurried building that takes place on the mesa also reflects Tom's and Rodney's concern with their investment. As Tom explains, rebuilding a road that had been destroyed by a landslide "cost us three weeks' hard work, and most of our winter's wages" (210). And the log cabin built by men who were new to the mesa is not "harmonious with its site and setting," nor would it be built to endure for centuries, as the cliff dwellings had been. Tom experiences the organicism of the cliff dwellings, but his response recalls what Cather abhorred: the "ugly little American towns" that had been created by speculators.
Tom concludes his narrative with an important admission that betrays Cather's recognition of the naivete of her earlier portrayal of Dick Wetherill. For Tom concedes that his motives had been "mixed" in relation to the ruins, that his "adventure" in Cliff City resembles the adventures of speculators all over the West. He achieves this self-consciousness and experiences what he now feels is the true value of the mesa after Rodney has left and ostensibly freed him from "Rodney's" form of speculation and from the artifacts and their market value:
In a sense, that was the first night I was ever really on the mesa at all--the first night that all of me was there. This was the first time I ever saw it as a whole. It all came together in my understanding.... Something had happened in me that made it possible for me to co-ordinate and simplify, and that process, going on in my mind, brought with it great happiness. It was possession. The excitement of my first discovery was a very pale feeling compared to this one. For me the mesa was no longer an adventure, but a religious emotion. I had read of filial piety in the Latin poets, and I knew that was what I felt for this place. It had formerly been mixed up with other motives; but now that they were gone, I had my happiness unalloyed. (250-51)
At this moment, Tom seemingly severs himself from economic speculation. He sets up a series of oppositions--between his "first discovery" and the present one, between intoxicating adventure and religious emotion, and between mixed motives and pure ones--in order to suggest that his new vision of the mesa is altogether different, has been untainted by marketplace transactions. He erases his complicity in the stripping and selling of the mesa by claiming that this was the first night he was "ever really on the mesa." Like other heroes and heroines in Cather's fiction, Tom ostensibly possesses the landscape "imaginatively and emotionally rather than economically" (O'Brien 61) and in turn is possessed by it.
Yet Outland's religious experience of Mesa Verde--one constructed through difference and denial--ultimately replays the quintessential tourist experience as depicted in Cather's 1916 article. And as with Cather's earlier portrayal of Wetherill, Tom's form of worship remains indelibly shaped by his speculative gaze. We see this most clearly in his description of his sacred experience, which recycles the language of speculation. Like Wetherill, Tom insists upon the primacy of his discovery; he claims it was the "first time [he] ever saw it as a whole." Furthermore, even as Tom renders his gaze as "unalloyed," his description of the mesa at sunset echoes Rodney's assessment of the mesa's value as equivalent to "a gold mine or a pocket of turquoise." Tom recalls that "Cliff City lay in a gold haze," the sun cast a "copper glow," the "arc of sky ... was silvery blue," and the stars sparkled "like crystals" (250). Tom's transcendent experience merely sublimates the speculator's standard of value. And Cather's description of Tom undercuts the belief in the possibility of a purely imaginative experience severed from marketplace transactions.
The failure of Tom's tourist ritual leaks into the other sections of The Professor's House as well. Cather structures the novel around sightseeing and speculation in order to link Tom's (and the Wetherills') frontier experience to the "new commercialism" that dominates modern life. For Tom himself has become a tourist attraction, resurrected as a cultural icon but also commodified by the entrepreneur Louie Marsellus. Louie and Rosamund build their Norwegian manor house, Outland (which Louie ironically claims is "very harmonious with its setting" ) in part as a tourist destination. Louie explains that the house will serve as a
memorial to [Outland]. We are going to transfer his laboratory there ... all the apparatus he worked with. We have a room for his library and pictures. When his brother scientists come to Hamilton to look him up, to get information about him, as they are doing now already, at Outland, they will find his books and instruments, all the sources of his inspiration. (42)
Louie "adores" Outland, but his vision of a tourist site that would properly capture Tom's identity is shaped by his speculative vision. If Mesa Verde is Cather's story, Tom Outland has been converted into Louie's Outland, a gaudy mansion and ritual site that depicts Tom as a pioneering scientist who, in "revolutionizing aviation" (40), expands the twentieth-century frontier. But Cather makes it clear that Louie's identity as an entrepreneur, rather than distancing him from Tom, actually unites the two men. Like the Wetherills, who invested in Mesa Verde, and like Tom and Rodney, who invested in Cliff City, Louie speculated heavily in developing the Outland vacuum. Cather echoes the language used to describe Tom and Rodney's excavations when she has St. Peter tell how Louie "took heavy chances" and invested "every cent [he] had, and all he could borrow" (138). And like his predecessors', Louie's motivations for building this tourist site mix idealism and commercialism. St. Peter condemns Louie's Outland venture, asserting that he has "convert[ed] [Tom's] very bones into a personal asset" (47), but this condemnation applies equally well to the Wetherills' and to Tom Outland's conversion of the cliff dwellers' bones into an asset.
