The Professor, Charlotte Brontë
The Professor Charlotte Brontë
The following entry presents criticism of Brontë's novel The Professr(1857). See also Charlotte Brontë Crticism.
The Professor (1857), Charlotte Brontë's first novel, was unpublished until after the author's death despite repeated efforts to find a publisher. Even the popularity of Jane Eyre and the fame her work brought her weren't enough to entice publishers to print The Professor while Brontë lived. Eager for more from Charlotte Brontë's pen, readers were nevertheless unenthusiastic about The Professor, and it received numerous unfavorable reviews upon publication. Written from the point of view of a male narrator, the novel has been criticized as an immature effort and a failed attempt to write from the male perspective. Modern critics are primarily interested in the gender issues posed by the work and in analyzing the work's early reception, while others focus on the influence The Professor had on Brontë's later novels. However, Brontë's first attempt as a professional writer has consistently met with reservations from readers and critics alike.
Plot and Major Characters
Drawn from Brontë's experiences in Brussels, The Professor tells the story of the orphan William Crimsworth, who seeks his future in Brussels after attempting to make a living as a clerk for his older brother, a mill owner in the north of England. Crimsworth begins the novel as a dependant, the ward of an aristocratic family. He rejects this life and the expectation that he become a clergyman in order to enter voluntary servitude to his prosperous brother. Unable to endure his brother's tyrannical nature, Crimsworth departs for Brussels to pursue a career in education. Hired to teach English at a girls’ school, Crimsworth falls in love with Frances Henri, a pupil-teacher at the school. Crimsworth resists the manipulations of the deceitful Catholic headmistress, Zoraïde Reuter, who later marries the headmaster of a nearby boys’ school. After resigning his position at the school, Crimsworth finds a new post, enabling him to marry Frances. His bride refuses to give up her own career as a seamstress, and together the two earn a respectable income and return to England.
In The Professor, Brontë is very much concerned with the treachery of Catholics, as was much of contemporary Victorian England. Through Mlle. Reuter and his interaction with the Catholic students at the school, Crimsworth experiences the superficial and deceptive nature of the Catholic educational system. Mlle. Reuter is characterized as duplicitous and manipulative and stands in sharp contrast to the honest Protestant Frances. Often viewed as the mouthpiece for Brontë's own views, Crimsworth offers a scornful account of “Romish wizardcraft” and its effect on the schoolgirls, who are portrayed as deceitful and shallow. Crimsworth's sexuality is explored as he is both voyeuristically fascinated and repulsed by the girls he teaches. Additionally, the novel focuses on the relationship between sexual dominance and social identity. As a dependent without any fortune or social stature of his own, Crimsworth is acutely aware of his unattractiveness to young women. Frances is also orphaned, poor, and meek in manner—a characterization that stresses the connection between inferiority of social status and the enforced repression of emotion. Through Frances, Brontë explores her concern for the predicament of women who lack wealth and social connections. Both Frances and Crimsworth combat their lack of social advantage by working hard and exhibiting self-restraint, characteristics that are ultimately rewarded with financial and domestic security.
