The Professor is the last book published, posthumously, by Charlotte Bronte. It is also ironically her first novel which was consistently rejected by publishers during Bronte’s lifetime even after the success of Jane Eyre. Having read Villette first, one can’t help but compare the similarities.
The Professor follows William Crimsworth as he attempts to make his own way into the world. After graduating from Eton, William refuses a Church living and a marriage to his wealthy cousin and is disowned by his wealthy relatives. William is an orphan, whose mother died in childbirth, and his two Lord uncles have taken care, begrudgingly, of his education. Alone in the world and determined to make his own living by his own hands, William seeks out his only other living relative, a much older brother who turns out to be quite the brute. On the advice and recommendation of his brother’s acquaintance, Hundsen, William leaves England and goes to Brussels to seek out teaching positions.
In Brussels, William quickly secures a position teaching English (the title professor merely refers to that of a teacher) in M. Pelet’s school and in the neighbouring girls schools owned by Mlle Zoraide Reuter. Suffice to say, there are a few love affairs:
“And your heart is broken?”
“I am not aware that it is; it feels all right – beats as usual.”
“Then your feelings are less superfine than I took them to be; you must be a coarse, callous characters, to bear such a thwack without staggering under it.” – p. 228
The essence of the story, however, is how William Crimsworth makes his own way through the world with nothing but his own mind and hands and with no other help other than deserved references. In a society that was so hierarchical and classed, William work ethic and determination is truly admirable and inspirational.
While I enjoyed the novel, I struggled with it particularly through the bits that had more French language than English. Constantly flipping to the notes at the back really took me out of the story but this was the same reason why I struggled with Villette too and it’s nothing to do with the book itself. Well brought up people in nineteenth century England knew both French and English. I never really warmed up to the characters except the excellent and eccentric Hundsen but I suppose the characters were the result of their situation in life. As the only novel written from a male point of view by Bronte, I think it’s an interesting book in the Bronte cannon.
For those who have read Villette – what do you think? Are they both the same books or does each have their own significance?