The quarrel within the St. Peter family as to who actually "owns" and controls the "value" of the Tom Outland story continues Tom and Rodney's quarrel as to who owns Cliff City. If the Marselluses convert Tom into "dollars and cents" (132), then St. Peter feels he must restore Tom to his original condition before he had been commodified. And indeed, in a move that rivals Louie's construction of Outland, St. Peter attempts to revive Tom as part of the cultural heritage by publishing his Cliff City diary. Part of this project involves annotating the diary and writing an introduction: "To mean anything, it must be prefaced by a sketch of Outland, and some account of his later life and achievements" (171). St. Peter recognizes that others, including his own wife Lillian, would introduce Tom quite differently (172). (23) St. Peter's project, then, like Cather's 1916 article, represents an attempt to fix meaning--in this case, what Outland "means." Presumably, future readers of Tom's diary would view the cliff dwellings through Tom's gaze, a gaze that would restore a sense of organicism and authenticity to the modern world. Furthermore, after viewing the cliff dwellings through Tom's eyes, readers would make the journey to the mesa, just as Cather's article enticed readers to Mesa Verde, and just as St. Peter had accompanied Tom to Blue Mesa before the war. Readers and tourists to Cliff City alike would reaffirm the "value" of Tom's life and validate the authenticity of his original vision. (24) St. Peter needs to "introduce" Tom at this point in his life because the authenticity of his own vision of Tom depends on its distribution and validation by others.
Cather highlights the ambiguity of St. Peter's vision, though, by paralleling his tourist gaze with that of the Marselluses, whom St. Peter has refused to join on their French tour. Instead, St. Peter tours through Tom's diary, an idealized form of sightseeing that ostensibly opposes the crass commercialism of the Marselluses, who commodify France by seeing their travels as an opportunity to buy antiques cheaply for Outland. Their excursion is measured by the souvenirs they buy for St. Peter: Trouville means bright rubber swimming caps, Aix-les-Bains, a bathrobe (269). Their tour mocks the one St. Peter wishes he could have made with Tom:
To this day St. Peter regretted that he had never got that vacation in Paris with Tom Outland. He had wanted to revisit certain spots with him: to go with him some autumn morning to the Luxembourg Gardens.... to stand with him before the monument to Delacroix and watch the sun gleam on the bronze figures. (260)
St. Peter wants to view the world through Tom's idealizing eyes, not the Marselluses' commodifying ones. With France now spoiled for him, he travels through Tom to the Southwest. And after spending two months working with Tom's Cliff City diary, St. Peter seemingly escapes the materialism of "The Family" and achieves the organicism of Tom's cliff dwellers. He relives his childhood, "the realest of his lives" (264), and becomes "a primitive" in the sense that "he was only interested in earth and woods and water" (265). As Cather had claimed of tourists who involved themselves in the story of Mesa Verde, St. Peter's sightseeing through Tom's diary makes him "indigenous to that soil."
However, like Cather and like Tom before him, St. Peter constructs his idealized tourist experience through denial. In order to unearth Tom as a cultural treasure, St. Peter must suppress the one aspect of Tom's life that fuels the St. Peter family dynamics: economics. St. Peter's introduction of Tom connects his vision at Cliff City to his later achievements, but what will he make of the fact that Tom's invention earned a great deal of money because he "had taken pains to protect it by patent" (40)? St. Peter could say that Tom protected his scientific discovery because he had been unable to protect his first discovery from Rodney's speculation. Of course, Tom had casually remarked to others that he knew "there might be a fortune in [his vacuum]" (61). Although both are true, St. Peter insists that by dying young Tom managed to escape "the trap of worldly success" (260). As John Hilgart explains, St. Peter practices a "selective amnesia" (395) in his treatment of Tom as uninterested in financial gain. Furthermore, St. Peter, like Tom before him, denies his relatedness to others. Tom had severed his relationship with Rodney in order to obscure his own complicity in the commodification of Cliff City. Similarly, in order to recast Tom as an icon, St. Peter has to deny his own relation to those for whom Outland means "dollars and cents." As St. Peter seemingly achieves transcendence, he feels "indifferent" to his family and finally denies his relatedness altogether (267): "He seemed to know, among other things, that he was solitary and must always be so; he had never married, never been a father" (265).
