The Professor of Desire Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 35 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Professor of Desire.
This section contains 613 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Professor of Desire Summary & Study Guide Description

The Professor of Desire Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Roth, Philip. The Professor of Desire. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1977

The Professor of Desire follows the life of David Kepesh, who narrates his story in the present tense and the first person. As a child, David lives at the Hungarian Royale, which is the hotel and resort owned and operated by his parents. In college, he aspires at first to be an actor, but then he turns his attention to the study of literature. After college, he goes to London to study under a Fulbright Scholarship. There, he meets two young Swedish women—Elisabeth and Birgitta—with whom he has an ongoing sexual relationship. One day, Elisabeth attempts to kill herself because she has fallen in love with David. She is in despair over her romantic circumstances. Elisabeth returns to Sweden, and David and Birgitta continue their relationship. David ends the relationship after failing his scholarship program due to the distractions of the relationship.

David then goes to Stanford University for graduate studies in literature. During the final stretch of the program, he meets a woman named Helen Baird, who is about his age. Helen is charming and sexually alluring, and they begin dating. After three years, they marry, but their personal differences begin to cause dysfunction in their marriage. David sees Helen as unreliable, and Helen sees David as stodgy. Eventually, Helen flees to Hong Kong to visit a former lover of hers who lives there. David is a literature professor by this point. Helen returns to the United Sates, and they divorce.

David then transfers to the State University of New York on Long Island, where a former colleague of his secures David a teaching position. David lives alone in New York City and feels very lonely. His parents visit him, and his father informs him that his mother has cancer. His mother dies two months later. At the State University of New York on Long Island, David becomes friends with poet and colleague Ralph Baumgarten, who, like David, is highly preoccupied with both sex and literature. Debbie Schonbrunn, the wife of David’s colleague Arthur Schonbrunn, greatly dislikes Baumgarten. This causes tension between David and the Schonbrunns.

David eventually meets Clarissa “Claire” Ovington, who is a teacher at a Manhattan private school. David admires her reliability and steadfastness, and they begin dating. They take a trip together to Prague, where they visit the grave of famous writer Franz Kafka. During the trip, Arthur contemplates his love for Claire and his obsession with sex. He decides that his relationship with Claire is the most important thing in his life. After they return from Prague, David and Claire go to a farmhouse in upstate New York, as they are still on vacation. Helen, who has now remarried, pays an unexpected visit, and David is shocked to find that he is still rather attracted to Helen.

David and Claire return to their new shared home in the suburbs of New York City. David’s father comes to visit for Labor Day weekend, and he brings along a friend of his named Mr. Barbatnik. David’s father has sold the Hungarian Royale by this point and has retired. Mr. Barbatnik is a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. At David’s request, he tells the story of how he survived. David later reflects upon how life continues to present challenges, no matter what point a person has reached in life. At the end of the novel, he fears that some desires will eventually awaken within him and cause his love and passion for Claire to fade.

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