The Athenaeum (review date 1857)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4540

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 be read and discussed by all who have read the Life of Charlotte Brontë is certain enough, but the interest excited will be rather curious than deep, and the impression left on the reader one of pain and incompleteness. It is a mere study for Jane Eyre or Shirley,—certainly displaying effects of the same force, the same characteristic keenness of perception, the same rough, bold, coarse truthfulness of expression, the same compressed style, offence of dialogue, preference for forbidden topics, and pre-Raphaelitish contempt for grace,—but with scarcely any relief or shadow, and with fewer descriptive or womanly touches. Unity or arrangement there is none. The sketches are carelessly left loose for the reader to connect or not, as he chooses,—a carelessness the result of a deliberate intention, as is clear enough from the Preface.—

I said to myself that my hero should work his way through life as I had seen real living men work theirs—that he should never get a shilling he had not earned—that no sudden turns should lift him in a moment to wealth and high station; that whatever small competency he might gain, should be won by the sweat of his brow; that, before he could find so much as an arbour to sit down in, he should master at least half the ascent of ‘the Hill of Difficulty;’ that he should not even marry a beautiful girl or a lady of rank. As Adam's son he should share Adam's doom, and drain throughout life a mixed and moderate cup of enjoyment.

The incidents of the story are few; the principal parts are sustained by an unnatural brother, a rough manufacturer, of the type of Mr. Helstone, who interposes ex machinâ and rescues the hero, an obstinate but well-regulated character in difficulties. The hero, a younger son of a Yorkshire blue-dyer, is of patrician race by the mother's side, but though educated at Eton he declines to adopt the Church and the opinions of his titled uncles, and in preference offers himself as a clerk to his brother, a rich Yorkshire manufacturer, the husband of a childish-looking, red-haired lady, whom he terrifies by driving a restive quadruped,—“only opening his lips to damn his horse.”

Here is a portrait of Mr. Crimsworth, the elder brother, and a peep into the manufacturing “concern”:—

Workpeople were passing to and fro; a waggon was being laden with pieces. Mr. Crimsworth looked from side to side, and seemed at one glance to comprehend all that was going on; he alighted, and leaving his horse and gig to the care of a man who hastened to take the reins from his hand, he bid me follow him to the counting-house. We entered it; a very different place from the parlours of Crimsworth Hall—a place for business, with a bare, planked floor, a safe, two high desks and stools, and some chairs. A person was seated at one of the desks, who took off his square cap when Mr. Crimsworth entered, and in an instant was again absorbed in his occupation of writing or calculating—I know not which. Mr. Crimsworth, having removed his mackintosh, sat down by the fire. I remained standing near the hearth; he said presently—‘Steighton, you may leave the room; I have some business to transact with this gentleman. Come back when you hear the bell.’ The individual at the desk rose and departed, closing the door as he went out. Mr. Crimsworth stirred the fire, then folded his arms, and sat a moment thinking, his lips compressed, his brow knit. I had nothing to do but to watch him—how well his features were cut! what a handsome man he was! Whence, then, came that air of contraction—that narrow and hard aspect on his forehead, in all his lineaments? Turning to me he began abruptly:—‘You are come down to———shire to learn to be a tradesman?’—‘Yes, I am.’—‘Have you made up your mind on the point? Let me know that at once.’—‘Yes.’—‘Well, I am not bound to help you, but I have a place here vacant, if you are qualified for it. I will take you on trial. What can you do? Do you know anything besides that useless trash of college learning—Greek, Latin, and so forth?’—‘I have studied mathematics.’—‘Stuff! I dare say you have.’—‘I can read and write French and German.’—‘Hum!’ He reflected a moment, and then opening a drawer in a desk near him took out a letter and gave it to me. ‘Can you read that?’ he asked. It was a German commercial letter; I translated it; I could not tell whether he was gratified or not—his countenance remained fixed. ‘It is well,’ he said, after a pause, ‘that you are acquainted with something useful, something that will enable you to earn your board and lodging: since you know French and German, I will take you as second clerk to manage the foreign correspondence of the house. I shall give you a good salary—90l. a year—and now,’ he continued, raising his voice, ‘hear once for all what I have to say about our relationship, and all that sort of humbug! I must have no nonsense on that point; it would never suit me. I shall excuse you nothing on the plea of being my brother; if I find you stupid, negligent, dissipated, idle, or possessed of any faults detrimental to the interests of the house, I shall dismiss you as I would any other clerk. Ninety pounds a year are good wages, and I expect to have the full value of my money out of you; remember, too, that things are on a practical footing in my establishment—business-like habits, feelings, and ideas, suit me best. Do you understand?’—‘Partly,’ I replied. ‘I suppose you mean that I am to do my work for my wages; not to expect favour from you, and not to depend on you for any help but what I earn; that suits me exactly, and on these terms I will consent to be your clerk.’ I turned on my heel, and walked to the window; this time I did not consult his face to learn his opinion: what it was I do not know, nor did I then care. After a silence of some minutes he recommenced:—‘You perhaps expect to be accommodated with apartments at Crimsworth Hall, and go and come with me in the gig. I wish you, however, to be aware that such an arrangement would be quite inconvenient to me. I like to have the seat in my gig at liberty for any gentleman whom for business reasons I may wish to take down to the hall for a night or so. You will seek out lodgings in X———.’ Quitting the window, I walked back to the health. ‘Of course I shall seek out lodgings in X———,’ I answered. ‘It would not suit me either to lodge at Crimsworth Hall.’ My tone was quiet. I always speak quietly. Yet Mr. Crimsworth's blue eye became incensed; he took his revenge rather oddly. Turning to me he said bluntly—‘You are poor enough, I suppose; how do you expect to live till your quarter's salary becomes due?’—‘I shall get on,’ said I.—‘How do you expect to live?’ he repeated in a louder voice.—‘As I can, Mr. Crimsworth.’—‘Get into debt at your peril! that's all,’ he answered. ‘For aught I know you may have extravagant aristocratic habits; if you have, drop them; I tolerate nothing of the sort here, and I will never give you a shilling extra, whatever liabilities you may incur—mind that.’

The engagement proves unsatisfactory, and a Mr. Hunsden, who talks a language that partly recalls Mephistopheles and partly Mr. Carlyle, exhorts, if you “cannot get up to the pitch of resistance, why, God made you to be crushed, and lie down by all means, and lie flat, and let Juggernaut ride well over you.” The advice takes; there is a hot quarrel between the brother and William Crimsworth,—the hero quits the works. The contrast between the hot scene in the counting-house and the cool wintry evening is in exquisite feeling.—

There was a great stillness near and far; the time of the day favoured tranquillity, as the people were all employed within doors, the hour of evening release from the factories not being yet arrived; a sound of full-flowing water alone pervaded the air, for the river was deep and abundant, swelled by the melting of a late snow. I stood awhile leaning over a wall; and looking down at the current, I watched the rapid rush of its waves. I desired memory to take a clear and permanent impression of the scene, and treasure it for future years. Grovetown church clock struck four; looking up I beheld the last of that day's sun, glinting red through the leafless boughs of some very old oak trees surrounding the church—its light coloured and characterized the picture as I wished. I paused yet a moment, till the sweet, slow sound of the bell had quite died out of the air; then ear, eye and feeling satisfied, I quitted the wall and once more turned my face towards X———.

With a letter from Mr. Hunsden, fifteen pounds, and a watch, our hero starts for Brussels. Here is a piece of writing that strongly reminds us of Jane Eyre:—

Three—nay four—pictures line the four-walled cell where are stored for me the records of the past. First, Eton. All in that picture is in far perspective, receding, diminutive; but freshly coloured, green, dewy, with a spring sky, piled with glittering yet showery clouds; for my childhood was not all sunshine—it had its overcast, its cold, its stormy hours. Second, X———, huge, dingy; the canvas cracked and smoked; a yellow sky, sooty clouds; no sun, no azure: the verdure of the suburbs blighted and sullied—a very dreary scene. Third, Belgium; and I will pause before this landscape. * * Green, reedy swamps; fields fertile but flat, cultivated in patches that made them look like magnified kitchen-gardens; belts of cut trees, formal as pollard willows, skirting the horizon; narrow canals, gliding slow by the roadside; painted Flemish farm-houses; some very dirty hovels; a grey, dead sky; wet road, wet fields, wet house-tops: not a beautiful, scarcely a picturesque object met my eye along the whole route; yet to me, all was beautiful, all was more than picturesque.

Arrived in Brussels, we are introduced to M. Pelet, a schoolmaster in the Rue Royale, the prototype of M. Paul in Villette, who engages the hero as Professor of English and Latin at a thousand francs a year. The Professor's first essay with the class of moon-faced Flemings, who snuffle, snort, and wheeze the English tongue, is vigorous, but wanting in humour. We pass over the odd ménage,—quit the Professor's chamber, which has one window boarded up, les convenances forbidding irregular insight into a “Pensionnat de Demoiselles,”—and, along with the Professor, enter in due form the clear and bright, though somewhat chill, salon of Mdlle. Reuter, the fair directrice, a lady who wears her pretty nut-brown hair in curls, and is very quiet, interesting, and cat-like. There Mr. Creemsvort is engaged as occasional Professor, at five hundred francs a year; and we make the acquaintance of a triad that reminds us in idea of Blanche, Rose, and Violet. The morality of the school is thus sketched:—

The first picture is a full length of Aurelia Koslow, a German fräulein, or rather a half-breed between German and Russian. She is eighteen years of age, and has been sent to Brussels to finish her education; she is of middle size, stiffly made, body long, legs short, bust much developed but not compactly moulded, waist disproportionately compressed by an inhumanly braced corset, dress carefully arranged, large feet tortured into small bottines, head small, hair smoothed, braided, oiled, and gummed to perfection; very low forehead, very diminutive and vindictive grey eyes, somewhat Tartar features, rather flat nose, rather high cheek bones, yet the ensemble not positively ugly; tolerably good complexion. So much for person. As to mind deplorably ignorant and ill-informed; incapable of writing or speaking correctly even German, her native tongue, a dunce in French, and her attempts at learning English a mere farce, yet she has been at school twelve years; but as she invariably gets her exercises, of every description, done by a fellow pupil, and reads her lessons off a book concealed in her lap, it is not wonderful that her progress has been so snail-like. I do not know what Aurelia's daily habits of life are, because I have not the opportunity of observing her at all times; but from what I see of the state of her desk, books, and papers, I should say she is slovenly and even dirty; her outward dress, as I have said, is well attended to; but in passing behind her bench, I have remarked that her neck is grey for want of washing, and her hair, so glossy with gum and grease, is not such as one feels tempted to pass the hand over, much less to run the fingers through. Aurelia's conduct in class, at least when I am present, is something extraordinary, considered as an index of girlish innocence. The moment I enter the room, she nudges her next neighbour and indulges in a half-suppressed laugh. As I take my seat on the estrade, she fixes her eye on me; she seems resolved to attract, and, if possible, monopolize my notice; to this end she launches at me all sorts of looks, languishing, provoking, leering, laughing. As I am found quite proof against this sort of artillery—for we scorn what, unasked, is lavishly offered—she has recourse to the expedient of making noises; sometimes she sighs, sometimes groans, sometimes utters inarticulate sounds, for which language has no name. If, in walking up the school-room, I pass near her, she puts out her foot that it may touch mine; if I do not happen to observe the manœuvre, and my boot comes in contact with her brodequin, she affects to fall into convulsions of suppressed laughter; if I notice the snare and avoid it, she expresses her mortification in sullen muttering, where I hear myself abused in bad French, pronounced with an intolerable low German accent.

The story oscillates betwixt the two establishments for nearly three hundred pages,—M. Pelet or Mdlle. Reuter predominating by turns in endeavours to enlist the heart of the Professor and the interest of the reader. An Anglo-Swiss pupil-teacher, Mdlle. Frances Evans Henri, carries the day, and is dismissed in consequence. Love-making on the part of the directrice—jealousy on that of M. Pelet—several pages of search, and the discovery of the young lady in a cemetery weeping over her aunt's grave—a proposal—the appearance of Mr. Hunsden—and a wedding, are the chief events in the second volume. The Professor's proposal is original and Shirley-like. This is the scene:—

Frances rose, as if restless; she passed before me to stir the fire, which did not want stirring; she lifted and put down the little ornaments on the mantel-piece; her dress waved within a yard of me; slight, straight, and elegant, she stood erect on the hearth. There are impulses we can control; but there are others which control us, because they attain us with a tiger-leap, and are our masters ere we have seen them. Perhaps though, such impulses are seldom altogether bad; perhaps Reason, by a process as brief as quiet, a process that is finished ere felt, has ascertained the sanity of the deed Instinct meditates, and feels justified in remaining passive while it is performed. I know I did not reason, I did not plan or intend, yet, whereas one moment I was sitting solus on the chair near the table, the next, I held Frances on my knee, placed there with sharpness and decision, and retained with exceeding tenacity. ‘Monsieur!’ cried Frances, and was still; not another word escaped her lips; sorely confounded she seemed during the lapse of the first few moments; but the amazement soon subsided; terror did not succeed, nor fury; after all, she was only a little nearer than she had been before, to one she habitually respected and trusted; embarrassment might have impelled her to contend, but self-respect checked resistance where resistance is useless. ‘Frances, how much regard have you for me?’ was my demand. No answer; the situation was yet too new and surprising to permit speech. On this consideration, I compelled myself for some seconds to tolerate her silence, though impatient of it; presently, I repeated the same question—probably not in the calmest of tones; she looked at me; my face, doubtless, was no model of composure, my eyes no still wells of tranquillity.—‘Do speak,’ I urged; and a very low, hurried, yet still arch voice said—‘Monsieur, vous me faîtes mal; de grâce lâchez un peu ma main droite.’ In truth I became aware that I was holding the said ‘main droite’ in a somewhat ruthless grasp: I did as desired; and, for the third time, asked more gently—‘Frances, how much regard have you for me?’—‘Mon maître, j'en ai beaucoup,’ was the truthful rejoinder.—‘Frances, have you enough to give yourself to me as my wife?—to accept me as your husband?’ I felt the agitation of the heart, I saw ‘the purple light of love’ cast its glowing reflection on cheek, temples, neck; I desired to consult the eye, but sheltering lash and lid forbade. ‘Monsieur,’ said the soft voice at last,—‘Monsieur désire savoir si je consens—si—enfin, si je veux me marier avec lui?’—‘Justement.’—‘Monsieur sera-t-il aussi bon mari qu'il a été bon maître?’—‘I will try, Frances.’ A pause; then with a new, yet still subdued inflexion of the voice—an inflexion which provoked while it pleased me—accompanied, too, by a ‘sourire à la fois fin et timide’ in perfect harmony with the tone:—‘C'est à dire, monsieur sera toujours un peu entêté, exigeant, volontaire?’—‘Have I been so, Frances?’—‘Mais oui; vous le savez bien.’—‘Have I been nothing else?’—‘Mais oui; vous avez été mon meilleur ami.’—‘And what, Frances, are you to me?’—‘Votre dévouée élève, qui vous aime de tout son cœur.’—‘Will my pupil consent to pass her life with me? Speak English now, Frances.’ Some moments were taken for reflection; the answer, pronounced slowly, ran thus:—‘You have always made me happy; I like to hear you speak; I like to see you; I like to be near you; I believe you are very good, and very superior; I know you are stern to those who are careless and idle, but you are kind, very kind to the attentive and industrious, even if they are not clever. Master, I should be glad to live with you always;’ and she made a sort of movement, as if she would have clung to me, but restraining herself she only added with earnest emphasis—‘Master, I consent to pass my life with you.’—‘Very well, Frances.’ I drew her a little nearer to my heart; I took a first kiss from her lips, thereby sealing the compact, now framed between us; afterwards she and I were silent, nor was our silence brief. Frances' thoughts, during this interval, I know not, nor did I attempt to guess them; I was not occupied in searching her countenance, nor in otherwise troubling her composure. The peace I felt, I wished her to feel; my arm, it is true, still detained her; but with a restraint that was gentle enough, so long as no opposition tightened it. My gaze was on the red fire; my heart was measuring its own content; it sounded and sounded, and found the depth fathomless. ‘Monsieur,’ at last said my quiet companion, as stirless in her happiness as a mouse in its terror. Even now in speaking she scarcely lifted her head. ‘Well, Frances?’ I like unexaggerated intercourse; it is not my way to overpower with amorous epithets, any more than to worry with selfishly importunate caresses. ‘Monsieur est raisonnable, n'est ce pas?’—‘Yes; especially when I am requested to be so in English: but why do you ask me?’—‘You see nothing vehement or obtrusive in my manner; am I not tranquil enough?’—‘Ce n'est pas cela—’ began Frances. ‘English!’ I reminded her. ‘Well monsieur, I wished merely to say, that I should like, of course, to retain my employment of teaching. You will teach still, I suppose, monsieur?’—‘Oh yes, it is all I have to depend on.’—‘Bon!—I mean good. Thus we shall have both the same profession. I like that; and my efforts to get on will be as unrestrained as yours—will they not, monsieur?’—‘You are laying plans to be independent of me,’ said I.—‘Yes, monsieur; I must be no incumbrance to you—no burden in any way.’—‘But, Frances, I have not yet told you what my prospects are. I have left M. Pelet's; and after nearly a month's seeking, I have got another place, with a salary of three thousand francs a year, which I can easily double by a little additional exertion. Thus you see it would be useless for you to fag yourself by going out to give lessons; on six thousand francs you and I can live, and live well.’ Frances seemed to consider. There is something flattering to man's strength, something consonant to his honourable pride, in the idea of becoming the providence of what he loves—feeding and clothing it, as God does the lilies of the field. So to decide her resolution, I went on:—‘Life has been painful and laborious enough to you so far, Frances; you require complete rest; your twelve hundred francs would not form a very important addition to our income, and what sacrifice of comfort to earn it! Relinquish your labours: you must be weary, and let me have the happiness of giving you rest.’ I am not sure whether Frances had accorded due attention to my harangue; instead of answering me with her usual respectful promptitude, she only smiled and said—‘How rich you are, monsieur!’ and then she stirred uneasy in my arms. ‘Three thousand francs!’ she murmured, ‘while I get only twelve hundred!’ She went on faster. ‘However it must be so for the present; and, monsieur, were you not saying something about my giving up my place? Oh no! I shall hold it fast;’ and her little fingers emphatically tightened on mine.—‘Think of my marrying you to be kept by you, monsieur! I could not do it; and how dull my days would be! You would be away teaching in close, noisey school-rooms, from morning till evening, and I should be lingering at home, unemployed and solitary; I should get depressed and sullen, and you would soon tire of me.’—‘Frances, you could read and study—two things you like so well.’—‘Monsieur, I could not; I like a contemplative life, but I like an active life better; I must act in some way, and act with you. I have taken notice, monsieur, that people who are only in each other's company for amusement, never really like each other so well, or esteem each other so highly, as those who work together, and perhaps suffer together.’—‘You speak God's truth,’ said I at last, ‘and you shall have your own way, for it is the best way. Now, as a reward for such ready consent, give me a voluntary kiss.’

The pair open a school in Brussels, where Mr. Hunsden sends them pupils “to be polished off.” In ten years they make a fortune, secure a pretty English home that lies among the moors thirty miles from X———. “The smoke of mills has not yet sullied the verdure, the waters still run pure.” There is a long, green, shady lane starred with daisies, which gives a title to the house. There is a fine boy and a favourite mastiff;—and the story ends.

Miss Brontë does not exhibit her characters in critical action, or under strong temptation. Low chicane, astuteness, sensuality, and tyranny, are keenly and observantly drawn; but throughout the novel the quietness is unnatural, the level of fact too uniform, the restraint and the theory of life too plain. The principles and the art of the writer, though true, excite no corresponding sympathy on the part of the reader,—few demands being made on his softer or gentler nature. There is no Helen Burns that we can watch or weep over,—no sprightly little Adele that we can sport with. Frances may possibly be the mother of Lucy Snow, and Mdlle. Reuter and M. Pelet the co-efficients of Madame Modeste and Paul Emmanuel. Similarities of opinion respecting marriage may be traced, not as a crime, but an imbecility. Now and then there is a touch of grandiloquence that astonishes us. Words and events are utilized in a way that now, knowing the author's opportunities, appear to us remarkable. On the whole, this tale bears to Currer Bell's later works the relation which a pre-Shakespearian story does to the drama,—it is curious to an artist or psychologist. On closing this posthumous chapter, and ending Charlotte Brontë's strange literary history, we are reminded of a saying of Jean Paul's—“God deals with poets as we do with nightingales, hanging a dark cloth round the cage until they sing the right tune.”


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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1028

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.

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 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.

M. M. Brammer (essay date 1960)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5919

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 alterations would postdate Villette (1853), in which most of the Brussels material had been re-used; and The Professor was locked up ‘in a cupboard by himself’ after his ninth and final rejection in February 1851.

The Professor was eventually published after the author's death. Mrs. Gaskell refused George Smith's suggestion that she should edit the novel, but, anxious that Kay-Shuttleworth should not be allowed to do so, she insisted that Mr. Nicholls ought to be entrusted with the task.4 She and Kay-Shuttleworth agreed that several ‘objectionable passages’ should be removed, for The Professor was ‘disfigured by more coarseness and profanity in quoting texts of scripture disagreeably’ than any of her other works.4 In the event she was very dissatisfied with the extent of Nicholls's editing. He had, nevertheless, bowdlerized The Professor to some extent, as an examination of the manuscript shows. His cancellations are of considerable interest.

