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The Professor Charlotte Brontë

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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The Professor (1857), Charlotte Brontë's first novel, was unpublished until after the author's death despite repeated efforts to find a publisher.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.

Major Themes

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.

Critical Reception

The contemporary view of The Professor was largely unfavorable. Upon its publication, many reviewers dismissed the novel as a poorly conceived...

(The entire section contains 83192 words.)

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Critical Evaluation