The contemporary view of The Professor was largely unfavorable. Upon its publication, many reviewers dismissed the novel as a poorly conceived first attempt of a young novelist. Brontë's characters are considered unnatural, and her style said to be less artful than in Jane Eyre, or Shirley. Additionally, many of The Professor's themes were reworked into Brontë's Villette, which critics considered a much more successful work. The close parallels between the subject matter of these two novels led critics to dismiss The Professor for its inferiority. Others looked to Brontë's experience in Brussels, which had become widely known as a result of Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë, to explain the overly biographical and unpolished narrative of Crimsworth. Specifically, explains twentieth-century critic Annette Tromly, Brontë's frustrations involving unrequited love resulted in her writing an “uncontrolled” novel. Tromly maintains that while Brontë may have drawn from her own life to write The Professor, she did so in a much more complex way than critics typically assume. Tromly goes on to examine subtle and ambiguous characterization in the work. Other critics are concerned with the gender issues Brontë investigated in The Professor. Ruth D. Johnston explores the narrative processes in The Professor that establish the feminine subject. Arguing that representation is the locus of both ideological and sexual conflict, as well as the generation of the subject, Johnston concludes that The Professor's narrative processes make feminine subjectivity impossible. Also concerned with gender issues, Annette R. Federico studies the way in which female authors, including Brontë, used male narrators to understand gender relations and how these authors represented masculinity. Federico asserts that The Professor, with its descriptions of male dominance, voyeurism, and sexual suppression, reproduces Victorian masculinity. Federico further maintains that the novel is not concerned with attaining power but outgrowing the need for power. Like Tromly, Catherine Malone observes that appraisal of The Professor is typically informed by the biography published soon after Brontë's death. Surveying the criticism of the novel, Malone notes that the unappealing nature of Crimsworth's character has been attributed to Brontë's immaturity as a writer. In her assessment of Crimsworth's characterization, Malone contends that Brontë does not fail to create a convincing male protagonist, but that a male protagonist is unable to tell the story that Brontë desired to write, that is, a “history of suffering.” Criticism is frequently tied to the well-known life of The Professor's author, which has led Malone to argue that we have come to love Brontë more than her books. Significantly, the body of criticism is much smaller for this novel than for Brontë's other work, as even the defenders of The Professor acknowledge its inferiority to the genius of Jane Eyre.
Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell [by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë] (poetry) 1846
Jane Eyre: An Autobiography [edited by Currer Bell] (novel) 1847
Shirley: A Tale [as Currer Bell] (novel) 1850
Villette [as Currer Bell] (novel) 1853
The Professor: A Tale [as Currer Bell] (novel) 1857
The Twelve Adventurers and Other Stories (juvenilia) 1925
Legends of Angria: Compiled from the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë (juvenilia) 1933
Five Novelettes (novelettes) 1971
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SOURCE: Review of “The Professor: a Tale. By Currer Bell.” In The Athenaeum, No. 1546, June 13, 1857, pp. 755-57.
[In the following essay, the critic offers a plot summary and dismisses The Professor as incomplete, lacking the “descriptive or womanly touches” of Brontë's other novels.]
After nine years—the fitting Horatian interval—Currer Bell's rejected novel makes its posthumous appearance in print. The wondrous story of Jane Eyre has so much gratified, and the more wondrous, “ower true,” and over-tragic life-drama of Charlotte Brontë so much amazed the world, that it feels disposed rather to err on the side of gentleness than rigour, and to question the justice of the criticism which refused, rather than the constructive power which was latent in the earlier tale. Accordingly friends, lovers, and biographer have moved for a new trial, and The Professor comes before the public with every advantage of typography, and with the best prospects of a hearing. Whether the counsel which prompted, or the love which consented, to publication was wise or considerate, is as fairly open to doubt as the friendship which is disinclined to consider a dog Diamond as on some occasions providential. The world has not gained greatly by ‘The Prelude,’ and perhaps we ought to be resigned to the loss of a few sheets more of ‘The Opium-Eater.’ That the work before us will...
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SOURCE: “The Manuscript of The Professor.” In Review of English Studies, ns, Vol. 11, No. 42, May, 1960, pp. 157-70.
[In the following essay, Brammer discusses the fair copy of Brontë's The Professor, examining the nature of the changes made to that copy by the author and her husband William Bell Nicholls.]
Charlotte Brontë completed the fair copy of The Professor on 27 June 1846.1 Her original draft, presumably finished by April of that year,2 has not, so far as is known, survived; but the fair copy of this particular novel is of some interest. It is well known that after a series of ‘ignominious dismissals’ from various publishers, the manuscript was returned with a courteous and reasoned refusal from Smith, Elder and Co. Soon after their publication of Jane Eyre, Charlotte was contemplating a revised Professor,3 but her publishers evidently advised her not to attempt it. However, little more than a year after she had completed Shirley, she again turned to her first novel, and some time before February 1851, when George Smith finally persuaded her to abandon the idea, she wrote a Preface ‘with a view to publication’.