Finally, the fact that the novel was not seen through the press by Charlotte Brontë herself meant that the printed text was not entirely accurate. A number of misreadings occur, and the author's punctuation and capitalization are sometimes seriously distorted.


The 340 pages of The Professor manuscript contain between 270 and 280 alterations of various kinds. Many pages contain only one alteration: few have more than two or three. About fifty of the instances mentioned are insertions of words or phrases above the line of writing—most of them in ink, three apparently in pencil. Many are single word insertions (typically, the addition of an adjective to a descriptive phrase), and only about half a dozen are longer phrases of some significance.

The author made most of her alterations by crossing out a word or phrase with a single horizontal stroke of the pen, and writing the new phrase above the line. Thus the original words are usually legible. But one alteration, on MS. p. 48, is in a handwriting which one may fairly assume to be that of Nicholls—since he is the acknowledged editor and since there is a close similarity between the writing of the alteration and that of his transcript of the Preface. The heavy, black obliteration of the rejected words on p. 48 is almost certainly his doing, and it would seem reasonable to suppose that he was responsible for similar cancellations elsewhere in the manuscript. One passage, heavily inked out, has been replaced by a phrase in Charlotte Brontë's handwriting (MS. p. 47): on MS. p. 248 light diagonal strokes in her faded brownish ink are clearly visible as well as the darker cancellations of Nicholls. In both cases the original was probably of a type that Nicholls wished to cancel much more thoroughly than the author had done.

I assume therefore that it was he who so carefully inked out the word ‘God’ in the following passages:

MS. p. 48 (chap. v, p. 76)
          God damn your insolence! (Altered to ‘Confound …’)
MS. p. 141 (xiv. 235)
          God! How the repeater of the prayer …
MS. p. 247 (xxii. 117)
          God confound his impudence!
MS. p. 306 (xxiv. 206)
          Oh God! And I pitied the fellow …

These exclamations are provoked by themes or characters which produced a violent reaction in the author's mind. They are also part of The Professor's realism: an Edward Crimsworth would have said ‘God damn’ rather than the petulant ‘Confound’. Hunsden, delighting in provocative speech and excited by his battle of wits with Frances, would have spoken more emphatically than Nicholls allows him to do. On the other hand, it might be argued that Charlotte Brontë, in her attempt to portray masculine characters and to assume the character of a man as narrator, mistook coarseness for masculinity. ‘God confound his impudence!’, the professor's reflection on Hunsden's cool manner of making himself at home, is disproportionately strong; his earlier exclamation, provoked by the gabbled prayers of the Roman Catholic scholars, is hardly well chosen in a diatribe against irreverence.

Nicholls also appears to have cancelled, or to have confirmed the author's cancellation of, two longer passages. On MS. p. 129 (xii. 215) the phrase ‘but when passion cooled’ is followed by three very heavily cancelled lines. On MS. p. 248 (xxii. 118) after the sentence ‘There is no use in attempting to describe what is indescribable’ occur four heavily cancelled lines. The first passage is unfortunately quite illegible: but the ascenders and descenders of letters in the second are clear, and most words decipherable with a fair degree of certainty.6 In the following version the words in italics are dubious: those bracketed are illegible in the manuscript: the conjectural reading is based on the apparent length and spacing of the words.

… describe what is indescribable. I can only say that the form and countenance of Hunsden Yorke Hunsden Esq resembled more the result [of an amour] between Oliver Cromwell and a French grisette than anything else in Heaven above or in the Earth beneath.

The author's cancellation must have left the original text plainly legible: Nicholls therefore inked out each word so that the passage should not be read by publisher or printer.

Charlotte Brontë may have cancelled the sentence before sending the manuscript to any publisher at all, but it is conceivable that, looking over The Professor after the publication of Jane Eyre, and knowing the public reaction to her account of Rochester's amours, she decided to cut out the passage at this later stage. It should be noticed that the cancellation on MS. p. 129 occurs in a context where the word ‘passion’ is already a danger signal; and that, on MS. p. 180 (xviii. 6-7), where the words ‘a warm, cherishing touch of the hand’ have been altered, about one-third of the page seems to have been cut away—a method of excision frequently used by the author in, for example, the manuscript of Villette, and not necessarily to be attributed, therefore, to Nicholls.

The Cromwell passage is, I think, rather amusing: an odd quirk of Charlotte's imagination which adds one more piquant association to the already bizarre collection of associations surrounding the character of Hunsden. One regrets the loss of any detail which throws light on the way in which she imagined him. ‘Oliver Cromwell and a French grisette’ help to define her previous description: Hunsden has a tall figure, but his lineaments are ‘small, and even feminine’; ‘character had set a stamp upon each’ of his ‘plastic features’; ‘expression re-cast them at her pleasure, and strange metamorphoses she wrought, giving him now that of a morose bull, and anon that of an arch and mischievous girl; more frequently, the two semblances were blent, and a queer, composite countenance they made’ (iv. 61-63).7 Again, the exotic comparison shows Hunsden's affinity with Zamorna; and in another sense ‘Cromwell’ links him with Angria, where romantic liaisons of the great Ruler with lesser mortals had been a major theme. In fact reaction against Angria and all it symbolized, rather than a desire for literary decorum, may have been the more or less conscious motive of Charlotte's cancellation.

One other cancellation is probably by Nicholls. It occurs on MS. p. 47 (v. 74) where three or four words are obliterated after ‘I may work’, and ‘it will do no good’ is inserted above the line. It is not written directly above the cancelled phrase; it begins towards the end of the cancellation and extends to the word ‘but’ in the following clause. The original words are by no means clear, but they may have been ‘I may work and toil and sweat’. ‘It will do no good’ may replace the cancelled phrase: it may be an addition to it—no comma appears after ‘work’ in the manuscript, though some punctuation is obviously required. It is not unusual for the author to omit commas, and the placing of the new phrase is not very important by itself, but other considerations support the idea that she may have retained the old phrase, and that it was Nicholls who objected to it. ‘… and toil and sweat’ might have offended Nicholls's sensibility, but Charlotte Brontë's was surely more robust: the phrase ‘I may work, it will do no good’ sounds jerky, yet other alterations show that the author was sensitive to rhythm, and made slight changes for the sake of euphony and balance, not in order to avoid it. The words are appropriate in an emphatic context, picking up the idea of ‘toiling like a slave’, and anticipating the Israelites ‘crawling over the sun-baked fields of Egypt’. It seems unlikely that Charlotte would reject the phrase because ‘sweat’ is not strictly appropriate—in any case the idea of physical as well as mental fatigue is clearly present. If the author was responsible for the deletion, then one can only regret that in this instance her second thoughts entailed the loss of an apt and vigorous phrase.

It remains to consider the changes for which the author alone was responsible. Two main kinds are observable: those made primarily to affect the meaning, and those apparently dictated by a stylistic preference. The second group, as one might expect at a late stage of composition, is the larger.

Some of the meaning-changes are very minor ones. For example, ‘letters’ becomes the more accurate ‘words’ in ‘my nature was not his nature, and its signs were to him like the words of an unknown tongue’ (ii. 34). ‘Lies’ becomes ‘rests’ in the phrase, ‘a stranger who rests half-reclined on a bed of rushes’ (xvi. 266); ‘luminous shadows’ becomes ‘luminous phantoms’ (vii. 104). More interesting, and possibly more significant, is the substitution of ‘visions’ for ‘romance’ in the following passage: ‘… your aspirations spread eager wings towards a land of visions where, now in advancing daylight,—in X—daylight—you dare to dream of congeniality, repose, union’ (MS. p. 46; v. 73). The contrast is one of ‘Romance and Reality’; but perhaps ‘a land of romance’ would have been misleading—implying a world of the imagination which the dreamer would recognize to be ‘unreal’, not ‘in this world’; whereas his ‘visions’ are potentially realizable. But the original shows clearly that the passage is in the main stream of Charlotte Brontë's thought in The Professor. All these, and many similar corrections, show the author's scrupulous concern for accuracy.

Other alterations are more fundamental. Very revealing, for instance, is an insertion in Chap. iii (p. 39) where the last sentence of the first paragraph originally ended, ‘I looked weary, solitary, kept down like some desolate governess; he was satisfied’ (MS. p. 28). The phrase ‘tutor or’ is inserted, apparently as an afterthought, above the line, before ‘governess’. It looks as if Charlotte had not realized the unsuitability of her first phrase until a late stage of revision—showing at the same time how closely the professor's experiences were identified with her own, and, as many critics have said, how inadequately she realized his masculinity.

Another hardly disguised allusion to personal experience differs curiously from its first version. Charlotte originally wrote:

Amidst this assemblage of all that was insignificant and defective, much that was vicious and repulsive (I except the two or three stiff, silent, decently behaved, ill-dressed British girls), the sensible, sagacious, affable directress shone like a steady star. …

(MS. p. 123; xii. 206)

The alteration, ‘by that last epithet many would have described’ instead of ‘I except’, is inserted above the line. The reason for the clumsiness of expression is now clear: the writer wished to change her parenthesis without remodelling the entire sentence, and the result is an awkward compromise. The main sentence expresses, very emphatically, Charlotte's own point of view; the parenthesis suddenly twists round to the opinion of the ‘many’, undefined, yet presumably of the class of the ‘insignificant and defective’ or the ‘vicious’. ‘Repulsive’, too, is inapt—not because it is too strong (compare the previous description of the ‘daughters of Albion’ and the phrase ‘meeting hate with mute disdain’ on p. 204 of the same chapter), but because it carries physical connotations, appropriate to the unwashed Amelia or ‘swinish’ Flamandes, and obviously, as the manuscript makes clear, originally intended for them and not for the ‘clean and decent’ English girls. Why then did Charlotte make the alteration? Partly, I think, because she wished Mlle Reuter's superiority to have its full value. The whole chapter is cleverly constructed: the charm of the ‘sensible, sagacious, affable directress’ is developed by contrast with her pupils and later by the romantic garden scene, only to be cruelly dispelled by her conversation with Pelet. The exception of the British girls blurs the black and white contrast which the author desired to produce, and makes the professor's infatuation less pardonable.

A third example occurs in the important opening paragraphs of Chap. vii. A new stage in William Crimsworth's life is beginning. His experiences at X—are over; and he, like Charlotte, will feel the joys and sorrows of exile in Belgium. This is the third paragraph of Chap. vii as it stands in the printed text:

Third, Belgium; and I will pause before this landscape. As to the fourth, a curtain covers it, which I may hereafter withdraw, or may not, as suits my convenience and capacity. At any rate, for the present it must hang undisturbed. Belgium! name unromantic and unpoetic, yet name that whenever uttered has in my ear a sound, in my heart an echo, such as no other assemblage of syllables, however sweet or classic, can produce. Belgium! I repeat the word, now as I sit alone near midnight. It stirs my world of the past like a summons to resurrection; the graves unclose, the dead are raised; thoughts, feelings, memories that slept, are seen by me ascending from the clods—haloed most of them—but while I gaze on their vapoury forms, and strive to ascertain definitely their outline, the sound which wakened them dies, and they sink, each and all, like a light wreath of mist, absorbed in the mould, recalled to urns, re-sealed in monuments. Farewell luminous phantoms!

The manuscript reads as follows:

… for the present it must hang undisturbed. Belgium! I repeat the name, now as I sit alone near midnight—it stirs my world of the Past like a summons to resurrection. Belgium! name unromantic and unpoetic …

(MS. p. 64; vii. 103)

The sentence, ‘Belgium! I repeat …’ to ‘resurrection.’ is cancelled, but rewritten as in the printed text, after the words ‘can produce’.

Various explanations are possible. The simplest would appear to be that we have an instance of haplography, caused by the repeated ‘Belgium!’, and that the passage was rewritten as the clearest means of rectifying the error. In this case the original full stop after ‘resurrection’ and possibly the slight difference in phrasing (‘I repeat the name’), require some explanation. Or the sentence which now stands first may have been an afterthought—a rhetorical expansion which the author realized would be better placed for its cumulative effect before the climax, the grand crescendo-diminuendo of the final sentence. The third possibility is that the cancelled sentence existed in its first (manuscript) position in the original draft, and that the paragraph ended with the words ‘can produce’. The manuscript punctuation supports this theory, and the ‘I repeat’ is still appropriate—the paragraph opens with the words ‘Third, Belgium …’. We must then assume that the whole of the existing paragraph from ‘the graves unclose’ to the end is an afterthought, a flight of the imagination irresistibly aroused by the memories crowding into Charlotte Brontë's mind: partly, no doubt, carried away by her delight in the purple passage for its style's sake, but much more powerfully moved in spirit by the still vivid recollection of her life in Brussels. Her words have a poignancy more in keeping with the sad autumnal memories of Lucy Snowe than the tranquil ‘sweet summer evening’ of the professor.

One other instance may show her consciousness of the difficulties of first-person technique. In the sentence ‘Her mission was upstairs; I have followed her sometimes and watched her’ (MS. p. 320; xxv. 228), ‘I have followed’ replaces a cancelled, unfinished phrase, ‘there she entere[d]’—as if Charlotte suddenly remembered that the ‘I’ of the story was not an omnipresent narrator.8 The scene is conceived as a drama or mime (cf. ‘in low soliloquy’), and the numerous parentheses are rather awkward: notice too the slight discrepancies in tense and time: ‘I have followed her sometimes …’; ‘the night I followed …’; ‘that evening at least, and usually I believe …’ (xxv. 228-9). This clumsiness is understandable if the interpolations were introduced at a late stage in composition.

It is noticeable that passages dealing with Hunsden often contain an especially large number of alterations, and though these may not be individually very significant, they show perhaps some of the difficulty Charlotte found in presenting this character.

For example, pages 326 to 333 of the manuscript (xxv. 237-47), which are concerned with Hunsden and the Lucia affair, contain seventeen alterations or insertions, some of appreciable length and importance; whereas a random selection of non-Hunsden passages yields results like the following:

MS. pp. 47 to 54 (v. 75-vi. 85) (last interview with Edward): six alterations—one by Nicholls.
MS. pp. 79 to 85 (vii. 128-38) (Pelet and his pupils; Madame Pelet): seven alterations.
MS. pp. 144 to 149 (xiv. 240-50) (pupils and first lesson at Mlle Reuter's): four alterations—one important.
MS. pp. 212 to 218 (xix. 58-68) (professor's first visit to Frances's room): four small alterations.

Even the carefully revised opening of Chap. vii yields only ten alterations in MS. pp. 64 to 70 (vii. 103-13), though these are admittedly fairly substantial.

The Hunsden alterations indicate, I think, that his character had not completely crystallized in the author's mind—that she was still shaping it as she revised her fair copy. Hunsden originally had a ‘tall figure’ and ‘dark locks’: the final version reads, ‘a tall figure, long and dark locks …’ (MS. p. 38; iv. 61), an addition not very appropriate to the rest of the sentence, where ‘figure, voice, and general bearing’ ‘impressed me with the notion of something powerful and massive’ in contrast to the ‘small, and even feminine,’ lineaments. But the Byronic (and Angrian) ‘long locks’ accentuate the essential romanticism of the character—a romanticism partly intentional, but possibly, as here, acting more powerfully on Charlotte's imagination than was consistent with the nature and dimensions of the character or book.

Two or three omissions affect the character of the professor. In Chap. xiv the author at first wrote, ‘Once I laid my hand on her [Sylvie's] head and stroked her hair gently in token of approbation’ (MS. p. 145; xiv. 242); ‘… and stroked her hair gently …’ is cancelled. In Chap. xviii, ‘… a rare glance of interest, or a warm, cherishing touch of the hand; deep respect …’ becomes ‘… a rare glance of interest, or a cordial and gentle word; real respect …’ (MS. p. 180; xviii. 6). In both cases the final version deliberately avoids the warmth and physical intimacy of the original; in the first case understandably enough: contemporary readers found the professor's descriptions of his pupils unpleasant: and Charlotte herself must have realized that caresses between master and pupil were in somewhat dubious taste. In the second instance, she wishes to make physical attraction between William and Frances secondary; and there is considerable artistic value in the reserve and remoteness maintained right up to the climax of the uncontrollable ‘tiger-leap’ impulse in Chap. xxii. (Compare, ‘… her hand shrunk away …’, xxii. 155.) That such exclusion is intentional seems conclusively proved by a third deletion, this time almost immediately before the ‘tiger-leap’. The passage which now reads, ‘… no child, but a girl of nineteen; and she might be mine’ was originally, ‘… a girl of nineteen, and I stole a look at Jane's face and shape; they pleased, they suited me, the well-formed head, the expressive lineaments, and she might be mine …’ (MS. p. 277; xxiii. 162). The passage which follows makes it quite clear that Charlotte was not being coy or prudish in making this omission. She is merely underlining a theme important in this and in her better-known novels: the primacy of spiritual affinity. The professor's feeling is strong because it is an ‘inward glow’, and remains so until its revelation can be expressed fully and without reserve. On the other hand, Charlotte has been careful not to exclude physical attraction entirely. In Chap. xiv, ‘chiefly’ replaces ‘but’ in ‘… the toil-worn, fagged, probably irritable tutor, blind almost to beauty, insensible to airs and graces, glories chiefly in certain mental qualities’ (MS. p. 144; xiv. 240).

These changes in meaning do, I think, throw light on Charlotte's treatment of her own experience in this first novel, and possibly reveal some of her difficulties in dealing with certain characters or themes. It remains to consider changes in expression which seem to have been made primarily for the sake of style.

The stylistic alterations are varied in character, but a high proportion of them (about one-third) arise from the writer's desire to avoid repetition of a word or phrase. For example:

1. MS. p. 6 (i. 7): ‘determined hostility’ becomes ‘persevering hostility’. Cf. ‘determined race’ (top of p. 7) and ‘determined enmity’ (previous sentence).
2. MS. p. 9 (i. 13): ‘further intercourse’ becomes ‘further communication’. Cf. ‘future intercourse’ later in the same sentence.
3. MS. p. 9 (i. 13): ‘will I think operate’ becomes ‘will I fancy operate’. Cf. ‘I do not think’ beginning the same sentence.
4. MS. p. 17 (ii. 26): ‘that was passing’ becomes ‘that was going on’. Cf. ‘we passed’ and ‘Workpeople were passing’ on the same page.
5. MS. p. 19 (ii. 28): ‘drew out’ becomes ‘took out’. Cf. ‘drawer’ in the same sentence.
6. MS. p. 23 (iii. 35): ‘small fund’ becomes ‘slender fund’. Cf. ‘small lodgings’ earlier in the same sentence.
7. MS. p. 46 (v. 73) ‘be found in’ becomes ‘be derived from [his society]’. Cf. ‘find pleasure in’, p. 72.

These may be taken as typical. Similar examples occur throughout The Professor at irregular intervals, but with no very noticeable concentration in any one part: that is, the book seems to have undergone a fairly systematic pruning at this level. In Charlotte Brontë's writing the iterative habit is unusually strong, and so natural to her style that it persists at a very late stage of composition. Often the repeated words are the key to a character or situation, for her attitudes are usually strongly defined. It is significant that she does not invariably alter the second of a pair of words. Each sentence has been carefully considered, and, as in Example 2, the first element may be changed. This seems to point to a later rather than a concurrent re-reading.

Sometimes she is unnecessarily eager to avoid recurrence. The repeated ‘think’ of Example 3 was natural and emphatic, more appropriate to spoken words than ‘I fancy’, though the whole speech is, of course, intentionally rather stilted. But one would not quarrel with most of the alterations: ‘slender’ and ‘derived’ are satisfactory, possibly preferable to the original. (The latter may indeed be purely stylistic preference: the connexion with ‘find’ is rather slight.) Sometimes the change is a definite improvement: the ‘persevering hostility’ of Example 1 is a total variation on the previous ‘determined enmity’; in this, in its rhythmic quality and its formality, it is entirely in keeping with the peculiar mannered rhetoric of the whole passage.

The Preface to The Professor leads one to expect that stylistic changes will be away from the ‘ornamented and redundant’ and towards the ‘plain and homely’. But one or two instances of an opposite tendency occur, and it is interesting to speculate on the motives for these.

For example, the opening chapter of the Brussels section, already in an ‘ornamented’ and poetic strain, has been even more refined in revision. ‘My happiness possessed an edge whetted to the finest …’ becomes ‘My sense of enjoyment …’; ‘… he shall see a glorious sunrise …’ becomes ‘… he shall behold …’; ‘over a mountain horizon …’ becomes ‘over the eastern horizon …’ and ‘I mounted now a hill …’, ‘… the hill …’ (MS. p. 65; vii. 104-5). The very minuteness of the alterations is revealing. The author wishes to give her picture the greatest possible definition, her mood the greatest possible exultation.

Early critics remarked on the ‘unchecked naturalness of expression’9 in The Professor; or, if they were less favourably disposed, its ‘rough, bold, coarse truthfulness of expression, … compressed style’.10 The manuscript shows how often Charlotte intensified her already ‘bold’ style: adding a defining adverb or adjective, choosing a stronger noun or verb. ‘Always’ is inserted in ‘Edward's letters had been such as to prevent the engendering or harbouring of delusions of this sort’ (MS. p. 8; i. 11); ‘Continual’ in ‘I will place my cup under this dropping’ (MS. p. 21; ii. 32). ‘Many’ replaces ‘some’ in ‘… many called me miser at the time’ (MS. p. 23; iii. 36). ‘Pittance’ replaces ‘salary’ in ‘… the master grudged every penny of that hard-earned pittance’ (MS. p. 35; iv. 54). It is noticeable that most of these serve to bring out the harshness of Edward Crimsworth or the keen resentment of William against Edward.