Godfrey St. Peter concludes his meditation on the meaning of Tom Outland by asserting his desire to travel to the Southwest, "down into Outland's country" (270). If the Marselluses reimagine Outland in the vulgar materialist manner of the nouveau riche, St. Peter reimagines him as the guide to an idyllic landscape. In rhetoric that evokes the vision of the land used to justify expansion, St. Peter wants "to watch the sunrise break on sculptured peaks and impassable mountain passes--to look off at those long, rugged, untamed vistas dear to the American heart. Dear to all hearts, probably--at least, calling to all" (270). Gazing at the landscape through Tom's eyes, St. Peter rewrites the settlement of the West as an idealized tourist experience, a series of pilgrimages to places that had not yet suffered from commodification and that could revive for tourists an organic relationship to the land. St. Peter next poses a rhetorical question that specifically ties his vision to escape: "Else why had his grandfather's grandfather, who had tramped so many miles across Europe into Russia with the Grande Armee, come out to the Canadian wilderness to forget the chagrin of his Emperor's defeat?" (270). St. Peter is lured by the romance of tourism to escape the present, but he can only do so by suppressing the economic incentives that called the Wetherills, Apollo Gump, Colonel Bywaters, and the Cathers. Like Cather in her 1916 article, St. Peter reworks economic forces into their most seemingly innocuous form, reverent tourism. But Cather had learned that descriptions of the "long, rugged, untamed vistas" inspiring St. Peter were also the stuff of speculation schemes and tourist brochures.
When Cather sought in The Professor's House to validate her earlier vision of the discovery of Mesa Verde, she confronted the fact that tourism and the stories promoting it were shaped by the very speculative forces from which they ostensibly offered an escape. In the 1938 letter in which she described her intentions for "Tom Outland's Story," she acknowledged that she "followed the real story [of Dick Wetherill's discovery] very closely in Tom Outland's narrative" (Cather on Writing 32). Indeed, Tom Outland, like his prototype Dick Wetherill, embodies the wedding of entrepreneurial and idealistic impulses that marked white explorers' and settlers' attitude toward the land. The almost mystical power of speculation infuses Tom's adventure at Blue Mesa as well as his descriptions of it. As if challenging readers to recognize what she herself was loathe to--the pervasiveness and profound influence of this addictive force in American culture Cather weaves many instances of speculation into her novel: Rodney speculates on oil and ancient artifacts; Augusta (like other members of her church) speculates heavily on the Kinkoo copper mine; Louie speculates on Tom's vacuum design and a new tourist destination. The commodification of landscape leads to the commodification of humans themselves. Outland the man has become Outland the property. As a ritual, tourism fails. That Cather's characters cannot free themselves from the drama of speculation reflects upon the way in which it had inscribed her own stories. Like the youthful Cather, St. Peter views tourism as an escape from a degrading commercialism. Indeed, Cather defined this as the primary function of art, boldly asserting, "What has art ever been but escape" (Cather on Writing 18). However, "Tom Outland's Story" demonstrates the impossibility of such an escape. Cather's revisions of the meaning of MesaVerde thus urge us to read her statements about the separation of art from economics as reflecting a troubled desire rather than a certain belief, a desire that grew more intense in the face of the mixed motives that characterized the exploration and settlement of the Western frontier.
(1.) Although Edith Lewis asserts that Cather was not "'gathering material' as they say, for a story" (101), David Harren persuasively argues that Cather's trip to the Southwest was "probably a deliberate research venture" (43).
(2.) The whole article is reprinted in Rosowski and Slote. This is the text I use here.
(3.) For more on tourism in The Professors House, see Woidat.
(4.) As Rosowski and Slote note, Cather's "1916 essay is 'Tom Outland's Story' in embryo: it contains the essential themes, techniques, and even images of the later story--and indeed, of [The Professor's House]" (91). Rosowski and Slote thoroughly analyze the ways in which Cather drew from this article in her novel, recycling phrases as well as images.
(5.) My understanding of speculation and its relation to tourism is indebted to Eric Purchase's Out of Nowhere. I am also indebted to his careful reading and feedback. In addition I would like to thank Paul R. Petrie, Jim Martin, and the readers of Twentieth-Century Literature for their many helpful suggestions.
(6.) John H. Randall III cites the populist movement as one of the formative influences on Gather. See for example 6-12.
