The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte
“In sunshine, in prosperity, the flowers are very well; but how many wet days are there in life—November seasons of disaster, when a man’s hearth and home would be cold indeed, without the clear, cheering gleam of intellect.”
The Professor, Charlotte Bronte’s (pen name Currer Bell) first novel, was published posthumously in 1857 and at first wasn’t well received mostly because of it’s similarity to another of her novels, Villette. It’s Charlotte Bronte’s least known novel but it’s valued because you can see her promising talent laced throughout the work. As well as the fictional elements it has shades of the autobiographical due to Charlotte Bronte’s own experience teaching in Brussels when she was younger.
The story itself is quite simple. The Protagonist, William Crimsworth, is a poor orphaned Englishman who by chance is offered a place as a professor (teacher) at an esteemed boys boarding school in Brussels. This later turns into a second teaching placement at the all girls school next door. William isn’t a handsome man, he doesn’t have any considerable talent for trade and he’s certainly not rich but he does have moderate intellect which is his only weapon against a world that largely doesn’t care for him. He is determined to work for what he earns and mentions constantly that he doesn’t want to be given a single thing. Charlotte Bronte mentioned in the preface that she wanted to tell a real story, a story about a man who is average and plain who has to work for everything he has. In that respect she succeeds. I was quite enchanted by his character throughout the novel.
The secondary characters are memorable too. There is Frances Henri, a student of William’s, who at first is a reserved and guarded but sweet girl, but then transforms into a strong and smart young woman who is determined to pay for her own way in life. There are the two antagonists of the novel, Francois Pelet and Zoraide Reuter, who are ambitious and cunning but I found them simply delightful. And there is Hunsden Yorke Hunsden who befriends William early in the novel and who pops in now and then to offer his interesting take on where William’s life is heading and who ends up being a dear friend to both William and Frances.
This novel had a lot of promise and it did hold my attention throughout but the prejudice against Catholics (at one point Bronte called them Romish Wizards and people who lacked integrity), the French and Belgians prevented me from completely enjoying the novel. The prejudice and racism was laced throughout the work and at points I had to take a breath and force myself through because of the strength of Bronte’s venomous hatred.
All in all I enjoyed parts of the novel but much like Northanger Abbey I highly doubt I’ll visit this one again.