This kind of intensification is closely linked with character, and occurs in clearly defined areas rather than in diffusion throughout the novel.

There is, however, a more general tendency to add descriptive details: X—becomes a ‘mushroom’ place (MS. p. 31; ii. 48); Vanderkelkov not only ‘moon-faced’ but ‘thick-set’ (MS. p. 74; vii. 120); Caroline's teeth are ‘sparkling’ (MS. p. 101; x. 166) (though her hair is no longer ‘jetty’); and the fact that the professor ‘crossed the Place royale’ is a later addition (MS. p. 201; xix. 41). The impression given is one of vivid recollection of reality: Charlotte described things clearly because they were in every detail clear to her inward eye.

Examples of the opposite process—lowering of style, reduction of emphasis—are comparatively rare, and not very significant. In Chap. xxv, for example, ‘the doom preparing for old Northern despotisms’ becomes the tamer ‘sentiments entertained by resolute minds respecting old Northern despotisms’ (MS. p. 327; xxv. 239); and in Chap. xii an ornately developed metaphor is simplified: ‘She laid her hand on the jewel within;’ was originally, ‘she laid her hand on the brooch of the cornelian [carnelian?] heart within; …’ (MS. p. 125; xii. 208).

Minor stylistic changes abound. They are of various kinds, but on the whole show Charlotte's concern for the more closely defined as opposed to the general term. ‘Observing’ replaces ‘seeing’ (MS. p. 117; xii. 195), and ‘perceived’, ‘saw’ (MS. p. 39; iv. 60); ‘re-cast’ for ‘sported with’ maintains a figure of speech in Chap. iv (MS. p. 40; iv. 63). Such changes are more noticeable towards the end of the novel.

Some alterations are made for the sake of euphony: ‘innate’, for example, was a rejected first term in ‘redolent of native and ineradicable vulgarity …’ (MS. p. 143; xiv. 239); ‘heath’ became ‘moorland’ in Chap. xxv; ‘whose waters still run pure, whose swells of moorland preserve in some ferny glens, that lie between them, the very primal wildness of nature …’ (MS. p. 325; xxv. 236); and ‘still’ became ‘hushed’ in ‘The north was hushed, the south silent …’ (MS. p. 204; xix. 45).

Such alterations give convincing evidence of a minute and thorough revision. It would seem that Mrs. Gaskell's famous description of Charlotte Brontë's method of writing requires qualification. She praised her ‘singular felicity in the choice of words’: ‘One set of words was the truthful mirror of her thoughts; no others, however identical in meaning, would do. … She never wrote down a sentence until she clearly understood what she wanted to say, had deliberately chosen the words, and arranged them in their right order’ (Life, Chap. xv). This may have been true of the ‘pencilled scraps of paper’ seen by Mrs. Gaskell: it certainly was not true of the fair copy of The Professor.


It is obviously important that the printed text should accurately represent the manuscript of a writer who took so much care over minute details. And on the whole Charlotte Brontë was well served by her publishers. They were careful and reliable, and she appreciated their giving her works ‘every advantage which good paper, clear type, and a seemly outside can supply’ (S.H.B., [Shakespeare Head Brontë] ii. 149). She also thanked them for punctuating the proof-sheets of Jane Eyre, as she thought their ‘mode of punctuation a great deal more correct and rational’ than her own (S.H.B., ii. 142).

One therefore expects Smith, Elder's edition of The Professor to be of a good standard: and comparison with the manuscript shows in fact a high degree of accuracy. There are, however, some half dozen errors that would no doubt have been corrected if the author herself had read the proofs:

1. ‘cup’ has been misread ‘cups’ in Chap. ii (MS. p. 14; ii. 22). An elaborate ‘p’ is responsible. The correct version is obviously preferable: ‘a valley … held in its cup the great town of X—’

2. ‘Semi-collong?’ in Chap. x should be ‘Simi-collong?’ (MS. p. 102; x. 168).

3. Charlotte Brontë was not responsible for the incorrect use of ‘perspicuity’ in Chap. x. She wrote ‘perspicacity’ (MS. p. 105; x. 172).

4. ‘Look at this little woman! …’ should be ‘… this little real woman …’ (MS. p. 107; x. 175).

5. ‘worky-day’ has been ‘corrected’ to ‘work-day’ (MS. p. 120; xii. 199).

6. It was ‘“inconvenant”’ and not ‘“inconvenient”’ for the professor to overlook his pupils (MS. p. 128; xii. 213).

7. The Crimsworths' maid is quite clearly ‘Mimie’ and not ‘Minnie’ (MS. p. 312; xxv. 215).

All these errors have been retained in subsequent editions, except for No. 6, corrected in the Dent edition of 1893, and its later reprints.

The printed version also gives little idea of the nature and extent of Charlotte Brontë's capitalization, which is extremely idiosyncratic. A certain amount has been retained, but this is often misleading, for it underlines some passages at the expense of others to which the author gave equal emphasis. It is also quite conventional, marking, for example, many of the personified abstracts, but reducing to normality words which for the author had a very special kind of life.

Notice, for instance, the inconsistent treatment of two similar passages—both dealing with Mlle Reuter, who often provokes this kind of analysis. In Chap. xx capitals are retained: ‘… I knew her former feeling was unchanged. Decorum now repressed, and Policy masked it, but Opportunity would be too strong for either of these—Temptation would shiver their restraints …’ (MS. p. 231; xx. 90). Yet the personification here is less strongly realized than in Chap. xv, where the capitals are omitted. I give the manuscript version:

… the fact is that as it was her nature to doubt the reality and undervalue the worth of Modesty, Affection, Disinterestedness, to regard these qualities as foibles of character; so it was equally her tendency to consider Pride, Hardness, Selfishness as proofs of strength. She would trample on the neck of Humility, she would kneel at the feet of Disdain; she would meet Tenderness with secret contempt, Indifference she would woo with ceaseless assiduities; Benevolence, Devotedness, Enthusiasm were her Antipathies; for Dissimulation and Self-Interest she had a preference—they were real wisdom in her ‘eyes’—Moral and physical Degradation, mental and bodily Inferiority she regarded with indulgence … to Violence, Injustice, Tyranny she succumbed, they were her natural masters—. … (MS. p. 155; xv. 260)

In Chap. iv the original capitalization shows that words which now appear to be merely qualifying adjectives should have the force of nouns: ‘… they two should have been my household gods, from which my Darling, my Cherished-in-secret, Imagination, the tender and the mighty, should never, either by softness or strength, have severed me …’ (MS. p. 33; iv. 52).

Capitalized words often occur in the ‘visionary’ passages: in Chap. v, ‘you dare to dream of Congeniality, Repose, Union’ (MS. p. 46; v. 73), and in Chap. vii, ‘Thoughts, Feelings, Memories that slept, are seen by me ascending from the clods …’ (MS. p. 65; vii. 103). The capitals mark these qualities as ‘visions’: Charlotte Brontë evidently feels and intends that we should feel them to have a palpable form. However uncongenial to modern taste, this is undeniably the mode of her imagination. Their absence, too, weakens the affinity with eighteenth-century prose and poetry which is an important element in her style. Again, capitals, by their purely mechanical function of arresting the eye, indicate a special emphasis, which would require, if the passage were spoken, a slow enunciation with marked pauses; and it is clearly most important to bring out the rhythmical qualities in, for example, an evocation of the past like that in Chap. vii, where the ‘meaning’ is primarily emotional.

There is plainly too much capitalization, and many instances—the characteristic marking of ‘“The Climax”’ (MS. p. 45; v. 72) and ‘The Garden’ (MS. p. 91; ix. 149), and of ‘He’ (Hunsden) (MS. p. 248; xxii. 118)—were considered by the printers too eccentric to be acceptable. I think, nevertheless, that a case can be made out for more than occurs in the First Edition. The original ‘Master’ especially can be justified, for its capitalization is a useful reminder of the centrality of the ‘master’ theme: at iii. 38, for example, it is Edward Crimsworth who is the ‘Master’ (MS. p. 24) whereas later it is, of course, William to whom Frances turns as the ‘Master in all things’ (MS. p. 318; xxv. 225).

We are fortunate that in The Professor (unlike Villette, where many phrases are literally cut out) so many of the author's first thoughts may be examined. The manuscript allows us to see something of the careful craftsmanship which, together with a more fortunate inspiration, helped to create Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette. Not least, it reveals the need for a text which shall more accurately represent the author's intentions.


  1. Date given in the autograph manuscript of The Professor, p. 340.

  2. See letter to Aylott and Jones, 6 April 1846. (Shakespeare Head Brontë [hereafter S.H.B.], Lives, Friendships and Correspondence (1932), ii. 87.)

  3. Letter to George Smith, (S.H.B., iii. 206-7).

  4. Letter to Emily Shaen (S.H.B., iv. 208).

  5. A microfilm copy of the autograph manuscript has been consulted, and quotations from it are given by courtesy of the present owners of the manuscript, the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

  6. The Pierpont Morgan Library kindly undertook to examine the passages by means of ultra-violet and infra-red photography, but the experiments were unsuccessful. The Curator writes: ‘In addition to lining out the passages very heavily [? the Rev. Nicholls] also scraped through the lines (probably gutted them with a small pen knife). I fear that they are not recoverable.’

  7. Quotations are taken from the First Edition of The Professor, 1857.

  8. The episode derives from Mary Percy's visit to her children's nursery in History of Angria, Part 111 (29 April 1836: S.H.B., Miscellaneous Writings, ii. 148) where the narrator is an impersonal observer.

  9. The Critic, 15 June 1857.

  10. Athenaeum, 13 June 1857.

Principal Works

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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

Rebecca Rodolff (essay date 1982)

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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 example, the Angria story of rival brothers that opens the novel is a curtain raiser rather than an integral part of the whole. And the male narrator, established during this episode as kin to a line of self-conscious, satirical Angrians,4 continues throughout the novel to have two functions: like all her narrators, William Crimsworth is a partial projection of Charlotte Brontë's own feminine sensibility, and, like all her heroes, he asserts defiantly, even gratuitously, his masculinity.

Now Jane Eyre, begun only two months after the fair copy of The Professor was completed,5 does not use the masculine point of view; and it shows a coherent structuring of plot and theme. Professor Tillotson suggests that these changes may owe a debt to Anne's Agnes Grey, with its female narrator telling a simple tale, and to Emily's passionate, intricately structured Wuthering Heights.6 At the very least, their example would have exposed Charlotte's need for clarity in construction and in the use of point of view. But I want to show that her own first novel contributed similarly and still more importantly. The idea of the subject of Jane Eyre and of the feminine point of view—the idea, in short, of entering the soul of a retiring but inwardly passionate woman struggling for social independence and emotional fulfillment—was most likely grasped in the act of writing the end of The Professor. For the end of this novel can be shown to anticipate these as well as other ideas elaborated in Jane Eyre.

This is not to forget that there are many parallels between the whole of The Professor and the whole of Jane Eyre, just as there are many parallels between any two of Charlotte Brontë's novels (quite apart from all the parallels with the Angria works). Noticeable, for example, is a structure managed with varying authority but common to all four novels: a sort of prologue is succeeded by a love story having two main parts. The Professor has an English prologue followed by the story of Crimsworth's relations with Zoraīde Reuter, and the story of his relations with Frances Henri; Jane Eyre's childhood memories are followed by the story of her relations first with Rochester, then with St. John. Shirley (which exploits the mobility of the third-person narrator) begins with the three curates and goes on to set out the story of Caroline Helstone and then, in the second volume, to interweave the story of Shirley. In Villette an English prologue prepares the ground for the main story of Lucy Snowe's relations first with Dr. John and then with M. Paul.

This common over-all pattern points up, however, a way in which The Professor differs. For noticeable too is how abruptly Jane Eyre, Shirley and Villette come to a stop with proposals: in Shirley, with its two heroines, a proposal in the penultimate chapter and a second proposal in the final chapter are followed by a mere one-page epilogue, while in the autobiographies a proposal in the penultimate chapter is followed by a very short, three- or four-page “Conclusion” or “Finis.” No new material which would call for explanation is introduced. By contrast, in The Professor two very long chapters, comprising about one-seventh of the novel, come after the proposal scene.7 And new material is exactly what is introduced and developed here: in Chapter XXIV the professor's fiancée Frances encounters an appreciative Rochester-type, Yorke Hunsden; and in the final chapter the professor describes married life with Frances, her eventual success as the director of a school, and their retirement in England as Hunsden's neighbors. The basic two-part story, confirmed by Jane Eyre and the other novels as the typical narrative structure of Charlotte Brontë's mature work, emerges twice in The Professor.

I shall be making two points. First, that Charlotte Brontë concludes the professor's story in the proposal scene, shifts the interest from the male narrator to the heroine, and then repeats the basic story of a principal character relating to two members of the opposite sex:8 the Frances section constitutes a distinct story intermediate between those of Crimsworth and Jane Eyre. And second that, brief though it is, this feminine variation of the professor's story contains in embryo many of the elements developed at greater length in the novel that she began writing just a few weeks later: it specifically anticipates that use of plot, character, and theme which characterizes Jane Eyre.

In the opening chapters of The Professor William Crimsworth rises against and then escapes from an older, oppressing brother. Crimsworth then begins life anew in Brussels as an English teacher at a boys' school. Here he is so successful that Mlle Reuter engages him for the afternoons at her next-door girls' school. Now Jane Eyre also rises against a tyrannical relation; and she also later moves out of sexual isolation when she begins life anew under, not just Mrs. Fairfax (whom she at first supposes her employer), but Edward Rochester. Crimsworth and Jane are attracted, respectively, to the formidable, unconventional Mlle Reuter and Mr. Rochester. These latter are, in turn, intrigued by the discovery of the secret sensitivity and pride of the tutor and governess—so much so that Zoraīde Reuter spies on Crimsworth and Rochester spies on Jane. However, because in The Professor the author was anxious to establish the strength and masculinity of her male character, Crimsworth's inner nature, “the jewel within”9 sought by Zoraīde's probing fingers, remains inviolable and consequently mysterious. The novel's treatment reveals no approval of a woman's spying on a man. More acceptable to Charlotte Brontë's imagination is, evidently, a man's spying on a woman. Indeed, Crimsworth closely observes Mlle Reuter and, later, Frances Henri. Jane Eyre further sanctions such scrutiny by adopting the point of view of the woman who accepts inspection.

The main points of resemblance between The Professor and Jane Eyre depend then on the narrators' common experience of oppression, while the differences depend on the reactions and defences available to each sex. Charlotte Brontë creates in the narrator Crimsworth—who re-enacts fictionally some of her personal experiences—a sensitivity and vulnerability to an oppressive society. Yet by virtue of the conventions of this very society and by virtue of a set of quite different, tougher character traits, he, as a man, easily overcomes his individual experiences of oppression (or threatened oppression). Even the unobstructed narrative line reflects the professor's greater ease in making his way, asserting his independence, and taking possession, in his own time, of the right mate. The man who succeeds with relative ease in his efforts to assert himself in his relations with a series of aggressive, morally inferior characters has still less difficulty in being regarded with respect and love by Frances. Crimsworth does not experience in his love life that active relationship, based on moral conflict, that will lend interest and urgency to Jane's relations with Rochester. In Jane Eyre, the plot and theme develop complexity because of Jane's evident moral superiority to her “Master.” But in The Professor the narrator's struggle for ascendancy simply does not involve Frances.

Moreover, Frances is not only a passive foil to his success story; she is at this point relatively undeveloped. This in itself heightens the plausibility of her docility, as no possible reason for conflict is made available. The presentation of Frances at first (Chs. XIII-XVI) consists largely in her short answers to the professor's “abrupt” questions and in his efforts to interpret her character by observing her behavior. Her devoirs, it is true, serve as revelations to him (and so to us); yet we still learn little about Frances, for, though her essays indicate imaginative powers, they are otherwise impersonal. Finally, our introduction to the heroine is cut short in Chapter XVIII: not only does Crimsworth switch to summarizing their subsequent relations, but, just when Frances has “wakened to life” under her master's appreciation, Mlle Reuter dismisses her, and she retires from the story.

Like Crimsworth, then, we do not know much about Frances's inner life. Still, as a character of worth, she has become a perfect reward for the hero's perspicacity and prudence. Furthermore, union with her suggests the closure not only of his relations with Frances but also of his more active relations, for it indicates the confounding of Zoraīde, who would like to distract Crimsworth from his love, and the confounding of Hunsden, who supposes him destitute of love. Winning Frances satisfies the hero's emotional needs and completes the novel's story of his struggle in the world. It is for this reason, and because of the novel's theme and its very conservative, conventional presentation of masculine dominance, that it is unsatisfactory that any new development in the Crimsworth-Frances relationship takes place—least of all one which removes the interest from the young hero to the young, hitherto subordinate, heroine as a center of conflict and struggle.

Yet this is what happens. And this is the odder since, at the start of Chapter XXIII, Charlotte Brontë quickens the claims of Crimsworth upon our sympathy: she shows him, despite his handsome competency, in a state of “feverish” anxiety. And the author's involvement with the hero is signalled by her recourse to images (e.g., of eating inedibles, of wind and shipwreck) typically associated in the novels with her central characters in moments of strong emotion.10 Indeed Crimsworth's situation has telling points of resemblance to the inspirational denouement of Jane Eyre. Like Jane before setting out to find Rochester, he spends the remaining hours walking about his room. Like Jane, he arrives possessed of independence, and is encouraged by the providential hearing of the loved one's voice. While Crimsworth stands at Frances's door, “a voice rewarded the attention of [his] strained ear”; he overhears Frances pour out her heart to her empty room. Up to this point, a point suggestive of an imminent winding-up, the professor remains not only the novel's chief consciousness, but very much the central protagonist.

But from this point on, Frances becomes the more central and more interesting character. Now it is Frances who enacts the Brontëan habit of pacing “backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.” She is reciting a poem that, we believe with Crimsworth, expresses “the language of her own heart.” And this poem, “Master and Pupil,” probably written in 1843 in Brussels, also expresses the novelist's heart.11 Charlotte Brontë's interest strays from the satisfied male narrator to the projection of herself in the still yearning, and feminine, “Pupil.” She contrives to give Frances's point of view. When Crimsworth asks himself the question “what had she to do with love?” (asked in later novels by the heroines of themselves, e.g., Jane Eyre, Ch. XVI, and Shirley, Ch. X), the answer, supposed to emanate from Frances, requires some circumlocution and, in the last couple of sentences, some help from the feminine author:

“Nothing,” was the answer of her own sad, though gentle countenance; it seemed to say, “I must cultivate fortitude and cling to poetry; one is to be my support and the other my solace through life. Human affections do not bloom, nor do human passions glow for me.” Other women have such thoughts. Frances, had she been as desolate as she deemed, would not have been worse off than thousands of her sex.

Moreover, it is Frances's heart, not Crimsworth's, that speaks, this time directly, in the poem. The poem has as its narrator a girl called “Jane” who must part from her beloved Master. Saying farewell to him in his room, she is passionately “snatched” by him. He murmurs “‘Why will they part us, Jane?’” and at the poem's end declaims:

“They call again; leave then my breast;
          Quit thy true shelter, Jane;
But when deceived, repulsed, opprest,
          Come home to me again!”

Charlotte Brontë had, evidently, a special fondness for the name Jane. It was her favorite sister Emily's second name—and when given to Angrian characters it was associated with Emily.12 It was a name that was likely to define a character, carrying with it well-established associations (associations seen in the teasing, yet authoritative disposition of the Angrian Jane Moore). Here, whether the name “Jane” induced associations with a jealously-loved sister or whether the poem simply induced a more personal identification with the heroine, Frances is metamorphosed.

In effect, a new novel, or rather an idea for a novel, originates. Even the need for a female narrator is intimated by the inclusion of the poem. Though Crimsworth necessarily continues as the observer, Charlotte Brontë takes as her subject a woman's “wakening to life.” Now it is Frances more than Crimsworth who evinces the qualities and actions common to the author's personas. Like the Jane of the next novel, Frances indirectly invites a proposal from her Master. Crimsworth identifies Jane and the Master: “‘Jane’ was now at my side: no child, but a girl of nineteen; and she might be mine … the frost of the Master's manner might melt.” He looks up to see that, “slight, straight, and elegant, she stood erect on the hearth.” (Cf. Jane, who “stood erect before” Rochester when he proposed, Ch. XXIII, and “rose up and stood before” St. John during his proposal, Ch. XXXIV.) The next moment Crimsworth fulfills the dream of Frances's poem by “snatching” her: he holds her on his knee, “placed there with sharpness and decision, and retained with exceeding tenacity.” Three times the agitated professor asks, “‘Frances, how much regard have you for me?,’” at first holding her hand “in a somewhat ruthless grasp.” (Cf. the proposal scene in the penultimate chapter of Jane Eyre where the heroine, also on her lover's knee, reports: “he retained me by a firmer grasp than ever.”)