(7.) Hilgart also investigates Cather's response to the commodity culture that threatened American culture and art. In his insightful essay, he reads The Professor's House as
an enactment and critique of the most formalist version of Cather's aesthetic; it pursues to an extreme the project of fixing meaning with aesthetic hermeticism in a failed attempt to counter the cultural flux that Cather associated with modern America. (388)
(8.) Visitor totals at Mesa Verde National Park are given in Smith 211.
(9.) In her preface to The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, Cather explained that
the artist spends a lifetime in loving the things that haunt him, in having his mind "teased" by them, in trying to get these conceptions down on paper exactly as they are to him and not in conventional poses supposed to reveal their character. (Cather on Writing 51)
(10.) Reginald Dyck asserts that Cather's famous statement, "The world broke in two about 1920, and I belong to the former half," allowed her to "maintain a sense of innocence regarding what had taken place on the frontier" (26). Dyck specifically examines My Antonia, but his argument applies to Cather's portrayal of Dick Wetherill as well.
(11.) As Rosowski and Slote point out, "the contrasts of the essay--past versus present and 'a tempered, settled, ritualistic life' versus 'the bustling business of the world'--[become] the contrasts of [The Professor's House]" as well (88).
(12.) Harrell has identified the brother as Clayton Wetherill (46). Dick Wetherill was killed in 1910 (42).
(13.) Harrell attributes the similarities between "Tom Outland's Story" and A1 Wetherill's autobiography to her interview with Clayton Wetherill in 1915 (48).
(14.) James Woodress (369) and Janis Stout (206), for example, both treat Cather's sense of rootlessness in depth. In addition, Joseph R. Urgo explores Cather's sense of homelessness and her "migratory consciousness" (5).
(15.) We can apply here what MacCannell says of a work of art as a tourist attraction: "The work becomes 'authentic' only after the first copy of it is produced" (48).
(16.) MacCannell notes that the interchangeability of sight and signifier is inherent to tourism (118): tourists "exchang[e] perception for mere recognition" (121).
(17.) As David Harrell points out, "the discovery episode" (86) was integral to Cather's literary imagination; she "used the scene in other stories before working it out to her satisfaction ... in 'Tom Outland's Story'" (85). In "The Treasure of Far Island" (1902), for example, published a year after "El Dorado" Cather asserts that the island "belong[ed] to the two children who christened it Far Island, partially because they were the original discoverers and claimants, but more especially because they were of that favored race whom a New England sage called the true land-lords and sea-lords of the world" (Collected Short Fiction 265). Demaree Peck argues that "Cather modeled her claimants upon Emerson's poet landlord in order to put herself and her readers in possession of the continent by means that was not tainted by greed" (7). Like Emerson, Cather privileges an imaginative possession of the landscape over material ownership (7). But in this story Cather also recognizes the validity of the principle of "first in time, first in right"; after all, the island belongs to the children because they are the "original discoverers and claimants?' Cather would, as Peck argues, "make the competition between a material ownership and an imaginative appropriation of nature the central dramatic conflict in such later novels as The Professor's House" (8). But I would add that Cather increasingly came to recognize that material and imaginative possession were inextricably tied in a way that her readers have not yet realized.
(18.) Woodress notes the similarities between Cather and Tom Outland when he asserts, "whereas the professor reflects Cather's thoughts and feelings at the age of fifty-three, Tom Outland is her youthful other self" (375). Rosowski and Slote also argue that "Cather drew upon her own experience in creating Tom Outland" (86).
(19.) Harrell also senses that Cather distances herself from her characters (185).
(20.) David Stouck, for example, sees Tom as "selfless, completely unmotivated by personal ambitions" (107) and argues that "reading Tom's account of the mesa and the discovery of the Pueblo Indian villages is in part an escape into a pastoral world of innocence and youth" (102-03). Evelyn Helmick Hively also views Tom as innocent. She believes (like St. Peter) that Tom "dies young before the world can corrupt him" (121). Like Hively, Robert Alan McGill argues that Tom is spared being degraded by rampant materialism by dying young (69). Woodress calls Tom "that uncorruptible youth" (372), and James Maxfield asserts that Tom "most nearly embod[ies] ... Cather's values" (84). I would agree with Harrell's assessment that "readers have sometimes had difficulty recognizing the shortcomings of Outland and St. Peter as human beings" (189). Harrell, then, focuses on Tom's faults as revealed through his relationship to Rodney Blake. He believes that Tom "crossed the line between devotion and obsession" (126).Jean Schwind finds the "silver-screen heroism" (83) that St. Peter perceives in Tom to be insupportable because Tom's rugged individualism estranges him from others (86). According to Schwind, Tom's estrangement represents "a denial of the human ties that distinguish civilization from 'mere brutality'" (86).Janis P. Stout also faults Tom for his intolerance (208).