Alterations in the fair copy may therefore include revisions as late as 1851 as well as those made in preparation for the initial attempt at publication. It seems unlikely that...
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SOURCE: “From the Ending of The Professor to the Conception of Jane Eyre.” In Philological Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 1, Winter, 1982, pp. 71-89.
[In the following essay, Rodolff discusses Brontë's move from the masculine narrator in The Professor to the feminine narrator in Jane Eyre, and focuses on the last two chapters of The Professor as the source of this transition.]
Charlotte Brontë owed her facility in Jane Eyre to practice as well as to genius. Her Angria stories, written mostly in the 1830s, provided an extensive training in the art of fiction: the young author acquired technical skills and a serviceable store of subject matter by writing again and again about the same, and similar, Angrian characters, and by sometimes retelling the same stories with variations.1 Moreover, in 1846 she completed a one-volume novel, The Professor (posthumously published in 1857). This “was a necessary stage” in the author's development, for it originated, as Kathleen Tillotson remarks, the use of “a bare framework of ‘working one's way through life’ with a ‘rational mind.’”2 Nevertheless, while the less disgressive structure and the grounding of the hero's story in Brussels put The Professor into a category different from that of the juvenilia, it yet remains an apprentice work in important respects.3 For...
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SOURCE: “The Professor.” In The Cover of the Mask: The Autobiographers in Charlotte Brontë's Fiction, University of Victoria, 1982, pp. 20-41.
[In the following excerpt, Tromly reviews the contemporary reception of Brontë's The Professor and surveys the plot, characterization, and imagery in the novel.]
From its earliest reviews onward, critics have accorded The Professor the same reception which greeted the return of Milton's Satan to Hell: “a dismal universal hiss.” Only one voice has disturbed this reassuring critical certitude; and the dissenting voice has belonged to the person who is apparently least qualified to speak. Charlotte Brontë herself seems not to have faltered in her commitment to her first novel. She tried nine times to get The Professor published (it originally was rejected by six publishers), renewing her effort each time one of her other novels was more sympathetically received.1 Brontë even attempted to use Jane Eyre's popularity as a coat-tail by which her earlier narrative might be introduced to the reading public. Her efforts failed; it was not until after her death that George Smith decided to publish The Professor—only because he realized that nothing else was forthcoming.
Brontë described, in the “Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell,” written for the 1850 edition of Wuthering...
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SOURCE: “The Professor: Charlotte Brontë's Hysterical Text, or Realistic Narrative and the Ideology of the Subject from a Feminist Perspective.” In Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction, Vol. 18, edited by Michael Timko, Fred Kaplan, and Edward Guiliano, AMS Press, 1989, pp. 353-80.
[In the following essay, Johnston uses Lacanian theory to examine The Professor and discusses the possibility of constructing feminine subjectivity within a realistic framework.]
The essay which follows explores the construction of sexual identity in representation. I argue that the realistic notion of identity as a particular temporal/spatial structuration is assumed (if modified) in the psychoanalytic account of the constitution of the subject, which means that both the theory and aesthetic practice consequently furnish a model of subjectivity that is exclusively masculine. In this context I examine Charlotte Brontë's The Professor as a hysterical text, by which I mean a text that interrogates the possibility of constructing a feminine subjectivity in realistic signifying practices, the narrator's biological sex in this novel serving to render the repression of the feminine explicit. In addition, I choose this novel as an exemplary hysterical text because it also makes explicit the relation (actually the complicity) of retrospective narration and geometrical perspective (that...
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SOURCE: Introduction to The Professor, by Charlotte Brontë, edited by Heather Glen, Penguin Books, 1989, pp. 7-31.