Frances's responses articulate her change. When Crimsworth asks her, more plainly, to marry him, she first blushes, then stalls in answering, rephrasing his proposal, giving it definition: “‘Monsieur désire savoir si je consens—si—enfin, si je veux me marier avec lui?’” Then from hesitant cross-questioning she switches to confident teasing: Crimsworth remarks that a different Frances goes on “with a new, yet still subdued inflection of the voice—an inflection which provoked while it pleased me. … ‘C'est à dire, Monsieur sera toujours un peu entêté, exigeant, volontaire—.’” Finally, pressed to give an answer (and to give it in English, which naturally curbs her new expressiveness), she ruminates, “‘I like to be near you; I believe you are very good, and very superior. …’” Then “she made a sort of movement, as if she would have clung to me, but restraining herself she only added with earnest emphasis—‘Master, I consent to pass my life with you.’” Her “restrained” answer receives wonderfully restrained acceptance: “‘Very well, Frances.’” Charlotte Brontë uncovers a playful heroine who quizzes her master, but, perhaps because she is still at pains to maintain the narrator's masterfulness, the characters remain, very self-consciously, the master and pupil together.

Crimsworth, who as narrator must dwell upon his own manliness, lacks the natural spirited personality of Rochester. Nevertheless, Crimsworth is not a dull novel-character. It is because of the male narrator that The Professor lacks emotional force, but it is also why the novel is more comic than her mature work. Humor and irony pervade the narrator's description of his own forcefulness. He presents his youthful self, after Frances has accepted him, as blissfully content—and blissfully unaware of his betrothed's less complete contentment.

Frances' thoughts, during this interval, I know not, nor did I attempt to guess them; I was not occupied in searching her countenance, nor in otherwise troubling her composure. The peace I felt, I wished her to feel; my arm, it is true, still detained her; but with a restraint that was gentle enough, so long as no opposition tightened it. My gaze was on the red fire; my heart was measuring its own content; it sounded and sounded, and found the depth fathomless.

“Monsieur,” at last said my quiet companion, as stirless in her happiness as a mouse in its terror. Even now in speaking she scarcely lifted her head.

“Well, Frances?”

The knowing narrator deprives his young self of much of the reader's sympathy by describing his lack of interest in his beloved's thoughts; his complacent possessiveness and sense of being master (“my arm, it is true, still detained her”); his willingness to compare Frances in her happiness to “a mouse in its terror”; and his cool response (he goes on to tell us in a typical understatement, “it is not my way to overpower with amorous epithets”!). The passage serves both to draw humor out of Crimsworth's misconceptions and to prepare for a dramatic effect, for it increases our surprise when Frances, after having quietly, repeatedly addressed “Monsieur,” finally works herself into expressing thoughts that do not at all suggest a being so contented as the innocent professor would have.

Frances announces a determination to be “‘no incumbrance.’” Crimsworth, who does not understand that self-respect dictates her desire “‘to get on’” (as she calls it), thinks to remove this desire by breaking the news of his own very lucrative teaching position. To us he admits, with almost disarming candor, the “flattering” satisfaction he experiences “in the idea of becoming the providence of what he loves—feeding and clothing it, as God does the lilies of the field.” Crimsworth appears to be playing God rather more complacently and unattractively than Rochester, who, seen through Jane's eyes, gloats in a spirit of fun.13 But Charlotte Brontë manages, even without the feminine point of view, to suggest that the man's anticipation of dominance is a delusion. When “Frances seemed to consider” his proposal that she stop working, he tells her, “to decide her resolution,” that she “‘require[s] complete rest.’” Crimsworth's concern, however, is undercut ironically by the commentary. He confesses: “I am not sure whether Frances had accorded due attention to my harangue …”; she does not answer “with her usual respectful promptitude.” And indeed Frances's respect does not extend to recognizing her master as a “God” with a right to feed and clothe her and to be mindlessly obeyed. What is more, it transpires that she has not even been considering giving up work: she has been brooding on the discrepancy between his earning power and hers!

Frances gives in not to his argument but to the fact that the inequality “‘must be so for the present.’” Crimsworth's superiority, established throughout the novel in his encounters with other characters and at last socially recognized by professional success, is humorously undermined. We discover that Frances is ambitious, in common with such other retiring Charlotte Brontë-types as Crimsworth himself and the Jane of her poem: “The strong pulse of Ambition struck / In every vein I owned.” Now it is the heroine's superiority that we look forward to seeing asserted. Charlotte Brontë commits herself to continuing the novel. First, because Frances, as a character with ambitions, demands a professional future. Second, because Crimsworth's misunderstanding of Frances suggests a conflict in their personal relations which did not formerly exist.

The positions of Frances and Crimsworth, and their relationship, approach those of Jane and Rochester. However, in Jane Eyre the use of a female narrator allows sympathy with the spying, possessive male as well as with the heroine, because the heroine, whose point of view we share, views him with love and tolerance. Rochester's attitude to Jane is exonerated since, as viewed by Jane, his love is convincingly passionate (and since it is complicated by the existence of a mad wife). In The Professor the misunderstood heroine's point of view is usually indirectly conveyed, and by a use of irony that distances us from the imperceptive narrator. Nor can Crimsworth's sexual relationship to Frances temper this effect, for his sexuality has to this point been inadequately realized. Neither romantic nor sexual passion is a part of Crimsworth's background: there are no Célines or Claras, and we may wonder, when he calls Frances “a novice in the art of kissing,” how it can be that he is not one himself.14

According to the text, only now do the physical charms making Frances a traditionally worthy object of affection become apparent to him. When Crimsworth looks at his “little lace-mender” after her successful suit to continue teaching, he feels “that she was singularly changed for me”; and he discovers, as he says, “that I too was a sensualist, in my temperate and fastidious way.” Now that Frances has asserted her independence, has shown a disposition to coax and tease, and has become physically more attractive to him, she is altogether more formidable. The professor has to reckon with her personality, her passions, and her ambitions, as the sequel will illustrate. The tension that Charlotte Brontë has thus injected produces an immediate and extraordinary effect. “A horror of great darkness fell upon me,” Crimsworth confesses; and he wonders why, “now, when my course was widening, my purpose brightening; when my affections had found a rest … why did hypochondria accost me now?” The answer evidently lies in his discoveries of a new Frances and of himself as “a sensualist.”15 However, this ordeal of hypochondria is a reaction better suited to such other authorial types as Jane, Caroline, and Lucy, whose sexuality is more credibly troubled, because of the social background, by inhibitions or by the possibility of losing personal independence in giving of the self. Crimsworth has claimed, even if unconvincingly, the prerogative of a man of the time, boldly outstaring women and controlling them. Again the difficulty is that Crimsworth is the novel's romantic hero as well as the first-person vehicle for the author's literary stock of feminine anxieties.

Though in the proposal chapter the narrative draws to a happy ending (an ending normal moreover to Charlotte Brontë's other novels), a new narrative goal, based on Frances, has emerged. The new evidence of her inner life occasions the need in the story for a man sexually interested in her and for a man in conflict with her. Initially, Crimsworth takes this part, but he takes it uneasily, as we have seen. Then in the penultimate chapter the return of Crimsworth's eccentric opposite Yorke Hunsden provides a more workable foil to the heroine. In the last two chapters Frances proves herself by relating to Hunsden as well as to Crimsworth (just as Crimsworth has related to Zoraīde as well as to Frances, and as Jane will relate to St. John as well as to Rochester).

The extent of Charlotte Brontë's absorption in the possibilities of Frances's position is thus reflected not just in her continuing a novel by introducing new character traits and new narrative goals but also by her giving to this brief exposition the two-part structure characterizing all her novels. The introduction of a second admiring man confirms Frances's attractiveness, draws out further aspects of her personality, and complicates her relations with the first man. However, in Jane Eyre, for example, St. John and Rochester are clearly different types, just as, in The Professor, Zoraīde and Frances are different. But the author is not free, in her first novel, to present men from an outsider's viewpoint; it seems that when the inner self she projects is putatively that of a man, she is limited by the conception of “man” that this entails. So Hunsden is a figure exaggerating the narrator's own nature: Crimsworth's and Hunsden's boyish persiflage and gratuitous displays of manliness vie with their express femininity. True, Hunsden is established as more of an individual and a man of the world than Crimsworth; and we are more conscious of the obtruded trappings of manliness, e.g., his cigar and “impertinent” (Ch. III), unconventional speech. Still, the substitution of Hunsden for Crimsworth as a foil to Frances's ensuing development is sanctioned by the mysterious kinship of the men's personalities.

In the prologue this kinship manifests itself in their success at reading each other's thoughts and feelings. Now in Chapter XXIV, when Hunsden, back in Brussels, walks by and “grimaces,” Crimsworth can interpret the communication as, on the one hand, “‘So you have found your counterpart at last; there she sits, the female of your kind!’” and, on the other, a promise to call on him soon. The professor's inference is not mistaken. But Hunsden seems potentially isolated from Crimsworth by his (rather belabored) inability to assess Crimsworth's “counterpart.” First, he supposes her to be Mlle Reuter. Then, when Crimsworth reveals her “caste,” he jumps to the conclusion that the girl must be unrefined. Finally, when they ascend the stairs to Frances's lodging, Hunsden's move to continue on up shows plainly enough, as the professor notes with amusement, that “his mind was bent on the attics.” We enjoy each blunder. Knowing something of Frances's worth, we anticipate with pleasure a repetition, in the triumph of her quiet dignity over Hunsden's rash surmises, of her relations with Crimsworth.

Crimsworth withdraws from the action to observe Frances captivate, in lively discourse, her sardonic visitor. And Frances matched with the worldly, difficult Hunsden elicits from the author not only a more vigorous heroine but a relationship that looks forward to the sparring of Jane and Rochester. In particular, Hunsden's discovery of Frances's qualities in social conversation parallels Rochester's discovery of Jane—and more closely than it parallels Crimsworth's discovery of Frances in the classroom. This is partly because Crimsworth described his attraction to Frances—but also because he was attracted to a less complex Frances; one who never argued with him as she does with her new acquaintance, and one who spoke very little before the proposal scene. The awakening, described generally in Chapter XVIII and illustrated in the proposal scene, is now repeated with Hunsden in the professor's role. “Animated by degrees, she began to change, just as a grave night-sky changes at the approach of sunrise. …” And though Frances and Hunsden are not lovers, Hunsden's reaction to her “fire” puts Crimsworth in mind of “a snake waking from torpor, as he erected his tall form, reared his head, before a little declined, and putting back his hair from his broad Saxon forehead, showed unshaded the gleam of almost savage satire.” (When, early in their acquaintance, Jane roused Rochester by her “brusque” denial of his good looks, he too “lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow” [Ch. XIV].) Hunsden, unlike his friend, is protected from loving Frances by this tendency to wax satirical; still, sexual interest is yet suggested here, and “caste” is explicitly forgotten: “he was himself as Frances was herself.” He is like Rochester, who is himself with Jane, claiming only the superiority of age and experience—though indeed Jane disallows even those claims. Rochester admires her bold replies, as he admires her disbelief that anyone “free-born would submit to [insolence], even for a salary”—though he disallows her “accuracy” (Ch. XIV). But then Jane and Rochester often disagree; argument lends a certain piquancy to their relations that is much appreciated by both. In The Professor this sparring relationship founded on mutual respect is sketched in the conversation of Frances and Hunsden. If he is “savagely satirical,” he is also intrigued and admiring. He admires her for the “uncompromising” way she enunciates the word “hell,” and is as stimulated and refreshed by her unconventionality as Rochester is by Jane's. “He liked something strong, whether in man or woman; he liked whatever dared to clear conventional limits.” Though the heroine is not the narrator, she has become the central character, and, as in the next novel, the man's discovery of the heroine is observed, not communicated from his own point of view.

However, though the possibilities are outlined, this revelation of unconventionality and of strong independence of mind is not turned to any interesting structural use. Since Frances and Hunsden are not lovers, no conflict of passion and reason occurs, as it does in Jane Eyre, which affects the personal lives of the disputants. We see in Hunsden “a wish that some one did love him as he would like to be loved—some one whose love he could unreservedly return,” but this becomes no more than a part of the characterization of the “inscrutable Hunsden.” Similarly, their argument about the relative importance of logic and feeling is merely aired.16 Nevertheless, here too the fact that Frances debates with great “feeling” but without, as Hunsden attests, any “logic,” solidifies her Jane Eyrish qualities. We can hear Jane's voice in Frances's insistence that, even when logic tells against her she would, if her “‘opinion really differed from [Hunsden's] … adhere to it when I had not another word to say in its defence; you should be baffled by dumb determination.’” Hunsden recognizes the accuracy of her self-analysis just as Rochester will recognize, but with a lover's trepidation, Jane's stubborn capacity to adhere to what she has determined upon as right and owing to herself. In Jane Eyre, in other words, the author purposefully works towards and integrates the conflict of the two characters. In The Professor the exchange is an indication of the character-types and situations now claiming the author's interest.

In sum, then, Charlotte Brontë coalesces the Crimsworth-Hunsden and Crimsworth-Frances relationships in the penultimate chapter: the two parts Crimsworth has assumed elsewhere in the novel are taken on the one hand by Frances and on the other by Hunsden. These latter relate to each other instead of to the narrator. Yet, at the same time, Hunsden's position as Crimsworth's alter-ego17 is prominently featured and Hunsden even becomes an appropriate lover for Frances. A sort of inter-changeability of the two men is realized in the penultimate chapter by means of their relationship with Frances.

Thus, when Hunsden's abuse of Switzerland provokes Frances to warn him off marrying a Swiss—for “‘your mountain maid will some night smother her Breton-bretonnat, even as your own Shakespeare's Othello smothered Desdemona’”—Hunsden parries her thrust by proposing Crimsworth's “‘being in my nightcap.’” This doubling of the men in the role, though not very remarkable taken on its own, carries weight by virtue of the yet more curious passage to follow. Out in the street Hunsden collars his friend and they “grapple” together after the manner of other literary doubles, if somewhat more discreetly.

It was dark; the street lonely and lampless. We had then a tug for it; and after we had both rolled on the pavement, and with difficulty picked ourselves up, we agreed to walk on more soberly.18

Charlotte Brontë has re-introduced the Angrian theme of male rivalry, but she uses it as a means for exposing Hunsden's thoughts about women and, in particular, about Frances. According to him, Frances is “‘too good for [Crimsworth], but not good enough for me,’” and he is jealous of Crimsworth's happiness (“‘what business have you to be suited so well with a partner?’”). He cannot imagine finding his heart's repose in Crimsworth's “‘Alpine peri,’” but dreams instead of a “‘queen’” with “‘a nobler and better developed shape than that perverse, ill-shriven child can boast.’” Hunsden's ideal, in fact, is the type that attracted the young Rochester, and in Jane Eyre the author will imagine Rochester having married such a woman and found disillusionment. Bertha was formerly “‘a fine woman, in the style of Blanche Ingram; tall, dark, and majestic’” (Ch. XXVII). But the Rochester we know scorns both his wife and that “‘extensive armful’” (Ch. XXIII), the “queenly” Miss Ingram (Ch. XVII), delighting rather in his peri down from the mountains of the moon. However, such a change of opinion is merely hinted at in The Professor; Charlotte Brontë projects a possible romantic relationship by recording Hunsden's superfluous protestations of indifference to Frances and by merging the roles of Hunsden and Crimsworth.

A close reading of the novel's last chapter reveals that Frances continues to be more central and more intensely realized than the narrator. Even the interesting state of hypochondria is transferred to the heroine. At least, though it is not so denominated, hypochondria appears to be Frances' state. On her wedding day she is found crying by a bewildered bridegroom. Crimsworth registers his incomprehension while yet reporting her distress: “Singular to state, she was, or had been crying.” When he asks if she is ready, she replies “‘Yes, Monsier,’ with something very like a checked sob”; and he tells us that he expressed himself “sorry to see her in such low spirits, and requested to be allowed an insight into the origin thereof.” While we are told that he was sympathetic, his language, by its uncolloquial formality, and by its suggestion of uncertainty and incomprehension (“she was, or had been”; “something very like”), imposes upon us (intrigued, after all, by Frances's condition) a sense of a superior sympathy with Frances. Charlotte Brontë wants to explore the woman's point of view—to review her anxieties, and in doing so she perceptibly distances herself and the reader from the male narrator. Thus, this scene is very different from its successor in Jane Eyre, where the heroine divulges her nightmare to a man whose sympathy she can record without detracting from her own centrality. Moreover, in Jane Eyre the presence of Bertha justifies the heroine's fears about marriage, whereas in The Professor Charlotte Brontë has not “planned ahead” for Frances's distress.

The next detailed view of Frances also shows her dissatisfied, though now her dissatisfaction has a definite, ascertainable origin. It is a year and a half later when she declares:

“I am not satisfied … you are now earning eight thousand francs a year” (it was true; my efforts, punctuality, the fame of my pupils' progress, the publicity of my station, had so far helped me on), “while I am still at my miserable twelve hundred francs. I can do better, and I will.

“You work as long and as diligently as I do, Frances.”

Crimsworth's parenthetical agreement, suggesting as it does his acceptance of his natural right to getting on, stimulates sympathy with Frances's ambitions. Her wish is to set up a school and then, when they have “realize[d] an independency,” to retire to England. Thus, we expect to see two new, specific objectives achieved before the novel's ending.

The continuing unfolding of Frances's personality is integrated with the rise of a woman against a socially-determined oppression. Crimsworth is an important, if unconscious, part of this oppression. In his eyes Frances remains, if not as frightened as a mouse, at least “as docile as a well-trained child”; and the fact that Frances prefers to call her husband “Monsieur” seems almost to justify his opinion. However, though the author continues to confirm her heroine's docility, she discloses a side of Frances that is dignified and, at still other times, elfish. Ten years later, Frances is in one sense “become another woman, though in another she remained unchanged.” Crimsworth even writes that he “seemed to possess two wives.” For Frances daily transformed herself into “Madame the directress, a stately and elegant woman”; then, at home, “the lady directress vanished from before my eyes, and Frances Henri, my own little lace-mender, was magically restored to my arms.” It is in these moments that, occasionally, Frances would show “some stores of raillery, of ‘malice,’ and would vex, tease, pique” Crimsworth about his “‘bizarreries anglaises.’” However, as in the proposal chapter, we do not see the lover respond to her “elfish freak” as Rochester responds to Jane's. That sort of repartee and lively disagreement occurs not in the talk of the lovers, but in the talk of Frances and Hunsden.

This vignette is particularly interesting because Charlotte Brontë so soon followed it with the extended treatment in Jane Eyre of Rochester's and even St. John's discovery of two women in Jane. (She cultivates a “very flinty” side with Rochester at the end of Ch. XXIV; and she changes from “absolute submission” to “determined revolt” in dealing with her cousin in Ch. XXXIV.) Interesting too for its anticipation of Jane Eyre is Crimsworth's description of the quality of their marriage. Theirs, he says, is an ideal union where Frances “reposed in him a confidence so unlimited that topics of conversation could no more be wanting with him than subjects for communion with her own heart.” It will be noticed that, by having Crimsworth speak of himself in the third person, Charlotte Brontë contrives to advance the woman's point of view of the marriage. And it is very like the ideal marriage depicted at the close of Jane Eyre:

To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character—perfect concord is the result.

These pages have centered on Frances's professional success and on new insights into her personality. There is then introduced a new subject: the idea of two types of unsuitable mate for a woman. Frances believes that a woman must “‘revolt’” against a marriage that is “‘slavery … for freedom is indispensable.’” But her opinion simply indicates something additional about her character; it is not an opinion that grows out of the novel. Frances is never tried. Crimsworth, though not exactly spontaneously caring, is not really “‘a harsh, envious, careless man’” while Hunsden, though claimed as having formerly been a variety of “‘a profligate, a prodigal, a drunkard, or a tyrant,’” is debarred by the plot from a role as Frances's lover. But, if one softens the epithets, this is the problem that confronts the next heroine. St. John approaches the first type, Rochester the second; and Jane, when she discovers the consequences to herself of their attitudes, avoids first the slavery of being Rochester's mistress, then the slavery of being St. John's “‘useful tool’” (Ch. XXXV).

The next scene shows the Crimsworths living in England with Hunsden as neighbor. Yorke Hunsden, “still unmarried,” “wanders from land to land.” Like the young Rochester, he does not spend much time at his old family mansion. Like Rochester, as well as Mr. Yorke in Shirley, the cigar-smoking Hunsden “is a polite man in his own house”; and like the later men he has a romantic past: a passionately loved mistress. Charlotte Brontë continues interested enough to develop Hunsden's potential as a romantic figure in conjunction with Frances, and has him confess his past to the novel's heroine. “One glorious night in June,” after Crimsworth “had been taunting him about his ideal bride,” Hunsden stops in the moonlit glade to exhibit a miniature of the black-haired “Lucia.” It is Frances's bold intuition that Hunsden “‘never seriously thought of marrying her’” because Lucia flouted convention. In this way the unsuitability of Hunsden's ideal is attested to at the same time that his blindness to the novel's (only) ideal woman is underlined. Both the reason for his discontentment and the nature of its possible remedy are suggested, but only the next novel will exploit these circumstances.

The professor's narrative shifts to the present tense. Frances is preparing tea. But before closing his memoirs Crimsworth has “a word to say of Victor.” This supplementary character sketch of their child Victor is so curious that, far from terminating interest in the novel world, it creates bewilderment about it. The boy who when he smiles “looks so like his mother” has a close friendship with Hunsden which recalls the relationship of the three adults.

Victor has a preference for Hunsden, full as strong as I deem desirable, being considerably more potent, decided, and indiscriminating, than any I ever entertained for that personage myself. Frances, too, regards it with a sort of unexpressed anxiety.

