Fiction Friday: Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor
Authors are told to write what they know, and British writer Charlotte Brontë did just that. The Professor, which was published by her husband two years after her death was actually Charlotte’s first novel, written well before Jane Eyre. Rejected by the few publishers of the time, the book manuscript was put on the back burner as the author set about crafting her next novel. Parts of the manuscript were later reworked from the prospective of a female teacher and published as Villette.
Based on her experiences ten years’ prior as teacher and language student in Belgium, The Professor tells the story of William Crimsworth, a teacher in Brussels. Told in first-person narrative form, the novel describes his maturation, career, and relationships. The story begins with a letter sent from William to a friend and discusses his rejection of an uncle’s proposal that he become a clergyman as well as his first meeting with his rich brother. William obtains a job with Edward who treats him poorly. Leaving the position, William accepts a job at a school in Brussels.
His excellent reputation as a “professor” becomes known to a headmistress at a girls school nearby. Sheoffers him a job that he accepts, and slowly falls in love with her. He overhears a conversation with her fiancé about their deceitful treatment of him, and reacts by being cold and distant with her. In a plot line that would make the author of Peyton Place proud, William begins to teach one of the younger instructors and falls in love with her. Jealous of the attention he is paying to the young woman, the headmistress fires her. He searches high and low for her, finally finding her in a graveyard (of all places). Not wanting to cause further dissension at the Williams quits and finds a new position at a college. He and the young teacher marry, open and school together, and have a child – a neatly tied up happily-ever-after.
Interestingly, Brontë uses the book as an opportunity to put forward her dislike of Catholics and the Flemish, and there are several negative incidents involving both.
Because she based the novel on her own experiences, The Professor gives readers a peek into the Charlotte’s life. During her short stint at the school, she fell in love with the headmaster, a married man with children. According to a later biography, she didn’t handle the situation well, and made herself an embarrassment. Additionally, because Charlotte passed away at an early age she didn’t write as many books as she might have if she’d lived longer. Of the book, she said, “The middle and latter portion is as good as I can write...it contains more pith, more substance, more reality, in my judgment, than much of Jane Eyre.”
Some find the book slow and plodding, lacking the passion and intrigue of Jane Eyre, but I enjoyed reading the story as it immersed me in the “working man’s life” of the mid-1800s. Consider reading this classic.
About Dinah's Dilemma
Will she have to run from the past for the rest of her life?
Dinah Simpkins has no chance of making a good marriage. Her outlaw brothers and her father’s gambling addiction have ruined the family’s reputation. Then the Westward Home and Hearts Matrimonial Agency provides an opportunity for a fresh start. After Dinah arrives in Nebraska, she discovers her brothers played a part in the death of her prospective groom’s first wife.
As a former Pinkerton detective Nathan Childs knows when someone is lying. The bride sent by the matrimonial agency may be beautiful, but she’s definitely hiding something, and he has no intention of marrying her until he uncovers the truth. But an easier solution may be to send her packing. Then his young daughter goes missing. He and Dinah must put aside their mutual hurt and mistrust to find her.
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