[In the following essay, Glen disputes earlier critics’ claims that The Professor is an amateur or apprentice work, arguing instead that it provides a “coherent imaginative interrogation of values and assumptions” regarding masculinity and society.]
The Professor was the first of Charlotte Brontë's four novels to be written. It is also by far the least known. Completed, probably, at some time in 1846, it was one of the ‘three distinct and unconnected tales’ that the Brontë sisters, as ‘Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell’, began in that year to send out to publishers as ‘a work of fiction in 3 vols’. But unlike the other two of those tales, Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights, it failed to appear in its author's lifetime. Nine times, in all, it was rejected by publishers: the rejections continued even after the success of Jane Eyre had made Charlotte Brontë a household name. And when, in 1857, her widower prepared the manuscript for publication, it was with some misgivings and in a slightly bowdlerized form.
For The Professor is not a novel to which readers have been indifferent. It has generally been adjudged an unpleasant and oddly disquieting book. Mrs Gaskell, reading it for the first time in manuscript, was uneasy:...
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SOURCE: “The Professor, Jane Eyre, Shirley.” In Holy Ghosts: The Male Muses of Emily and Charlotte Brontë, Columbia University Press, 1990, pp. 159-99.
[In the following excerpt, Tayler describes the fluctuation of gender and sex roles that Brontë's characters experience, linking their struggles with Brontë's own desires for gender equality in society and a deeper sense of balance between the male and female qualities within herself.]
Charlotte's work with her sisters in getting out their joint volume of poems still left her time to undertake her first novel specifically conceived and intended for publication—The Professor. In her “Author's Preface” Charlotte characterized the progress of her thoughts on literary method: “I had got over any such taste as I might once have had for ornamental and redundant composition, and come to prefer what was plain and homely.” Her work would now stick close to the unadorned realities of life—pursue no more Angrian sunsets, worship no more false gods.
But the novel nonetheless mixes fantasy with fact in suggestive and revealing ways. Its immediate topic was Charlotte's Brussels experience, but with a twist: for Charlotte here casts herself in a double role.1 She is both halves of the couple whose love story the novel tells: both William Crimsworth and Frances Henri. William is a young Englishman who goes to...
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SOURCE: “Charlotte Brontë: ‘If You Knew My Thoughts. …’” In The Brontës: Branwell, Anne, Emily, Charlotte, Continuum, 1991, pp. 133-82.
[In the following excerpt, Knapp examines the hatred between brothers Edward and William Crimsworth in The Professor and discusses the impact this has upon William's anima and his relationships with women.]
Written with the grace and charm of many a Victorian novel, The Professor also possesses a psychologically fascinating quality of its own. Unlike Wuthering Heights, neither the happenings nor the characters emanate from the author's archetypal depths; they are not, therefore, mythical in stature. More like Agnes Grey, The Professor is a structured and rationally conceived work, an attempt on the author's part to perfect and restrain the formerly effulgent style of her juvenilia.
The writing of The Professor may have served as a means to clarify Charlotte's thoughts concerning the art of the novelist. Every move and thought of the protagonists, within a set framework and ambiance, gives the impression of having been churned and rechurned, sifted, fleshed out, and evaluated in the author's logical mind and within the preconceived plot line. Although spontaneous events do occur at strategic moments in the novel, they are designed to illuminate the characters' own weaknesses and foibles, thus giving...
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SOURCE: “The Other Case: Gender and Narration in Charlotte Brontë's The Professor.” In Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 30, No. 4, Fall, 1994, pp. 323-45.
[In the following essay, Federico discusses Brontë's use of a male narrator in The Professor.]