Moreover, Victor has received a large faithful dog named Yorke, “after the donor”; but Yorke, bitten by a rabid dog, is shot by Crimsworth. Victor is heartbroken, believing his father could have tried curing him: “‘you should have burnt the wound with a hot iron, or covered it with caustic.’” This event perpetuates the conflict between Crimsworth and Hunsden, especially since Victor, who is very close spiritually to his mother, attracts Hunsden's interest. At the novel's end, instead of “grappling” in the street with his difficult double, Crimsworth, as it were, shoots him.

Now this little episode underlines what is unsatisfactory about the last two chapters. The conflict injected into the Frances section is cut short, but not resolved. In effect, Charlotte Brontë, stimulated perhaps by her involvement with Frances, appends a number of personal interests. She relates several real-life anecdotes which have impressed her: there is Emily's cauterizing a dog-bite, and perhaps the story of an unfortunate love-affair of Mary Taylor's father. She describes moments of intense feeling experienced by herself: e.g., hypochondria, and her love of M. Heger. She realizes her daydreams: of winning over a worldly, interesting man, of running a school with great success. And she expresses her ideas: on the need for equality in marriage, on the condition of old maids, on her love for England, on the importance of feeling. It is as if Charlotte Brontë came to the end of her story—when she found she had “so many other things to say.” By contrast, during the body of the novel—after the Angrian beginning through Chapter XXIII—she sticks to her story of a variation on the Brussels experience. The treatment and the construction have their defects, but there is no material introduced that is unrelated to William Crimsworth and his experiences at the two schools. This is not true of the last chapters.

The last two chapters are unnecessary to the story of the professor, and even disrupt what unity the novel possesses. Charlotte Brontë appears to have a new interest, released by the need to express Frances's reaction to the proposal, and prompting her to indulge in sketching the development of the shyly rebellious lace-mender into an independent, lively woman. It is easy to see why, after recording the fairly straightforward progress of Crimsworth, Charlotte Brontë was absorbed by her heroine's situation. Given the author's theme, Frances's resistance to social oppression will be more difficult, more pertinent, and more moving, simply because she is a woman. And in undertaking the portrayal of a woman's rather than a man's desire for independence and equality, a more interesting story of relations between the sexes is immediately promised. The ensuing struggle will, at least in a Victorian novel, naturally enter a woman's love life. Moreover, by having a man try to act as the providence of a woman who wishes to gain independence, Charlotte Brontë provides herself with a romantic plot of great potential charm. The dilemma manifests itself in a conflict, momentary in The Professor and protracted in Jane Eyre, which ends in the woman's gaining full equality and respect, and in the man's expressed satisfaction at this outcome.

However, here at the end of the first novel the material serving to unfold Frances's character is very desultorily presented. Furthermore, in seeking to confirm her heroine's attractiveness and intelligence, the author is induced to associate Frances with the more sexually experienced Yorke Hunsden. The space devoted to describing their relationship suggests that the narrator no longer afforded an adequate testimony to Frances's qualities. Hunsden is not essentially changed, but the emphasis is now shifted from his alliance with Crimsworth to his similar appreciation of Frances and his need for a woman. In his character and in his situation, the Hunsden of the last chapters comes increasingly to resemble Rochester.

Thus a variety of tentative subjects is introduced, all of which were of compulsive interest to the author—as we know from the fact that she re-introduced them in later novels, as well as from biographical evidence. However, inevitably, Charlotte Brontë does not at the end of The Professor do justice to these subjects. In the later novels they are treated at greater length and are made organically part of the whole. Still, the inadequacy of the treatment should not detract from the significance of the attempt. She was sufficiently stimulated by the new subject to prolong her narrative beyond the proposal scene. Indeed, the necessarily inadequate, sketchy treatment of this new subject may even have sustained the novelist's interest, stimulating her to realize more satisfactorily the characters and events here adumbrated. The presentation in the last chapters of The Professor of a new story centered on the heroine forms a bridge between the body of the first novel and the next novel Jane Eyre. The importance of the end of The Professor lies in its evident influence as a corrective and as a stimulus helping to lead Charlotte Brontë to conceive her first masterpiece.


  1. For information on the juvenilia see Fannie Elizabeth Ratchford, The Brontës' Web of Childhood (Columbia U. Press, 1941). For examples of Charlotte's work see especially the compilations Legends of Angria, ed. Ratchford with the collaboration of William Clyde DeVance (Yale U. Press, 1933); The Miscellaneous and Unpublished Writings of Charlotte and Patrick Branwell Brontë in Two Volumes, ed. T. J. Wise and J. A. Symington. (Oxford: Shakespeare Head, 1936 and 1938); and Five Novelettes: Passing Events, Julia, Mina Laury, Captain Henry Hastings, Caroline Vernon, transcribed and ed. Winifred Gérin (London: Folio, 1971).

  2. Novels of the Eighteen-Forties, rev. ed. (London: Oxford U. Press, 1961), p. 285.

  3. This point has been made by many critics. Earl A. Knies writes that “The Professor, coming seven years after the ‘Farewell to Angria,’ might be considered part of Charlotte's mature work, but it is really a transitional piece.” The Art of Charlotte Brontë (Ohio U. Press, 1969), p. 88. The nature of its immaturity is well described by Tillotson, pp. 282-85 and 288; W. A. Craik, The Brontë Novels (London: Methuen, 1968), p. 48; and Margaret Howard Blom, Charlotte Brontë (Boston, Mass.: Twayne, 1977), pp. 79-82.

  4. That The Professor resembles the Angria tales in using a male narrator is observed by both Ratchford, Brontës' Web, p. 171, and Tillotson, p. 293, n. 5. And both note too the lingering hold of Angria to be found in the early, English chapters of The Professor. See Ratchford, pp. 190-98, and Tillotson, p. 282.

  5. The Professor was finished in April 1846 and the fair copy made by the end of June. Mrs. Gaskell states that it came back rejected from one of its outings to publishers on August 25, 1846, the day Patrick Brontë had his cataract removed. Whether the novel was re-read before being sent out again cannot be known. But we know that Jane Eyre was begun during her father's convalescence. It was thus begun about two months after The Professor had been completed and at a time when the substance of The Professor would probably have been reviewed whether or not that novel was itself re-read. Moreover, since this initial effort continued “plodding its weary round in London,” it was very likely periodically brought to the author's mind while Jane Eyre was being written. The Life of Charlotte Brontë, introd. Clement Shorter (London: World's Classics, 1924), p. 251.

  6. Tillotson, pp. 288-89 and 293. In her discussion of Agnes Grey W. A. Craik also makes interesting comparisons between these three works, pp. 203-06.

  7. The last chapter is the longest in the novel. The penultimate chapter (XXIV) is one of the longest: only Chs. XII, XIX, XXII, and XXIII are longer. This last, it will be noticed, is the proposal chapter and is itself lengthened by the introduction of new material (as I show in my text).

  8. Cynthia A. Linder describes The Professor as tracing Crimsworth's economic, then emotional progress, this last ending “when he has reached his goal—that of marriage to Mlle Henri.” My point is that, while William's growth ends with marriage, Charlotte Brontë does not end the novel there; she continues it, concentrating on Mlle Henri's development. In fact, a comment by Linder suggests this—though it is not followed up—for she writes of “the puritanical exterior hiding a strong spirit, which is what we see developing in Mlle Henri after her marriage.” Romantic Imagery in the Novels of Charlotte Brontë (London: Macmillan, 1978), pp. 27 and 28.

  9. My references are to the Everyman ed., introd. Margaret Lane (London: Dent, 1964). I use the Penguin Jane Eyre, ed. Q. D. Leavis (Harmondsworth, Middx., 1966). Subsequent chapter references will be given in my text.

  10. On Charlotte Brontë's use of metaphors see Margot Peters, Charlotte Brontë: Style in the Novel (U. of Wisconsin Press, 1973), Ch. 4.

  11. In The Complete Poems of Charlotte Brontë, ed. Clement Shorter, with bibliog. and notes by C. W. Hatfield (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1923), the poem “Master and Pupil” is reprinted with the note that it was written “in an exercise-book used by Charlotte Brontë in Brussels, 1843,” p. 215.

  12. In her 1834 “My Angria and the Angrians” she has Patrick Benjamin Wiggins—a study of Branwell—name his sisters as Charlotte, Jane, and Anne. Miscellaneous and Unpublished Writings, II, 11. Brian Wilks's The Brontës (London: Hamlyn, 1975), in which he remarks that Emily was the only daughter christened with two names (p. 69), reproduces drawings and writings by Emily that show she signed herself Emily Jane Brontë. See pp. 55, 73, 105, and 113.

  13. In Ch. XXI Rochester, Jane tells us, “chuckled over” her poverty.

  14. Indeed, Crimsworth's cool observations and his analyses of the women around him suggest that he does not like women (see especially Ch. X, XI, and XII). Unlike Rochester, he is debarred from expressing enjoyment with the company of women because, for one thing, he is responsible as narrator for our understanding of the women introduced.

  15. Margot Peters thinks that the language expresses a correspondence between the mental depression described and a reaction against sexuality, p. 82. This is why the description comes after his engagement to Frances and immediately after his discovery that he “was a sensualist.” For Linder, in this passage “Charlotte Brontë comes as close to stating as Victorian propriety will allow, that William's attack of morbidity is the result of suppressed sexuality,” p. 14.

  16. Yet if we remember how important this subject is, from the beginning when Jane is sent to the Red Room through her talks with Helen Burns and with Rochester, and also in her own internal debates, merely to have the conflict of passion and reason aired here is significant.

  17. Charlotte Brontë was fully aware of her reliance on such relationships. In a very interesting passage at the end of her 1834 story “The Spell” she refers to Zamorna's twin brother Valdacella as his “alter-ego.” The Spell: Ane Extravaganza, ed. George Edwin MacLean (1931; rpt. London: Folcroft Library Editions, 1972), p. 144.

  18. Margaret Blom finds here an acting out of “William's victory over the evil within himself; he has fought and thrown his personal devil,” p. 77. But a re-reading of the passage shows that Crimsworth does not throw his alter-ego.

Annette Tromly (essay date 1982)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10540

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 Heights, Agnes Grey, and selected poems, her bitter disappointment at the book's reception: “Currer Bell's book found acceptance nowhere, nor any acknowledgement of merit, so that something like the chill of despair began to invade his heart.”2 The consensus that Jane Eyre was far superior to The Professor she took adamant exception to. The middle and latter portions of The Professor, she insisted, contained “more pith, more substance, more reality” than much of Jane Eyre.3 But if Brontë's defence of The Professor was fervid, critics' attacks have been equally so. They have either disregarded Brontë's opinions, or, in one telling instance, denounced them. Referring to Brontë's statement about the novel's value, one critic has declared that the author is “in certain ways, as much of a hypocrite as William Crimsworth,” the novel's narrator.4

Lying behind the animadversions against the book (in varying degrees of explicitness) are assumptions about its relation to Brontë's biography. First, critics have generally seen this maiden, unpublishable novel as a product of Brontë's artistic immaturity, the “work of a beginner.”5 (As a result, the need to make judgments about the novel—to locate signs of Brontë's apprenticeship—has too often taken precedence over the desire to understand it.) More specifically, some critics have seen the author as incompletely detached from her book, compromising its moral vision by her personal entanglements with the characters. Thus they believe that William Crimsworth, a “wholly decent young man,”6 makes his way in a tough world by voicing directly the opinions of Charlotte Brontë.7 Even those critics who have attempted to detach Crimsworth from Brontë (and have seen him as an essentially unreliable narrator) have not found credible artistic reasons for his limitations.8 And similarly, Frances Henri has been seen as an idealized projection of Brontë herself.9 Inevitably, most critics have fallen back on the shibboleth of Brontë's biography to dismiss what they consider to be The Professor's shortcomings. Charlotte must have been, in the last year of correspondence with Heger, exorcising the frustrations of an unrequited love;10 as a result, she wrote an uncontrolled novel.

No one would want to deny that traces of Charlotte Brontë's private world are present in the novel. In certain sections, particularly the chapters on Belgium, Brontë renders the raw materials of her own experience intensely. But if she appropriated certain materials from her life, she did not do so in any simple way. The Professor is not, above all, Brontë's unmediated autobiography. It is, however, William Crimsworth's autobiography. A careful examination of The Professor reveals a primary interest in the motives and processes of self-presentation; the book is informed by its exploration of the issue. By means of a thoroughly obtrusive and essentially unreliable narrative voice, Brontë explores the reasons and the ways that an autobiographer presents himself to the world. Decades after Brontë's death, Leslie Stephen observed that “distortions of the truth belong to the values of autobiography and are as revealing as the truth.”11The Professor is a novel about these distortions.

The beginning of The Professor has always been an irritant to critics. William Crimsworth's letter to “Charles”—who neither answers the letter nor receives it, and does not appear again in the novel—certainly seems arbitrary and contrived. It is not surprising that one critic has called the letter a “clumsy piece of narrative technique.”12 Yet in being both clumsy and irritating, Crimsworth's letter, sent to nowhere, serves its purpose well. The reader does not get very far into the novel before he is forced to ask questions about the teller of the tale. What kind of person would begin his autobiography by quoting himself at length? Why does he adopt such a self-absorbed and callous tone to his old friend? Why does he write the unsolicited letter in the first place? Why is he clearly more interested in telling his story than in communicating with Charles? Surely Brontë is asking her reader, from the book's first moments, to be aware of the centrality of the narrative voice. William Crimsworth, writing from his study at Daisy Lane, is meant to be an emphatic presence.

Throughout the novel Brontë continues to obtrude Crimsworth onto the reader's attention; the narrator's handling of events continually calls attention to his shaping presence. In a number of instances Crimsworth, by means of brief or oblique allusions, passes over or underplays significant events in his life. Thus toward the end of the book he inserts the birth of his only son as an afterthought. Similarly, he downplays his rescue of Jean Baptiste Vandenhuten (who is introduced only as a means of explaining his progress in the search for employment), and skips completely his own professional experience throughout the years of his marriage. But perhaps the most tantalizing of these manipulations of significant events is his allusion to having once observed a “modern French novel”:

Now, modern French novels are not to my taste, either practically or theoretically. Limited as had yet been my experience of life, I had once had the opportunity of contemplating, near at hand, an example of the results produced by a course of interesting and romantic domestic treachery. No golden halo of fiction was about this example, I saw it bare and real, and it was very loathsome. I saw a mind degraded by the practice of mean subterfuge, by the habit of perfidious deception, and a body depraved by the infectious influence of the vice-polluted soul. I had suffered much from the forced and prolonged view of this spectacle; those sufferings I did not now regret, for their simple recollection acted as a most wholesome antidote to temptation.13

We hear no more of what must have been a formative experience for Crimsworth. His reticence about this and other matters points to a mind which is deliberately shaping its story. The reader is forced to wonder just what Crimsworth's principles of inclusion are.

If Crimsworth can de-emphasize the important experience, he can also inflate the unimportant. Under his pen the story of his life often unfolds as a series of significant inner moments struck into high relief largely by the force of his narrative determination. After leaving his job in Bigben Close, for example, he describes his walk into the country. He designates a fastflowing river as his symbol-for-the-moment, and takes pains to impress it on both his memory and ours: “… I watched the rapid rush of its waves. I desired memory to take a clear and permanent impression of the scene, and treasure it for future years” (194). At other times the meanings Crimsworth imposes on his experience are more difficult to achieve. When he thinks he has lost Frances through the machinations of Zoraïde Reuter, he offers a long disquisition which begins with the proper sphere of the novelist, passes through the dangers of sensual indulgence, glances quickly at suffering, and finally alights on the consolation of Religion to the hopeless man (277-78). And all of this, he instructs the reader, so that we might infer that—being a reasonable man—he was able to control his grief. The sheer energy Crimsworth expends in imposing a rationale on his life suggests that we should be wary of sharing his perceptions.

Crimsworth's significant moments most often take the form of inner conflicts between moral abstractions. He regrets having resigned his teaching job, for example, when he realizes that he is not in a position to approach the now-employed Frances. But Conscience helpfully intervenes:

“Down, stupid tormentors!” cried she; “the man has done his duty; you shall not bait him thus by thoughts of what might have been; he relinquished a temporary and contingent good to avoid a permanent and certain evil; he did well. Let him reflect now, and when your blinding dust and deafening hum subside, he will discover a path.”


Shortly afterward, on the night that he longs to give in to his desire to see Frances, Imagination is the “sweet temptress” which he manages to repel. There are many such moments in the novel. It is difficult to imagine that, had The Professor been illustrated,14 Crimsworth would not have been represented with demons on one shoulder and angels on the other; his moral universe is thoroughly dichotomized.

Brontë presents her narrator, then, as the central problem of the novel. William Crimsworth the autobiographer is everywhere present, giving shape and emphasis to his story. And Crimsworth's autobiographical manipulations become morally questionable because of his pronounced tendency to self-inflation. The abstractions through which he filters his inner conflicts, for example, impart a self-serving suggestiveness to the events of his life. He elevates his personal significance by means of the patterns he imposes.

If, however, Crimsworth's version of his life gratifies the autobiographer, it suggests something quite different to the reader. What we note in Crimsworth's account—in his omissions, emphases, and interpretations of events—is its decided simplification of complexities. If Crimsworth expands his life's meaning in his own eyes, he contracts it in ours. His act of writing becomes an act of enclosure, an act of imposing a personal mythology upon a life. And through a network of images in the novel, Brontë further undercuts Crimsworth's self-portrait. Images of physical enclosure echo the mental enclosure which lies behind Crimsworth's autobiographical impulse.


Fastidious, hypersensitive William Crimsworth (the name has a Dickensian aural appropriateness) expends a great deal of energy guarding himself against assault: assault by other people, assault by his own impulses, assault by all the untidy circumstances that disrupt a remarkably quotidian existence. Enclosure is his characteristic way of dealing with a world too threatening for his insecure psychic constitution. Crimsworth assumes a defensive self-protectiveness against most of his associates. He finds satisfaction in hiding his real self from his tyrannical brother's gaze: “… I felt as secure against his scrutiny as if I had had on a casque with the visor down …” (176). Similarly, he handles his students with dispatch: “In less than five minutes they had thus revealed to me their characters, and in less than five minutes I had buckled on a breast-plate of steely indifference, and let down a visor of impassible austerity” (223). When uneasy, Crimsworth seeks places which are small and closed-in; after most events of consequence, he walks in “narrow chambers,” or shuts out “intruders” (including, at times, the reader). By shutting himself up, or the world out, then, he manages to maintain a fragile state of equilibrium.

Just how fragile this state is, however, becomes most clear when the intruder is one of his own feelings. The scene mentioned earlier, in which he copes with his grief for the lost (misplaced) Frances, is a good example:

being a steady, reasonable man, I did not allow the resentment, disappointment, and grief, engendered in my mind by this evil chance, to grow there to any monstrous size; nor did I allow them to monopolise the whole space of my heart; I pent them, on the contrary, in one strait and secret nook. In the daytime, too, when I was about my duties, I put them on the silent system; and it was only after I had closed the door of my chamber at night that I somewhat relaxed my severity towards these morose nurslings, and allowed vent to their language of murmurs; then, in revenge, they sat on my pillow, haunted my bed, and kept me awake with their long, midnight cry.


Crimsworth's fear that without his “strait and secret nook” his feelings will grow monstrous is a consequence of his repression; the syndrome has become common coinage in the psychological currency of our day. And as familiar is the ironical result: the sheer act of forceful control defeats its own purpose. The feelings are unearthed in a more painful way—transformed to a morbid state. The strained, hyperbolical, frenzied language in which Crimsworth describes the revenge of his “morose nurslings” is apt. He is clearly so out of touch with his feelings that he can deal with them—and enjoy them—only when they are dressed up in elaborate metaphor. Most of Crimsworth's psychic life can be characterized in terms of a similar tension: an excessive need for control along with its inevitable opposite.

Other enclosure images emphasize Crimsworth's unwholesome emotional obsessions. Sitting “alone near midnight” writing his autobiography at Daisy Lane, he attempts to capture his past. His memories rise before him like ghosts in a graveyard:15

Belgium! I repeat the word, now as I sit alone near midnight. It stirs my world of the past like a summons to resurrection; the graves unclose, the dead are raised; thoughts, feelings, memories that slept, are seen by me ascending from the clods—haloed most of them—but while I gaze on their vapoury forms, and strive to ascertain definitely their outline, the sound which wakened them dies, and they sink, each and all, like a light wreath of mist, absorbed in the mould, recalled to urns, resealed in monuments. Farewell, luminous phantoms!


As his griefs are pent in a “strait and secret nook,” so his memories have been sealed in urns; both images represent a mind which immures the spacious potential of emotional experience. And in spite of this allusion to sinking phantoms, Crimsworth will never realize how thoroughly unsuccessful he is at resurrecting his past. As we shall see, his autobiography does not succeed in liberating his sealed memories; their forms will always remain indistinct to him.

As Crimsworth embalms his memories, so he enshrines his love:

I loved the movement with which she confided her hand to my hand; I loved her as she stood there, penniless and parentless; for a sensualist charmless, for me a treasure—my best object of sympathy on earth, thinking such thoughts as I thought, feeling such feelings as I felt; my ideal of the shrine in which to seal my stores of love. …


The woman he chooses is an “object” to contain his love; and he can describe his “ideal” only in terms of the gratifications she will provide for him. Crimsworth's brand of idealism, then, is as constricted as his repressed desires, his love enclosed as tightly as his grief and his memories. As we shall see, this strange person, whose thoughts are avowedly turned heavenward, becomes capable of the grimmest kind of mean-mindedness.