(21.) Harrell also notes the Wetherills' "mercenary interest" in the cliff dwelling and their role as "faithful caretakers" (126), but he does not develop how fully their speculation was entwined with their caretaker role or how fully Tom Outland embodies this duality.
(22.) Harrell also describes the similarities between Tom's patriotic speech and the Tarpin community's materialism (192).
(23.) Urgo also analyzes the conflicting stories about Tom Outland (31-34), pointing out that St. Peter's "status as Oxford prize winner" (32) gives his version of Tom authority.
(24.) In fact, Cather neglects to include St. Peter's reaction to the cliff dwellings at Blue Mesa to imply that he would have seen precisely what Tom had wanted him to see.
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Cather, Willa. The Professor's House. New York: Vintage, i973.
--. Willa Cather on Writing. Ed. Stephen Tennant. 1920. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1988.
--. Willa Cather's Collected Short Fiction, 1892-1912. Ed. Virginia Faulkner. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1970.
Dyck, Reginald. "Revisiting and Revising the West: Willa Cather's My Antonia and Wright Morris's Plains Song. Modern Fiction Studies 36.1 (Spring 1990): 25-38.
Harrell, David. From Mesa Verde to The Professor's House.Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1992.
Hilgart, John. "Death Comes for the Aesthete: Commodity Culture and the Artifact in Cather's The Professor's House." Studies in the Novel 30.3 (Fall 1998): 377-404.
Hively, Evelyn Helmick. Sacred Fire: Willa Cather's Novel Cycle. Lanham: UP of America, 1994.
Lewis, Edith. Willa Cather Living: A Personal Record. 1953. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1976.
Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: Norton, 1988.
MacCannell, Dean. The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. Berkeley: U of California P, 1976.
Maxfield, James F. "Strategies of Self-Deception in Willa Cather's Professor's House. Studies in the Novel 16.1 (Spring 1984): 72-86.
McGill, Robert Alan. "Heartbreak: Western Enchantment and Western Fact in Willa Cather's The Professor's House, "South Dakota Review 16.3 (1978): 56-79.
Neumann, Mark. "The Commercial Canyon: Culturally Constructing the 'Other' in the Theater of the West" Discovered Country: Tourism and Survival in the American West. Ed. Scott Norris. Albuquerque: Stone Ladder, 1994. 196-209.
O'Brien, Sharon. Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice. New York: Oxford UP, 1987. Peck, Demaree. "'Possession Granted by a Different Lease': Alexandra Bergson's Imaginative Conquest of Cather's Nebraska." Modern Fiction Studies 36.1 (Spring 1990): 5-22.
Purchase, Eric. Out of Nowhere: Disaster and Tourism in the White Mountains. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1999.
Randall, John H. III. The Landscape and the Looking Glass: Willa Cather's Search for Value. Boston: Houghton, 1960.
Rosowski, Susan J. The Voyage Perilous: Willa Cather's Romanticism. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1986.
Rosowski, Susan J., and Bernice Slote. "Willa Cather's 1916 Mesa Verde Essay: The Genesis of The Professor's House." Prairie Schooner 58.4 (Winter 1984): 81-92.
Schubnell, Matthias. "The Decline of America: Willa Cather's Spenglerian Vision in The Professor's House." Cather Studies 2 (1993): 92-117.
Schwind, Jean. "This Is a Frame-Up: Mother Eve in The Professor's House. Cather Studies. Vol 2. Ed. Susan J. Rosowski. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1993.72-91.
Smith, Duane A. Mesa Verde National Park: Shadows of the Centuries. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 1988.
Stouck, David. Willa Cather's Imagination. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1975.
Stout, Janis P. "Autobiography as Journey in The Professor's House" Studies in American Fiction 19:2 (Autumn 1991): 203-15.
Urgo, Joseph R. Willa Cather and the Myth of American Migration. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1995.
Urry, John. The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies. London: Sage, 1990.
Wetherill, Benjamin Alfred. The Wetherills of the Mesa Verde: Autobiography of Benjamin Alfred Wetherill. Ed. Maurine S. Fletcher. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1977.
Woidat, Caroline. "The Indian-Detour in Willa Cather's Southwestern Novels." Twentieth-Century Literature 48.1 (Spring 2002): 22-49.
Woodress, James. Willa Cather: A Literary Life. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1989.
Paula Kot is associate professor of English at Niagara University. She has published on Edgar Allan Poe, Lydia Maria Child, Lydia Sigourney, and Harriet Prescott Spofford.
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|Publication:||Twentieth Century Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2002|
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