Male novelists who use female narrators have been praised for their insights into “feminine psychology,” yet we seldom expect women writers to represent masculinity from a male point of view. In her recent work on feminism and narratology, Susan Lanser considers “the social properties and political implications of narrative voice,” claiming that “female voice”—the grammatical gender of the narrator—“is a site of ideological tension made visible in textual practice” (4-5). This tension is conspicuous in novels published in the nineteenth century: a strict literary double-standard reflects a cultural double-standard that devalues feminine discourse in the public sphere. Like everything else, narrative voice corresponds to the cultural needs of Victorian society, and so an age comparatively rich in literary heroines (and in women writers) still finds the masculine voice more representative, and, supposedly, more rational, more “objective.” Because narrative voice carries the burdens of Victorian gender polarization—in its representation of male or female language and the expectations it raises about masculine or...
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SOURCE: “‘We Have Learnt to Love Her More than Her Books’: The Critical Reception of Brontë's Professor.” In Review of English Studies, Vol. 47, No. 186, 1996, pp. 175-87.
[In the following essay, Malone explores the claim by some critics that Brontë fails to credibly produce a male protagonist in The Professor. Malone argues that it is not possible for a male protagonist to relate convincingly the type of suffering about which Brontë sought to write.]
‘The Professor appears before the public under circumstances which preclude criticism’,1 mourned the Saturday Review in June 1857. Smith, Elder's decision to publish Gaskell's biography and Charlotte Brontë's first written novel in close succession was clearly an astute move. On its publication, Jane Eyre was condemned as immoral and unchristian,2 as emphatically a bad book,3 as a book not to be given to the young.4 Less than ten years later, the Edinburgh Review is declaring, ‘It is impossible to speak without the deepest interest and sympathy of the genius, the trials, and the fate of Charlotte Brontë’.5 It was The Life of Charlotte Brontë which was responsible for the transformation into popular heroine, precipitating the gradual reappraisal of Brontë which had begun upon her death in 1855 with the subsequent revelation of some...
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SOURCE: “Charlotte Brontë's Foreign Bodies: Slavery and Sexuality in The Professor.” In Journal of Narrative Theory, Vol. 30, No. 1, Winter, 2000, pp. 1-28.
[In the following essay, Plasa discusses the figurative representation of colonialism found in The Professor. The critic also explores Crimsworth's self-contained sexuality.]
As we look back at the cultural archive, we begin to read it not univocally but contrapuntally, with a simultaneous awareness both of the metropolitan history that is narrated and of those other histories against which (and together with which) the dominating discourse acts.
Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (59)
The opening chapter of Charlotte Brontë's first novel, The Professor (completed in 1846 but published only posthumously in 1857), features a “copy of a letter, sent […] a year since” by William Crimsworth, the novel's first-person narrator and central protagonist, to Charles, “an old school-acquaintance” (5) whom he had known at Eton. While the letter is designed to furnish Charles with an account of its writer's post-Etonian existence, such a purpose remains unrealized. As Crimsworth explains at the end of the chapter, his missive meets with no reply because its desired. recipient is at home no longer:
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Anonymous review of “Currer Bell's Professor.” In Dublin University Magazine 50, No. 295, (July 1857): 88-100.
Discusses Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë, followed by excerpts from that work pertaining to Brontë's attempts to publish The Professor and a plot summary of the novel.
Betsinger, Sue Ann. “Charlotte Brontë's Archetypal Heroine.” Brontë Society Transaction 19 (1989): 301-09.
Suggests that William Crimsworth, The Professor's narrator, is not the book's character of primary interest, but that Frances Henri is the novel's heroine and becomes the model for the heroines of Brontë's later novels.
Brown, Kate E. “Beloved Objects: Mourning, Materiality, and Charlotte Brontë's ‘Never-Ending Story’.” ELH [Journal of English Literary History] 65, No. 2 (Summer 1998): 395-421.
Examines the role and influence of Brontë's juvenilia in composing The Professor.
Bruce, Donald Williams. “Charlotte Brontë in Brussels: The Professor and Villette.” Contemporary Review 254, No. 1481 (June 1989): 321-28.
Maintains that the plot of The Professor, based on Brontë's experience as a student and teacher in Brussels, was reworked with greater success in the later novel...
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