Crimsworth's tendency to enclose is so thoroughgoing that it undermines his perceptions altogether. He perceives his world as a series of pictures; his reliance on the visual arts is the most persistent peculiarity of his language. He consistently represents places (such as Belgium and the river in Grovetown mentioned above) as pictures. And virtually all the people he meets, from an anonymous Flemish housemaid who reminds him of “the female figures in certain Dutch paintings” (202-03) to his good friend Yorke Hunsden, whose “features might have done well on canvas but indifferently in marble” (186) are subjected to the scrutinizing eye of a self-conscious artist. Crimsworth takes great pains when presenting his pictures; they are often overloaded with descriptive minutiae. His efforts at verisimilitude, however, reveal more about the artist than his subjects. Rather than rendering faithful images of the people he describes, Crimsworth avoids or distorts the issue of who they really are. Preoccupation with physical characteristics sometimes permits him to avoid more significant attributes of character. But more serious, perhaps, is his tendency to create simple equations between the outer person and the inner character. His student Eulalie is an example:

Eulalie was tall, and very finely shaped: she was fair, and her features were those of a Low Country Madonna; many a ‘figure de Vierge’ have I seen in Dutch pictures exactly resembling hers; there were no angles in her shape or in her face, all was curve and roundness—neither thought, sentiment, nor passion disturbed by line or flush the equality of her pale, clear skin; her noble bust heaved with her regular breathing, her eyes moved a little—by these evidences of life alone could I have distinguished her from some large handsome figure moulded in wax.


Crimsworth submits Eulalie to a process of reduction in several ways. First, by associating her with works of art he is able to distance himself from her. Second, in relying on the stock associations of a type of painted figure, he is forcing Eulalie into an easy and pre-existent category. And finally, the blandness of character he attributes to her on the basis of her physical type is predicated on a questionable relation between the inner and the outer person. Interpreting people as works of art enables Crimsworth to categorize his world far too neatly. Once enclosed in frames, his images become easier to control.

Crimsworth depicts himself as well as others. Even as the novel opens, he is speaking (in the letter to Charles) of his own “portrait.” And in the most explicit summary he gives us of his past, his life becomes a gallery:

Three—nay four—pictures line the four-walled cell where are stored for me the records of the past. First, Eton. All in that picture is in far perspective, receding, diminutive; but freshly coloured, green, dewy, with a spring sky, piled with glittering yet showery clouds; for my childhood was not all sunshine—it had its overcast, its cold, its stormy hours. Second, X———, huge, dingy, the canvas cracked and smoked; a yellow sky, sooty clouds; no sun, no azure; the verdure of the suburbs blighted and sullied—a very dreary scene.

Third, Belgium; and I will pause before this landscape. As to the fourth, a curtain covers it, which I may hereafter withdraw, or may not, as suits my convenience and capacity. At any rate, for the present it must hang undisturbed.


In deliberately figuring his past as a gallery of pictures, Crimsworth, characteristically, claims an inflated meaning for his private experience. He presents his past, by analogy, as something that partakes of the heightened significance of paintings. Yet as he inflates, he also deflates. The frames around his past, like the urns that hold his memories, are enclosures. Even the gallery itself is a claustrophobic, four-walled cell. And Crimsworth chooses a curious kind of picture to represent his life. Each painting in the gallery might be titled “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Landscape”; missing from the canvas is Crimsworth himself. Eulalie, then, is not the only figure who is dehumanized and regarded with detachment; Crimsworth also maintains a disturbing distance from himself. The mysterious fourth, curtained, picture is never alluded to again.16 But as we shall see, despite Crimsworth's secrecy, it does not hang undisturbed.

From time to time Crimsworth reminds the reader that the pictures he is framing as he tells his story are corrected versions of the inaccurate pictures of his youth. An interesting dynamic develops as Crimsworth the Autobiographer, writing from Daisy Lane, enjoys contemplating his formerly callow perceptions:

This is Belgium, reader. Look! don't call the picture a flat or a dull one—it was neither flat nor dull to me when I first beheld it. When I left Ostend on a mild February morning, and found myself on the road to Brussels, nothing could look vapid to me. My sense of enjoyment possessed an edge whetted to the finest, untouched, keen, exquisite. I was young; I had good health; pleasure and I had never met. … Well! and what did I see? I will tell you faithfully. Green, reedy swamps; fields, fertile but flat, cultivated in patches that made them look like magnified kitchen-gardens; belts of cut trees, formal as pollard willows, skirting the horizon; narrow canals, gliding slow by the road-side; painted Flemish farmhouses; some very dirty hovels; a gray, dead sky; wet road, wet fields, wet housetops: not a beautiful, scarcely a picturesque object met my eye along the whole route; yet to me, all was beautiful, all was more than picturesque.


Yet behind Crimsworth's gentle irony against his younger self is a much tougher irony which the narrator fails to see. Brontë would have us note that in correcting the perceptions of his younger self, Crimsworth often encloses himself more tightly into a set of highly inadequate attitudes.

We see these ironies operating in Crimsworth's feelings about the students of Zoraïde Reuter's school. Noticing that the window in his room which opens onto the girls' garden is boarded up (an enclosure image of his young blindness), he feels a strong desire to see behind the boards. He imagines the ground in the garden to be “consecrated,” a paradise where angels play. When he is finally hired to teach at the girls' school, he is delighted. “‘I shall now at last see the mysterious garden: I shall gaze both on the angels and their Eden’” (216). All the humour of the delusion is enjoyed by Crimsworth the narrator. He describes his process of disillusionment with the girls:

Daily, as I continued my attendance at the seminary of Mdlle. Reuter, did I find fresh occasions to compare the ideal with the real. What had I known of female character previously to my arrival at Brussels? Precious little. And what was my notion of it? Something vague, slight, gauzy, glittering; now when I came in contact with it I found it to be a palpable substance enough; very hard too sometimes, and often heavy; there was metal in it, both lead and iron.


But the quasi-objective tone of Crimsworth's voice of experience immediately gives itself the lie. He offers to “open his portfolio” (231) to sketch a few students, and proceeds to reveal his barely suppressed disgust and rage at the girls. His three pictures “from the life” (234) are painted by a vengeful, moralistic hand. One girl he refers to as an “unnatural-looking being,” “Gorgon-like,” who practises “panther-like deceit” (232). He seems capable of only the crudest kind of adversary relationship with the girls (the way they look at him is their “artillery” [233]), and falls back on his oversimplified moral abstractions in order to place them within his scheme (“Mutiny” and “Hate” are graved on Juanna's brow [234]). When Crimsworth physically confines one of the girls (locks her up in a cabinet), he is only echoing the mental confinement that his descriptions reflect.

What his attitude toward the girls reveals, then, is the constriction of Crimsworth's ostensibly maturing perceptions. Crimsworth approaches his students with naïve idealism; when forced to adjust, he castigates the real rather than tempering the ideal. As we shall see, his ideal remains intact—pent, perhaps, in another strait and secret nook—waiting only for the appropriate woman to be forced into its contracted boundaries.

Before turning to a consideration of the other main characters in the book, it would be useful to note a final pair of images which corroborates the idea of Crimsworth's mental enclosure. As I have noted, the pictures Crimsworth frames of his world are idiosyncratic—a personalized way of imposing a rationale on a perplexing life. Crimsworth is aware of the differences between himself and other people. Early in the novel, he reveals his feelings of separateness to Hunsden with a certain smug satisfaction: “‘I must follow my own devices—I must till the day of my death; because I can neither comprehend, adopt, nor work out those of other people’” (198). Crimsworth's image for himself in the novel's early chapters is as an Israelite in Egypt. Orphaned, confined to drudgery in the counting-house of his unsympathetic brother Edward, he characterizes his work as a “task thankless and bitter as that of the Israelite crawling over the sun-baked fields of Egypt in search of straw and stubble wherewith to accomplish his tale of bricks” (190). The image is apt in several ways. His work is futile; he lives in bondage. But most important, Crimsworth is elevating his separateness into the virtue of a martyr. As an Israelite, he is not only victim, but chosen one. A large part of his self-delusion pertains to a puritanical notion of himself as an anti-sensualist in a world of flesh-pots. Beginning with a reference to his wealthy cousins in the letter to Charles, Crimsworth sets himself apart from women whose attractions he considers himself above. Not for him are the base sexual yearnings of the normal man.17 (The pronounced element of twisted sexuality in his accounts of his students is an ironic contradiction of his high-mindedness.) But his attitude toward women is only one important element in Crimsworth's Israelite conception of himself. The notion of his own special nature exists in Crimsworth's mind as a means by which to exempt himself, with self-congratulatory glibness, from the humbling exigencies of self-knowledge.

Set off against the Israelite in Crimsworth's mind is a parallel image in the reader's. Brontë very delicately introduces an association between Crimsworth and another literary figure, one not quite so sombre as the Israelite in Egypt. When Crimsworth refers, while observing the Belgian landscape, to a “Brobdignagian [sic] kitchen-garden” (282), we realize that he is not so unlike another fellow-traveller. Associated with Gulliver's innocence, sexual repression, fastidiousness, and, above all, pride, William Crimsworth becomes a figure considerably less elevated than the Israelite. Like Gulliver's, Crimsworth's innocence is not ennobling, but constricting—his pride not a source of dignity, but of self-aggrandizement. The two images coexist, then, as suggestively ironic pieces in the puzzle of Crimsworth's character. Lurking just on the surface is Brontë's suggestion that Crimsworth's idea of his separateness may transform him from his own sublime into the reader's ridiculous. Crimsworth leaves England—his Egypt—in search of the Canaan which he not only feels he deserves but also can use to vindicate his uniqueness. But the reader has discovered that the Israelite's bondage was considerably more than physical.


Although he enjoys portraying his life as a series of pictures, William Crimsworth remains oblivious to the pentimento which complicates his literary self-portraiture. The personal myth he constructs seems to the reader to be superimposed upon a life which is far less tidy than Crimsworth himself will acknowledge. Presented with the official Crimsworth, we remain constantly aware—though the outlines are never distinct—of the traces of a second image beneath. In the portraits of the other main characters in the novel—Hunsden, Zoraïde Reuter, and Frances Henri—the pentimento is equally pronounced, and equally indistinct. We are presented with their images as seen through the eyes of Crimsworth; yet the shadows of images that Crimsworth does not see flicker always before us.

Although Hunsden Yorke Hunsden is a friend of long standing (he is the only character besides Crimsworth to exist all the way through the novel), Crimsworth's attitude to him is always acrimonious. He presents Hunsden as a presumptuous, eccentric person—a person who seems not to know that he is meant to be of secondary importance in the Crimsworth autobiography. The man who seems irritatingly idiosyncratic to Crimsworth, however, strikes the reader as ironically appropriate. For, viewed in relation to Crimsworth, Hunsden is a running commentary on the protagonist's limitations. Like Crimsworth, he has both the tradesman and the aristocrat in his lineage—but unlike Crimsworth, he is at home in the world. Like Crimsworth, he is a mixture of masculine and feminine characteristics—but unlike Crimsworth, he has the confidence to address aggressively a challenging world. Where Crimsworth is fastidious and constricted, Hunsden is generous and expansive (though the misanthropic directness of Hunsden's speech seems to Crimsworth to be far less kindly than his own minced words). Like Crimsworth, Hunsden has a feminine ideal—but unlike Crimsworth, his ideal coexists with a strong strain of practicality. He can live enthusiastically with the ideal unfulfilled. And finally, like Crimsworth, Hunsden is unique—but whereas Crimsworth's uniqueness exists only in his mind, as a means of separating himself from a tawdry world, Hunsden's uniqueness is palpable. Perhaps that is why he defies even Crimsworth's self-confident descriptive powers: “There is no use in attempting to describe,” says Crimsworth, “what is indescribable” (308). The close similarities—and awesome differences—between the two men explain why Crimsworth is so perpetually vulnerable to his friend.

Hunsden is responsible for almost all the good fortune in Crimsworth's career; but he can also be called Crimsworth's nemesis. For reasons which are not quite clear, his early interest in Crimsworth abides throughout the novel. He precipitates the release from Edward's tyranny, makes the crucial referral for a teaching job in Belgium, and buys the only one of Crimsworth's pictures which is ever really important—that of his mother—as an unsolicited gift. But Hunsden's generosity is always resented by Crimsworth. In an interesting juxtaposition of scenes, Brontë demonstrates the ease with which Crimsworth can accept favours from another benefactor, Victor Vandenhuten, as compared with the bitterness that Hunsden's help always elicits. From Crimsworth's description of Vandenhuten, we infer the cause: “in short our characters dovetailed, but my mind having more fire and action than his, instinctively assumed and kept the predominance” (317). With Hunsden, Crimsworth can never keep the predominance; something within him must realize that his friend represents the authentic product of which he is himself only an unconvincing reproduction. The ironic connections between the two men are never completely brought to the consciousness of Crimsworth the narrator—nor, as we shall see, is the implicit threat that Hunsden poses to the autobiographer's happy ending.

Crimsworth's first love, Zoraïde Reuter, is also a victim of his misanthropy. The process of disillusionment which Crimsworth underwent with his students is echoed with Reuter. And echoed as well are the aging Crimsworth's sage amusement at the naïveté of his younger self, and the reader's distance from both narrators. Even at her best, Reuter hardly resembles the Angels in their Eden; she taxes even Crimsworth's ability to idealize. Yet, with great effort, the young man manages to rationalize his love. At their first meeting, he is patronizingly amused by the business talent of a young woman. He must be growing wiser, he feels, since he can admire the “crafty little politician” (226). And if Reuter does not quite fit the “female character as depicted in Poetry and Fiction” (226), she is only a more interesting challenge. When pressed for a rationale by which to justify himself, young Crimsworth is ingenious enough to fall back on religious prejudice: “She has been brought up a Catholic: had she been born an Englishwoman, and reared a Protestant, might she not have added straight integrity to all her other excellences? Supposing she were to marry an English and Protestant husband, would she not, rational, sensible, as she is, quickly acknowledge the superiority of right over expediency, honesty over policy?” (240). The scene in which Crimsworth conveys his strongest moment of infatuation takes place in that touchstone of his romantic imagination, the garden of the Pensionnat:

In another minute I and the directress were walking side by side down the valley bordered with fruit-trees, whose white blossoms were then in full blow as well as their tender green leaves. The sky was blue, the air still, the May afternoon was full of brightness and fragrance. Released from the stifling class, surrounded with flowers and foliage, with a pleasing, smiling, affable woman at my side—how did I feel? Why, very enviably. It seemed as if the romantic visions my imagination had suggested of this garden, while it was yet hidden from me by the jealous boards, were more than realised; and, when a turn in the alley shut out the view of the house, and some tall shrubs excluded M. Pelet's mansion, and screened us momentarily from the other houses, rising amphitheatre-like round this green spot, I gave my arm to Mdlle. Reuter, and led her to a garden-chair, nestled under some lilacs near. She sat down; I took my place at her side. She went on talking to me with that ease which communicates ease, and, as I listened, a revelation dawned in my mind that I was on the brink of falling in love.


Writing from Daisy Lane, Crimsworth contrives the scene of his young delusion neatly. In retrospect, he sees the garden as the perfect location for the growth of his younger, callow self from innocence to experience.18 For the reader, however, the garden is yet another enclosure, reflecting ironically upon both the young lover and his wiser, older self. And the author's irony becomes more stringent when, after the inevitable disillusionment, young and old Crimsworth agree in their interpretation of the event.

Appropriately, the disillusionment takes place in the same garden. Crimsworth, dreaming of Reuter at his now unboarded window, hears voices below. It is Reuter and Pelet, talking of their wedding plans, and of him. Neither the old nor the young Crimsworth understands the inadequacy of his response to his disillusionment. The love arose solely from Crimsworth's romantic mind. Yet both Crimsworths view the overheard conversation as an act of treachery, strong enough to extinguish all “faith in love and friendship” (242). The shared vision of old and young Crimsworth is demonstrated through the mixing of past and present tenses:

Not that I nursed vengeance—no; but the sense of insult and treachery lived in me like a kindling, though as yet smothered coal. God knows I am not by nature vindictive; I would not hurt a man because I can no longer trust or like him; but neither my reason nor feelings are of the vacillating order—they are not of that sand-like sort where impressions, if soon made, are as soon effaced. Once convinced that my friend's disposition is incompatible with my own, once assured that he is indelibly stained with certain defects obnoxious to my principles, and I dissolve the connection.


Also echoed here are the familiar tones of Crimsworth's moralism: his castigation of whatever fails to live up to his mind-forged ideals, and his claims to a special, exalted nature. As we would expect, he calls on an abstraction—Reason—to be his physician after suffering the blow. Regardless of what his older self may think, Crimsworth has not learned much; his mind remains as sealed off as Mlle Reuter's “allée défendue.”

Thenceforward, Crimsworth's bitterness and distrust regarding Zoraïde Reuter are extreme. Though Reuter continues to be crafty and manipulative, she apparently falls in love with Crimsworth and is treated very cruelly indeed. (The garden again becomes an emblem of Crimsworth's constricted perceptions.) By the time Reuter fires Frances Henri (probably with at least some justification), Crimsworth's disdain for the directress has turned into loathing. He has successfully reduced a complicated woman to the status of a bad angel.

In Crimsworth's mind, Reuter is an unattractive foil for his heart's desire, Frances. He sees Reuter as fully engaged in her world, Frances as an outsider; Reuter as manipulative, Frances as passive; Reuter as hardened, Frances as tender; Reuter as contrived, Frances as natural; Reuter as self-protective, Frances as vulnerable. Yet the novel suggests that as telling as the differences between the two women are their similarities. First, their careers are parallel: Frances, like Reuter, will become the directress of her own school. But more important, Reuter makes guarded suggestions of deeper similarities between them. “‘Her present position,’” she says, “‘has once been mine, or nearly so; it is then but natural I should sympathise with her …’” (254). Within this enigmatic comment, and also within the feelings of animosity between the two women, lurks the possibility, borne out by more direct evidence elsewhere, that Frances Henri is not what Crimsworth believes her to be.

Although critics have tended to see only Crimsworth's romanticized portrait of Frances, there is ample evidence in The Professor that Brontë's portrait, which lurks behind Crimsworth's, is meant to be considerably more subtle, complicated, and ambiguous. First, there are a number of hints that Frances may not always have lived the sheltered, virginal life which Crimsworth complacently assumes she has. Early in their acquaintance, Frances describes her life in Switzerland as being “‘in a circle; I walked the same round every day’” (266). She speaks of knowing something of the “‘bourgeois of Geneva’” and of Brussels (266). And echoing the suggestiveness of these remarks is Reuter's; the older woman says of Frances that she does “‘not like her going out in all weathers’” (276). Later, Frances mentions the frustrations of “‘people who are only in each other's company for amusement’” (328-29). And on several occasions she calmly entertains Crimsworth in her apartment alone.19

The evidence for Frances' questionable past is not obtrusive. Rather it is composed of delicately suggestive allusions which only hint at something Crimsworth cannot see. Whether or not she has had a sexual past, though, Frances certainly has had some kind of experience in her life that Crimsworth has not. Both her pronounced independence and her unmistakable emotional separateness from him do not correspond to Crimsworth's portrait of her. The very moment she accepts his proposal of marriage, for example, Frances asks to be allowed to continue teaching (327-28). This hard-headed practicality, as well as her tears on her wedding day (342), indicates that for Frances the choice to marry is far from simple. Although Hunsden may be able to live successfully on his own, Frances does not have the male option of a completely independent life; she must know that spending life alone would mean abandoning her career ambitions. It is clear, then, that Frances' view of the marriage has complications that Crimsworth does not dream of; it is likely that she accepts the marriage proposal as the most attractive of several very limited options open to her.

Frances' “Jane” poem indicates that her need for a “master”—the side of her which Crimsworth emphasizes—is a substantial part of her nature. But as Brontë skillfully demonstrates through suggestive details, the deluded Crimsworth never understands the intricacies of his wife's position. He places her on the conventional pedestal, a pedestal which fits nicely into the myth he is creating of his own “successful” life. Yet Frances knows much more of the world than does her “master.” When Crimsworth says of her that “I knew how the more dangerous flame [of passion] burned safely under the eye of reason” (285), he speaks as a puritan; he has no notion of how clearly that eye of reason really sees.

Part of what makes Frances particularly suitable to Crimsworth's autobiographical designs is the fact that she is as homeless as he. Their mutual rootlessness enables Crimsworth to circumvent a certain kind of social definition; it is another means by which Crimsworth can define himself as a man outside—and above—the rest of the world. He delights in Frances' devoir about the emigrant and is sensitive to her expressed desire for her own Canaan. The Israelite image which he adopted in the early chapters is appropriately transformed. Crimsworth's Egypt (England) becomes Frances' Canaan, and by means of a letter from Hunsden, the entire notion is ironically reversed. Hunsden imagines Crimsworth as an Israelite in Belgium, not England: “‘sitting like a black-haired, tawny-skinned, long-nosed Israelite by the flesh-pots of Egypt’” (302). The implication is that Crimsworth would be a displaced Israelite wherever he lived; for him, exile is a state of mind. In choosing Frances, Crimsworth can cling to his feelings of being unique, and therefore special. As he speaks of Hunsden's knowledge of him, this need is apparent: “nor could he, keen-sighted as he was, penetrate into my heart, search my brain, and read my peculiar sympathies and antipathies; he had not known me long enough, or well enough, to perceive how long my feelings would ebb under some influences, powerful over most minds; how high, how fast they would flow under other influences, that perhaps acted with the more intense force on me, because they acted on me alone” (312).

If Frances' homelessness is a convenience for Crimsworth, so too is her role as his student. Brontë's frequent use of the teacher-student relationship has prompted many critics to suggest a questionable equivalence between the art and the life. Thus Inga-Stina Ewbank has called the teaching situation “an image of the ideal relationship” for Brontë.20 In The Professor, however, teacher-student relationships are far from ideal: they are based, for the most part, on tyranny. As I have mentioned, Crimsworth relates to his students as an adversary: through his descriptions of the girls in Reuter's school he reveals both his constricted sexual nature and his related need for power. The same kind of problem is a factor in his relationship with Frances. Her status as a social and educational inferior provides easy superiority for Crimsworth; it enables him, through his autobiographical myth, to enclose her emotions into an even smaller nook than his own. There are several scenes when Crimsworth, forcing Frances to speak English with the ostensible purpose of benefiting her language development, becomes almost sadistic in his treatment of her. (And one such scene is the proposal scene.) The kind of dominance over Frances that Crimsworth seems to need is ironically undercut both by the specifics of their relationship and by the echoes of earlier student relationships.

Frances Henri, then, is just what Crimsworth needs. She has—on the surface, at least—precisely those qualities which enable him to impose a gratifying rationale on his life story. She is socially inferior, educationally disadvantaged, and rootless; a difficult life has made her both tractable and desperate for security. But complications arise for Crimsworth. In order to create the picture of his life in the way which gratifies him most, he must do something very earnest, very real: he must take a wife. The shaky foundations of his psychosexual nature catch up with him only moments after he proposes to Frances. His attack of hypochondria is one of Brontë's most interesting ways of revealing the irony of his mental enclosure.

In reading The Professor as a straightforward success story, most critics have had difficulty accounting for Crimsworth's bout of hypochondria. Robert Martin, for example, finds it to be “without any apparent relevance,” and objects to its coming at a time when “Crimsworth's psychic health has never been better.”21 And Inga-Stina Ewbank reverts to Brontë biography to justify the scene: “Powerful in itself, this passage has no justification in plot or character; there is nothing either before or after to suggest such nervous sensibilities in the very sensible hero. His breakdown here is introduced, it would seem, only to give an excuse for what is a welling-up from the suppressed ego of the author.”22 These critical discussions, however, leave out what seems to me to be Brontë's major effort in the novel. Crimsworth is telling his own story, or, rather, presenting his own myth. While ostensibly creating art which will reflect his life, he is in reality moulding the life to fit the art. But, as Roy Pascal has observed about autobiography, “Consistent misrepresentation of oneself is not easy.”23 Like the other loose ends which Brontë insinuates before us, Crimsworth's attack of hypochondria qualifies his personal mythology. It represents, in Pascal's terms, a “gap” in his self-portrait, or, in James' terms, a “leakage” in his ostensibly watertight scheme. The attack of hypochondria may seem inconsistent to Crimsworth, but for the reader it is part of the pentimento.

Crimsworth's myth about himself, as I have mentioned, is based largely on his feelings of being different from others. An essential part of this difference is his view of himself as an anti-sensualist (a view which the reader has always discredited on the basis of his descriptions of his students). But just after proposing to Frances, he discovers that he is in fact strongly attracted physically to her. As he confesses to the reader: “It appeared then, that I too was a sensualist in my temperate and fastidious way” (329). Crimsworth's acceptance of his own sexual nature is followed immediately by the attack of hypochondria. Apparently his righteous self-delusions do not die easily. It is appropriate that the attack is described as claustrophobic, and as sexual. Crimsworth is imprisoned by hypochondria, who has the bony arms of a death-cold concubine:

She had been my acquaintance, nay, my guest, once before in boyhood; I had entertained her at bed and board for a year; for that space of time I had her to myself in secret; she lay with me, she ate with me, she walked out with me, showing me nooks in woods, hollows in hills where we could sit together, and where she could drop her drear veil over me, and so hide sky and sun, grass and green tree; taking me entirely to her death-cold bosom, and holding me with arms of bone. …

I repulsed her as one would a dreaded and ghastly concubine coming to embitter a husband's heart towards his young bride; in vain; she kept her sway over me for that night and the next day, and eight succeeding days.


Crimsworth's amazement that the attack should come at this point in his life—“why did hypochondria accost me now?” (331)—is not shared by the reader. Having abandoned the safety of his clearly-defined self-image, he is bound to suffer greatly. Marriage to Frances (who is surely represented in part by the concubine) will of necessity involve psychic and physical realities which he has never before had to face.

If Crimsworth's pre-marital forebodings are complex, those of his new bride are even more so. During the early descriptions of their relationship, as I have noted, the reader continually senses that Crimsworth is not telling the entire story about Frances. Frances' behaviour strengthens this doubt. Perhaps the height of the reader's wonder about her comes in the remarkable scene when she meets Hunsden. Crimsworth takes a seat on the periphery of the room, thus characteristically removing himself and framing the participants in the spectacle. As he watches in supercilious amusement, his deferential, resigned, often vapid Frances suddenly becomes, as she converses with Hunsden, vital, daring, even sexual.

Animated by degrees, she began to change, just as a grave night-sky changes at the approach of sunrise: first it seemed as if her forehead cleared, then her eyes glittered, her features relaxed, and became quite mobile; her subdued complexion grew warm and transparent; to me, she now looked pretty; before, she had only looked ladylike.

She had many things to say to the Englishman just fresh from his island-country, and she urged him with an enthusiasm of curiosity, which ere long thawed Hunsden's reserve as fire thaws a congealed viper. I use this not very flattering comparison because he vividly reminded me of a snake waking from torpor, as he erected his tall form, reared his head, before a little declined, and putting back his hair from his broad Saxon forehead, showed unshaded the gleam of almost savage satire which his interlocutor's tone of eagerness and look of ardour had suffered at once to kindle in his soul and elicit from his eyes: he was himself, as Frances was herself, and in none but his own language would he now address her.


Strangely, Frances' metamorphosis into a person of warmth, relaxation, and beauty does not threaten the complacent Crimsworth. Neither does the vitality of Hunsden who, imaged as a snake who is tempted by Frances, both ironically undercuts the couple's allegedly invulnerable love and also foreshadows their peculiar future. The scene closes with two literary references, both of which serve a purpose similar to that of the passage above. First, a reference to Othello reinforces the delicate suggestions of a love (between Frances and Crimsworth) built on a shaky foundation. And second, Hunsden's Byronic farewell, and Frances' positive response to it, emphasize again the potential she has for stepping outside the rigid frame in which Crimsworth has enclosed her.

Throughout the Crimsworths' married life, Brontë continues her intimations that Frances' feelings differ from her husband's. What Crimsworth describes is his pleasure at Frances' continual deference to him, his pride in his own generosity (in allowing Frances to open her school), and his delight at playfully subduing her spirit when he “frequently dosed her with Wordsworth” (348). But though Frances' surface reactions may be just as Crimsworth sees them, they indicate, by now, a great deal more to the reader than they do to Crimsworth. Perhaps the clearest signals Brontë sends to the reader in the novel's final chapters come through the passages about young Victor. When Frances leaves Crimsworth's side to visit her sleeping baby, she “abandons” him. When Victor's dog Yorke is exposed to rabies, Crimsworth coldly shoots it, leaves the body for his young son to find, and then describes the entire scene with sanctimonious relish. As he turns away from Victor's grief, it is Frances who comforts their distraught child. And finally, when Crimsworth discusses his son's treatment at the hands of his gentle mother, we feel the full force of his puritanical rage:

though Frances will not make a milksop of her son, she will accustom him to a style of treatment, a forbearance, a congenial tenderness, he will meet with from none else. She sees, as I also see, a something in Victor's temper—a kind of electrical ardour and power—which emits, now and then, ominous sparks; Hunsden calls it his spirit, and says it should not be curbed. I call it the leaven of the offending Adam, and consider that it should be, if not whipped out of him, at least soundly disciplined; and that he will be cheap of any amount of either bodily or mental suffering which will ground him radically in the art of self-control … for that cloud on his bony brow—for that compression of his statuesque lips, the lad will some day get blows instead of blandishments—kicks instead of kisses; then for the fit of mute fury which will sicken his body and madden his soul; then for the ordeal of merited and salutary suffering, out of which he will come (I trust) a wiser and a better man.


Crimsworth contemplates his son's suffering with chilling complacency. Frances, though she hides it from her husband, clearly has an independent relationship with—and independent opinions on—the boy. Frances seems, then, to have the same wider vision at the end of the novel that she has had throughout. She evidently goes through the motions of living up to Crimsworth's happy ending—but were she to tell the story, we feel certain that her version would be vastly different.

If the relations of the three Crimsworths to each other are ambiguous at the end of the novel, the relations of all of them to Yorke Hunsden are even more so. Hunsden is a strange presence in the Crimsworth family; Hunsden Wood, with its “winding ways,” would seem to be a suggestive image of the tangled relations that may exist there. At several points, for instance, Crimsworth refers to the mutual affection between his son and Hunsden. Toward the end of the novel, he observes the two together:

I see him now; he stands by Hunsden, who is seated on the lawn under the beech; Hunsden's hand rests on the boy's collar, and he is instilling God knows what principles into his ear. … Victor has a preference for Hunsden, full as strong as I deem desirable, being considerably more potent, decided, and indiscriminating, than any I ever entertained for that personage myself.


As Crimsworth looks on at his son and Hunsden, apparently not deeply threatened when he witnesses their strong bond, we are reminded of the earlier scene in which he observed Hunsden and Frances with a similar complacency as they engaged in animated, almost sexually provocative, conversation. Earlier, Hunsden played the role of lover to Frances; in this scene, he would seem to be acting, at least metaphorically, as father to Victor. Indeed, the reader—accustomed by now to the alternative possibilities which lurk beneath Crimsworth's narrative—might even wonder whether the father-son relationship between Hunsden and Victor is only metaphorical. Perhaps, unbeknownst to Crimsworth, there is another family tree in Hunsden Wood in addition to his own. But whatever the actual relationships among Victor, Frances, and Hunsden may be—and no doubt we are not meant to be certain—Hunsden continues to be a dominant presence for all three members of the Crimsworth family. And, characteristically, Crimsworth continues to be oblivious to the complexities that surround him.

The moral universe of The Professor is decidedly postlapsarian. Crimsworth is the innocent of the novel; all the other characters are at home in a world of compromised ideals and limited expectations. Yet—realist that she was—Brontë does not castigate her characters for being less than perfect. It is Crimsworth's brand of innocence, which refuses to recognize the mixed state of humankind and retreats into complacency, that receives the sharpest blows. Only gradually does the reader realize that the novel's moral landscape borrows much of its dark tone from the short-sighted eyes through which it is perceived.


In the novel's final moments, Crimsworth stops framing pictures; instead, he paints one. Although he makes no explicit reference to the fourth picture in the gallery of his life, the final pages in fact represent its unveiling. Crimsworth's fourth picture completes his presentation of his autobiographical myth. He construes an image of his life at Daisy Lane as his final Eden—the family living in an unsullied region, in a “picturesque and not too spacious dwelling” (351), surrounded by roses and ivy. Having discovered, as he thinks, the pitfalls of artificial gardens24 and the snares of false delusions, he can now envisage his married life as the real paradise. In evoking his ostensible paradise, however, Crimsworth intensifies the dehumanizing natural images he has used throughout the novel's latter sections of his wife and son; they become birds, plants which he tends, or fruit. He had earlier enjoyed characterizing Frances to Hunsden as “an unique fruit, growing wild,” tantalizingly natural in contrast to his friend's “hot-house grapes” (313). Now, having transplanted Frances into a rural setting, he revels in the appropriateness of the pastoral life he has created for his “dove,” his “butterfly,” his “precious plant.”

Brontë's ironic manipulation of prelapsarian imagery did not begin with The Professor. In one of the earlier novelettes (Caroline Vernon, 1839), her unhappy heroine is banished to Eden-Cottage, near Fidena. For Caroline, the cottage becomes a prison; she flees from Eden into the unscrupulous arms of Zamorna.25 Though not so extreme a torture, Daisy Lane must be for Frances considerably less Edenic than it is for her husband.

The love between Frances and Crimsworth began with the teacher finding his lost student mourning her aunt's death in a cemetery. Leading her from the graveyard, Crimsworth saw himself as effecting a rebirth—a victory over the forces of poverty, death, and an antagonistic world. But after rescuing Frances from the walled-in cemetery, Crimsworth merely substitutes one enclosure—his doubtful Paradise—for another. The thought of Frances and her lifelong partner is unsettling; Brontë might have been describing a Crimsworth when she wrote to Ellen Nussey that “a man with a weak brain, chill affections and a strong will—is merely an intractable fiend—you can have no hold of him—you can never lead him right.”26 With a husband, then, whose illusions require great tact to maintain, a son whose equilibrium is constantly threatened, and the emphatic figure of the serpent-like Hunsden lurking about the “winding ways” of the forest, Frances must find life at Daisy Lane considerably less than spacious.

Such is not the case for Crimsworth. The final enclosure he creates—the pastoral life at Daisy Lane—fulfills his need for an autobiographical rationale as satisfactorily as have all his other techniques for containing experience. Virtually every critic who has written on The Professor has commented on Crimsworth's growth during the course of the novel.27 Yet Crimsworth has not changed essentially since the letter to Charles; only his situation is different. The ironic thrust of Crimsworth's success story is based upon the tension between worldly success and personal delusion. Crimsworth's need to superimpose his mental enclosures onto the world around him has resulted in appalling insensitivity. In the world of The Professor, innocence can be considerably darker than experience.

Midway through the novel, in a passage often used to characterize The Professor, Crimsworth states his opinion on the kinds of pictures novelists should paint:

Novelists should never allow themselves to weary of the study of real life. If they observed this duty conscientiously, they would give us fewer pictures chequered with vivid contrasts of light and shade. …


Brontë's success in giving us real life is achieved by means of Crimsworth's failure; in spite of himself, he manages nothing but a “golden halo of fiction” (299). As he ends his story, art appropriately catches up to life, and in fact overtakes it. Crimsworth writes his last page at the moment he lives it; the presence by his side of Frances, who is waiting tea for him, is as pleasant, he says, “as the perfume of the fresh hay and spicy flowers, as the glow of the westering sun, as the repose of the midsummer eve are to my senses” (359). We are not surprised to find Crimsworth so much more engaged in the appearance on his page than in the reality at his elbow. At the penultimate moment, as throughout the tale, art is more real to him than life. “But Hunsden comes.” As this familiar intruder forces his presence into the room which frames the family (“disturbing,” as Crimsworth writes, “two bees and a butterfly”), we note once again the instability of the autobiographer's smug portrait of blissful domesticity. Crimsworth's hackneyed ending, like all his autobiographical efforts, defeats its own purpose.


  1. See [Tom Winnifrith, The Brontës (New York: Collier, 1977)] p. 88.

  2. Quoted in [Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, ed. Alan Shelston (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1975)] p. 305.

  3. [The Brontës: Their Lives, Friendships & Correspondence in Four Volumes (Oxford: Shakespeare Head Press, 1932), hereafter as LFC] II, 161.

  4. Winnifrith, p. 101.

  5. W. A. Craik, The Brontë Novels (London: Methuen, 1968), p. 48.

  6. [Robert Martin, The Accents of Persuasion (London: Faber and Faber, 1966)] p. 34.

  7. Martin, p. 41.

  8. See, for example, the chapters on the novel in Winnifrith and [Lawrence Jay Dessner, The Homely Web of Truth: A Study of Charlotte Brontës Novels.

  9. See Margaret Blom, Charlotte Brontë, Twayne's English Authors Series (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977), p. 79.

  10. Winifred Gérin advances this argument quite explicitly. See Charlotte Brontë: The Evolution of Genius (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967), pp. 316-32.

  11. Quoted in [Roy Pascal, Design and Truth in Autobiography (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960)], p. 62.

  12. Winnifrith, p. 90.

  13. Charlotte Brontë, The Professor, ed. Phyllis Bentley (London: Collins, 1954), p. 299; hereafter cited in the text.

  14. See LFC, II, 161, for Brontë's comments to W. S. Williams about illustrating her novels: “… I hope no one will be at the trouble to make portraits of my characters.” Considering the intentional ambiguities in Brontë's conception of her characters, it is fortunate that drawings were not done; visual images would necessarily have oversimplified the characters. Smith, Elder and Co. honoured Brontë's wishes in their 1875 edition of the Life and Works of Charlotte Brontë and her Sisters: they illustrated only landscapes and houses.

  15. The notion of memories sealed in urns has at least two notable historical precedents which may have implications for Brontë's use. Sir Thomas Browne, in his “Urne-Buriall” (“Hydriotaphia,” in Sir Thomas Browne: The Major Works, ed. C. A. Patrides [Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1977], pp. 261-315), emphasized the vanity of earthly memorials and the futility of man's hopes for immortality by means of these memorials. And John Locke, in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (ed. Raymond Wilburn [London: Dent, 1947]), discussed, using the same image, the fallibility of memory: “Thus the ideas, as well as children, of our youth, often die before us: and our minds represent to us those tombs to which we are approaching; where, though the brass and marble remain, yet the inscriptions are effaced by time, and the imagery moulders away” (p. 56). Brontë's self-deluded autobiographers, all of whom bury and hope to resurrect their pasts, partake of both the vanity which Browne deplores and the faulty recollection of the past which Locke attributes to all men.

  16. Robert Martin sees the absence of further reference to the fourth picture as a flaw in the novel: “The author's red herrings succeed only in calling unproductive attention to herself and in distracting the reader from his involvement in the novel” (p. 38).

  17. Lawrence Dessner discusses Crimsworth's psychosexual impulses as they are manifested in a number of his relationships (pp. 49-63).

  18. Cynthia A. Linder, in her Romantic Imagery in the Novels of Charlotte Brontë (London: Macmillan, 1978), discusses Crimsworth's movement from Reuter's artificial garden to Daisy Lane's natural one (pp. 25ff.). In my opinion, Linder's discussion of this image and others neglects the novels' ironies. As I attempt to demonstrate, there are often discrepancies between the autobiographers' figurative purposes and the author's.

  19. F. T. Flahiff has suggested that the several references in the novel to things that are green (such as the doormat by Frances' flat and her carpet) allude to her possible promiscuity.

  20. Their Proper Sphere: A Study of the Brontë Sisters as Early-Victorian Female Novelists (London: Edward Arnold, 1966), p. 200.

  21. Martin, p. 40.

  22. Ewbank, p. 188.

  23. Pascal, Design and Truth in Autobiography, pp. 189-90.

  24. See Linder's discussion of nature imagery in the novel (pp. 29ff.).

  25. Charlotte Brontë, Five Novelettes: Passing Events, Julia, Mina Laury, Captain Henry Hastings, Caroline Vernon, ed. Winifred Gérin (London: The Folio Press, 1971).

  26. LFC, II, 136.

  27. For example, Tom Winnifrith, whose position on the question of Crimsworth's development is more cautious than most, argues that “Crimsworth is a pitiful creature at the beginning of the novel and is perhaps unduly complacent at the end, but at any rate, The Professor traces some pattern of spiritual growth” (p. 96). Elsewhere (p. 51) Winnifrith notes that the Crimsworth of Daisy Lane is much changed from his former self.

Further Reading

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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 Villette.

Butler, Janet. “Charlotte Brontë's Professor.Explicator 44, No. 3 (Spring 1986): 35-37.

Provides a brief discussion of the depression Crimsworth suffers in The Professor and contends that the “spectral woman” identified as “hypochondria,” or depression, is representative of sexuality that is never experienced.

McIntyre, Elizabeth. “Charlotte Brontë's New Corinne: Re-Reading The Professor.Victorian Newsletter, No. 85 (Spring 1994): 34-39.

Argues that The Professor is based more on Brontë's reading of Madame de Staël's Corinne (1807) than on Brontë's own life experiences in Brussels.

Morphet, Fiona. “Playing with The Professor.College Language Association Journal 37, No. 3 (March 1994): 348-57.

Maintains that The Professor creates “playful energies of exploration and discovery” and inspires students to develop critical evaluation skills rather than simply identifying with the story in a naïve manner or revering the well-respected author.

Additional coverage of Brontë's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors & Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 17; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1832-1890; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 21, 159, and 199; DISCovering Authors, Vol. 3; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-Studied Authors, Novelists, and Poets; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 8; and World Literature Criticism, 1500-Present.

Ruth D. Johnston (essay date 1989)

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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 is, literary and pictorial realism), a relationship which I also explore in my definition of realism, to which I now turn.

I regard temporal structure (which includes questions of enunciation and address) to be the fundamental feature of the nineteenth-century novel.1 Time in a realistic narrative is conceived as a continuous and consistent medium stretching to infinity, which means that the significant distinction is past vs. present. (Contrast the medieval notion of time as discontinuous and its corollary that meaning derives from the opposition between earthly time and eternity.) Realistic time is thus analogous on the one hand to the definition of space in the Renaissance perspective system and on the other to the conception of nature in Western scientific thought in the post-Renaissance era. Such art and such science belong to an empirical epistemology, which presents knowledge as a process occurring between an already-constituted subject and object and consisting in the extraction of an essence from the real object.2

This knowledge process depends on temporal and spatial consistency to support the empiricist/realistic notion of identity as cumulative. Any appearance of an object is understood as only partial, making it necessary to compare a whole series of views in order to detect which elements are repeated. The “sameness” that emerges from such an examination and that enables us to recognize a structure is an abstraction that constitutes the object's identity. Note further that subject and object are constituted in relation to one another insofar as successive views are compared in relation to a single, fixed viewpoint. In fact, subjectivity is a product of this system of representation.3 However, because the knowledge operation consists in the discrimination between the real (the essence) and the inessential (the purely accidental), a distinction which already exists in the structure of the real object, both the object and process of knowledge are thought to inhere in the real object. In short, what the empiricist concept of knowledge suppresses is the notion of knowledge as production (Althusser 36-38).

In literary realism, discovery of identity is actually recovery, for the process or temporal order to which a particular manifestation belongs can be apprehended only through the operation of memory, that is, retrospection. The identity of a person or object cannot be perceived immediately and independently but must be recognized through placement in the context of the whole system: memory must supply all the previous states which help to define that identity but which are not evident at present. In realistic narrative, memory operates on two levels: first, the characters' individual acts of recall, which are subordinated to/encompassed by the second level, the retrospection of the narrator. As a result, the narrative continuously superimposes two viewpoints insofar as every moment is shown as concrete, occurring in the “present” (of the characters), and simultaneously as part of a process that occurred in the narrator's past, which explains why literary realism presupposes past-tense narration.

The narrating consciousness in a realistic narrative, which determines the temporal relations among events as it records them in some unspecified future, is the analogue of the implied spectator whose vision coordinates all spatial relations within the frame in a three-dimensional painting. The location of the narrator/spectator/subject outside the diegesis insures the continuity of space and time as well as the validity of the system beyond the scope of the text. But the price of such uniformity is the subject's alienation from concrete existence; for the focus of this disembodied consciousness is not the particulars in themselves but their relationship. This definition of focus in turn clarifies the designation of realism as mimesis; for what is imitated is not the concrete object but the system to which it belongs. It is the perpetuation of a particular logic or organization that is at stake—retrospective narrative in the case of literature, geometrical perspective in the case of painting. Thus realism refers to a system that is self-reflexive.

It is precisely this empiricist concept of knowledge which supports realism that Lacan regards Freud as having transformed by a Copernican revolution. Lacan conceives of psychoanalysis as a theory of the subject and quite explicitly states that his notion of the subject both assumes and differs from the Cartesian subject of consciousness (Fundamental Concepts 44). His elaboration proceeds from a linguistic analysis of the cogito in which he distinguishes two levels—that of enunciation (the moment of speaking) and that of the statement. (The difference between these two levels corresponds to the distinction mentioned above between the narrator's discourse and the character's discourse in literary realism, with exceptions noted below.)

Even though the present-tense verb invites us to conflate the speaking subject (of the enunciation) and the subject in the statement or proposition, Lacan insists that the two levels of the “I think” are irreducible. His distinction makes it clear that the subject of consciousness (of empiricism) “who thinks he can accede to himself by designating himself in the statement” necessarily regards himself as an object (Écrits 315). In Lacan's reading, however, the cogito takes its place at the level of enunciation, and the subject is inscribed in the vibration between the two levels. That is, the pronoun “I” in the statement is a signifier which in linguistics is called a “shifter” because it is unstable; it refers only to a function at the moment of utterance. Since it can only “designate,” not “signify,” the speaking subject, that subject is therefore reduced to a “punctuality of being” (Écrits 298; Fundamental Concepts 140).

This fragility of being is pushed to the extreme in Lacan's theory and becomes the “fading” of the subject, which is bound up with its splitting: the first division involves the distinction of self and sign, which results in another division between conscious and unconscious processes in discourse (Fundamental Concepts 141). Consequently, Lacan re-writes Descartes's cogito as Freud's “Wo es war, soll Ich werden,” which he translates as follows: “I am not wherever I am the plaything of my thought [that is, on the statement level, where the ‘I’ is taken as object of thought by the subject of consciousness]; I think of what I am where I do not think to think [the unconscious]” (Écrits 166).

This “fading” of the subject thus implies a disjunction between knowledge and consciousness (Écrits 302) insofar as the unconscious discourse (the locus of knowledge) erupts in the gaps of conscious discourse. This interference introduces a pulsative (radically discontinuous) temporal dimension into psychoanalytic epistemology: as in realism/empiricism, the Freudian subject also emerges from “where it was,” but Lacan argues that the verb tense in Freud's “Wo es war” should not be taken as the aoristic but as “a distinct imperfect” which vascillates between “an extinction that is still glowing and a birth that is retarded,” from which the subject emerges as it disappears from what is said (Écrits 300). Lacan calls this flickering process a dialectic but emphatically distinguishes it from Hegelian dialectic, which remains caught in the “mirage of consciousness” (Écrits 126).

Not only does Lacan's linguistic analysis of the cogito suggest a rewriting of the narrative structure that organizes literary realism, but his alignment of the Cartesian subject (“which is itself a sort of geometrical point, a point of perspective” [Fundamental Concepts 86]) with the subject constituted in the Renaissance perspective system (which is monocular, addressed to one eye only) implies a re-writing of pictorial realism as well.

Lacan argues that this geometrical system is not concerned with vision per se but with the rationalization of space (Fundamental Concepts 94) in relation to which the conscious subject is reduced to a “punctiform object,” a “point of vanishing” (Fundamental Concepts 83). This geometrical dimension suggests the following empiricist schema of pictorial mimesis: I (the conscious subject of representation reduced to the punctiform from which perspective is grasped) am presented with an image beyond which is the object itself (Fundamental Concepts 106).

In this schema, what is elided in the illusion of consciousness—or seeing oneself see oneself—is the function of the gaze: the organization that governs the production, necessarily unconscious, of the subject in the visible (Fundamental Concepts 83). Therefore, in Lacan's rewriting, it is the subject that is turned into a picture or is “photo-graphed” (that is, inscribed in the visible). Thus Lacan superimposes on the empiricist schema another that inverts it in which the gaze (or point of light) is situated outside (in the place of the “beyond” of the object above) and determines the subject through the mediation of the screen (the mask that represents the subject in the visible and is situated in the place of the image in the schema above). The screen, unlike geometrical space, is not transparent but opaque. The gaze thus presents a play of light and opacity in which, if the subject figures at all, it is only as screen (Fundamental Concepts 96). In other words, Lacan locates the relation of appearance and being not between the image and the object as in the empiricist schema, but between the subject and the screen or mask. Mimesis in this sense can be compared with animal mimicry, which reveals that there is no “itself that is behind.” Rather, in mimicry there is only the effect of camouflage, which is “not a question of harmonizing with the background but, against a mottled background, of becoming mottled” (Fundamental Concepts 99). In Lacan's mimesis there is not a mastery but a subjection to the background.

Lacan's emphasis on the production of the subject in discourse is extremely important for feminist theory in general insofar as it posits sexual identity as a cultural/linguistic effect, not a biological/natural given. And his articulation of the question of subjectivity in relation to geometrical perspective and linguistic/fictional structures makes his work indispensable to the consideration of the operation of ideology in literary and pictorial texts. But his theory stalls precisely in accounting for the production of feminine subjectivity because of his assumption that the phallus—the “privileged signifier” of division in language—“inaugurates” the procedure in both sexes (Écrits 287, 288). More specifically, Lacan insists on the distinction between the penis and the phallus, even criticizing their equation as merely “an imaginary effect” that results in a crude reduction of sexual difference to a visible perception (which does not, however, prevent this “mystification” from becoming culturally normative). Nevertheless, for Lacan this “imaginary function of the phallus” becomes “the pivot of the symbolic process that completes in both sexes the questioning of the sex by the castration complex” (Écrits 198, Lacan's italics). That is to say, the symbolic process (in contrast to the imaginary process that posits one-to-one correlations between image and reality) puts sexuality per se in question insofar as it entails the recognition of the phallus qua signifier, which means a recognition that it has no natural referent, that its status is that of a mark: arbitrary. Henceforth two different relations to this signifier of lack—a lack in being and a lack in having—will distinguish the sexes.

The problem here is the double function of the phallus—as signifier of lack in both sexes and of sexual difference between them. Vis-à-vis the second function, what is missing from the account is an explanation of why the little girl imagines herself as castrated, or why she also equates the penis with the phallus and sees herself from a masculine perspective that is already installed at this supposedly “inaugural” moment. For clearly, this moment involves the interpretation of a sight, and elsewhere Lacan insists that the imaginary and symbolic orders are not sequential stages in the development of the subject but processes that operate synchronically, dialectically (Écrits 54, 55; also Fundamental Concepts 63). Yet here, Lacan treats this “imaginary effect” or “pivot” as a condition of the symbolic, an origin or given which defines difference as a natural perception. Applying his own terms to the account, we can say that he himself elides the gaze here, the production of difference in the visible. In so contradicting his own theory of the subject, Lacan reverts to the very empiricist/idealist ideology he is at such pains to criticize, thereby ironically completing his return to Freud by repeating the naturalization of the scene of castration in the essay “Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes.”

There Freud describes the little boy's knowledge as retrospective, hence deriving from a constructed, temporalized process:

… when a little boy catches sight of a girl's genital region, he begins by showing irresolution and lack of interest; he sees nothing or disowns what he has seen, he softens it down or looks about for expedients for bringing it into line with his expectations. It is not until later, when some threat of castration has obtained a hold upon him, that the observation becomes important to him: if he then recollects or repeats it, it arouses a terrible storm of emotion in him and forces him to believe in the reality of the threat which he has hitherto laughed at.

(187, italics mine)

Is this not “emotions recollected in tranquility”? That is, significance for the boy subject depends on the temporal separation of the look and the threat (castration), perception and consciousness. His understanding involves a retrospective interpretation or reading of events instead of immediate perception, much as in realistic art the visible figure is separate from its full meaning or identity.

The little girl, on the other hand, when she notices the penis of a brother or playmate “makes her judgement and her decision in a flash. She has seen it and knows that she is without it and wants to have it” (187-88).4 In contrast comprehension for the little girl apparently coincides with perception; her knowledge is described as immediate in the sense of unmediated, unconstructed. What this “immediacy” of vision glosses over is that the little girl in this scenario (necessarily) adopts a masculine perspective. The opposition retrospective/immediate sets up an illusory difference which in no way affects the interpretation of the sight; it merely obscures the circularity of the reasoning. For in the argument the only constructed vision or perspective is defined as masculine, and the little girl is “by nature” excluded from this structure of seeing, yet she sees exactly what the little boy sees, thereby grounding his constructed vision of her supposed inferiority in nature, in a sensory perception.

No wonder that in re-viewing the castration scene, Luce Irigaray argues that “the gaze is at stake from the outset” (Speculum 47), which in her view implies that the little girl's castration does not initiate the scene; rather, the scene accomplishes her castration by closing off the possibility of a different interpretation—of difference itself. For the little girl presents “the possibility of a nothing to see.” But instead of offering a challenge to an imaginary that privileges vision, her having nothing to see is defined “as her having nothing” (Speculum 48). In short, Irigaray questions not only why the little girl should see herself as a little boy, but also the predominance of vision over the other senses.

Notice too Irigaray's alignment of visual dominance with the imaginary, her insistence that the gaze is implicated from the “outset.” In another essay she associates the subject with the imaginary:

any theory of the subject has always been appropriated by the “masculine.” When she submits to (such a) theory, woman fails to realize that she is renouncing the specificity of her own relationship to the imaginary.

(Speculum 133)

Her argument is an indictment not of psychoanalytical theory as a whole but of its failure to investigate fully the implications of the theory, especially as regards the sexual determination of its discourse (This Sex 72-73). Irigaray specifically challenges Lacan's painstaking distinction between the imaginary order (which he associates with the ego or consciousness and its identifications) and the symbolic (the order of language, the unconscious, which determines the subject). Irigaray implies that the supposed difference between the two registers is illusory, that the theory does not begin to entertain the notion of heterogeneity, that it only offers more of the Same.

Her procedure entails a re-interpretation of the text that brings to the surface the complicity of the two orders “from the outset.” Thus Lacan describes the effects of the mirror stage, in which the infans accomplishes the discrimination of discrete form, as pre-sexual: he locates the agency of the ego, “before its social determination,” in a fictional direction that may approach but never coincide with the emergence of the subject (Écrits 2). Irigaray, on the other hand, argues that this ego is already socially determined as masculine insofar as the mirror stage marks the entry into the visible world, whose laws and values—symmetry, unity, identity—are alien and already exclusive of the feminine.

In other essays as well, Irigaray's procedure serves to reveal and to disrupt the dichotomies that serve to organize discourse in our culture, “including the one between enunciation and utterance,” precisely because (and in direct contradistinction to Lacan) it makes possible the organization of the subject in that discourse in terms of yet another “onto-theo-logical” dichotomy: the subject-object relation (This Sex 78, 79, 80).

As we have seen, these dichotomies are crucial to Lacan's rewriting of the Cartesian cogito; he insists that they are operative even though the use of the shifter and the present tense verb obscure their function, and he situates his subject in the difference between the oppositional terms. Compare Irigaray's response to the question “Are you a woman?,” which suggests how these dichotomies serve to reduce the idea of difference so that there is no place for the woman:

A man's question? I don't think a woman—unless she had been assimilated to masculine … models—would ask me that question.

Because “I” am not “I” [neither subject nor object, which means that quotation marks always surround the pronoun when the woman speaks], I am not [cannot exist in current discourse], I am not one [not one, coherent, identical, identifiable …]. As for woman try and find out … In any case, in this form, that of concept and of denomination, certainly not.

(This Sex 120)

Irigaray also interrogates linearity in reading, which although not in itself a dichotomy, similarly imposes a hierarchical organization upon the text. A consequence of phonetic writing, linearity organizes the text to move in a single, irreversible direction (which makes it “teleological”) and enforces the principle of non-contradiction by subordinating all the elements (the word, the utterance, the sentence, even the phoneme) to retroactive interpretation, which means that its temporality is that of consciousness, the very retrospection (founded upon the opposition past/present) that divides the perceptible from the intelligible (at least for the little boy in Freud's castration scenario).

To sum up, if Lacan's theory enables us to look for what is repressed in realistic systems of representation, namely the division/production of the subject in representation, Irigaray's interrogation of psychoanalytic theory suggests why that production is repressed: in order to obscure the procedures whereby difference is reduced to the masculine model.

It is in these terms that I will now attempt a re-reading of The Professor: to discover the narrative processes that constitute the subject and to discover how these processes render feminine subjectivity impossible.

The fact that the narrator of The Professor, William Crimsworth, is male is not in itself significant. Insofar as all of Brontë's novels are retrospective, all her narrators are designated as masculine in their relations to language and structures of knowledge, and their biological sex serves only to make these relations either explicit or implicit in the event of a shift in position. Initially, therefore, The Professor seems not unlike many other first-person nineteenth-century novels, aside from Brontë's, in which the doubling of mature and young perspectives of the protagonist is analogous to the more usual doubling of omniscient narrator's and protagonist's consciousnesses, for this temporal distance suffices to create an emotional distance that situates the narrator outside the fictional world in a position of control of the diegesis. In fact, this is so much the case in The Professor, at least on the surface, that Terry Eagleton argues that “it is really in a sense a third-person narration. Crimsworth delivers his success-story externally, judiciously, treating himself as an admirable object of his own narration” (77).

Such a description invites a comparison between Crimsworth and another male narrator who is (literally) present to himself as a third person, Henry Esmond. But what emerges from this juxtaposition is precisely that the great difference between the autobiographical narratives can be accounted for in terms of their very different temporal structures. For Esmond writes as if he had moved “outside of time.” He frequently states that young Esmond felt this way or remembered such a thing to the last day or last hour of his life.5 While it is true that by the end of his narrative Crimsworth distances himself from the action level to such an extent that the “evenings passed in that little parlor” with Frances resemble “a long string of rubies,” each gem “unvaried” (218), far more frequently in the novel, especially in the two middle sections, Crimsworth is literally and figuratively near-sighted, a deficiency which threatens his control over his own story. In these instances he can be said to assume a “feminine” position in relation to language and to knowledge. It is here where Crimsworth's biological sex comes into play, raising the question of the relation between biology and representation and making explicit the manner in which realistic narrative constitutes the “feminine” only as a deficient version of the masculine.

The connection between narrative control and the temporal structure is registered at the beginning of the Belgian section when William-narrator conceives of his autobiography as a series of four pictures hanging in the cell where he keeps his records, each representing a stage of his life. The last picture, which is draped, he may choose not to reveal. (But in saying so, he reveals that he has a choice; he displays his mastery.) He does, however, describe the three unveiled paintings, and each picture has a spatial perspective that corresponds to, is a metaphor for, the temporal structure that organizes the respective portion of William's narrative. The Eton picture, for instance, “is in far perspective, receding, diminutive” (45), which means that this part of his life is viewed from the mature narrator's temporally distant perspective and as such accords with the way his early youth is verbally represented in the letter to Charles which prefaces his narrative. Not only its status as preface and as letter, but also its texture sets it apart from the subsequent narrative. Thus while several critics, Charles Burkhart among them, call William's introductory letter “Charlotte's nod to the past, the earlier epistolary style of Richardson” (51), it is most un-Richardsonian because it becomes an instrument for strong control over the past via retrospection and summary rather than immediacy, as well as over the reader via extreme discretion, even disdain, rather than confidentiality.

The insufficiency of temporal distance and consequent lack of mastery which are more characteristic of the middle sections of the narrative are made evident in the second picture hanging in William's cell, which represents his life at X—. It is a picture of unmitigated lack of differentiation. It shows unrelieved bleakness in “a yellow sky, sooty clouds; no sun, no azure; the verdure of the suburbs blighted and sullied—a very dreary scene” (45). This picture also lacks any spatial perspective which figuratively places this stage temporally in relation to the narrator. Whereas the figures in the Eton picture are diminutive, here the canvas itself is “huge.” And there appears to be no retrospective filter through which its unmixed hues/emotional tones are recalled. Significantly, the description is merely a series of nouns and adjectives; there are no verbs here to express temporal relationships. (In contrast, William says the Eton picture “is in far perspective,” relating it to the narrator's time level, while his childhood “was not all sunshine,” the past tense serving to distance the events recorded in the pictorial representation.) Furthermore, besides being “huge,” the canvas of the X—picture itself is said to be “dingy,” “cracked and smoked” (45). Inasmuch as the canvas becomes part of the scene represented on it, the distinction between reality and its representation dissolves and along with it that between subject and object.

The third picture hanging in William's record chamber, this one of Belgium, complicates the relation of subject and object in another way by transforming the spectator into an auditor. No visual image of this landscape is provided; instead, William describes the emotions which the sound of the word “Belgium” evokes in him. The switch from the visual to the aural thus signals yet another model of retrospection, the evocation of the past as echo, which is more ephemeral and more immediate than any fixed visual representation, even one which collapses the distinction between object and image as the second picture does. Thus on the one hand, “Belgium” represents a past that is not so remote as Eton: it continues to affect the narrator emotionally, for he says, using the present tense, “whenever uttered has in my ear a sound, in my heart an echo, such as no other assemblage of syllables, however sweet or classic, can produce” (45, italics mine). And this sense of presence is reenforced by the use of such terms as “resurrection” and “ghosts” to designate these memories. On the other hand, insofar as the resurrection is tied to the sensation which evokes it, it defies permanent as well as definitive (pictorial or verbal) formulation, which impermanence William suggests when he laments the difficulty of articulating such emotions:

but while I gaze on their vapoury forms, and strive to ascertain definitely their outline, the sound which wakened them dies, and they sink … like a wreath of mist, absorbed in the mould, recalled to urns, resealed in monuments.


It is tempting to interpret this sound-picture as a model for a feminine signifying practice, not only because of William's positive response to it (in contrast to his negative attitude toward the second picture) but also because in some feminist theories feminine writing is described in terms of closeness to voice, which is a version of the supposed privileged relation between the woman and the pre-Oedipal phase. For the voice is conceived as the voice of the mother and in terms of proximity to the body, in opposition to vision, which creates distance. Hélène Cixous, for example, argues that women's privileged relation to the imaginary affords them a privileged (but not exclusive) relation to writing, which she associates with voice:

The Voice sings from a time before law, before the Symbolic took one's breath away and reappropriated it into language under its authority of separation.

(The Newly Born Woman 93)

Julia Kristeva furnishes an interesting counter-example: she substitutes the term semiotic for Lacan's imaginary and associates it with pre-Oedipal oral and anal processes whose articulation she designates the chora, a pulsative modality that precedes figuration and is analogous only to “vocal or kinetic rhythm” and which interacts with the symbolic in the signifying process (24-28). Kristeva, however, refuses to associate the semiotic specifically with the feminine on the grounds that such an identification defines the feminine as essence. She thereby pinpoints the problem with any idea of feminine writing such as the one advanced by Cixous. At the same time, Kristeva's own theory can be criticized because it fails to distinguish women's oppression from that of other marginal and dissident groups, as though the male avant-garde writers whom she always cites as her examples can represent the oppression of women, Blacks, the working class, and so forth.

In this connection, Mary Ann Doane's caveat that as a challenge to the existing hierarchical power structure of the senses investment in the voice risks recuperation either as some form of essentialism or as a form of romanticism is very apropos (“Voice in the Cinema” 48-49). And indeed, the model of retrospection offered in the third picture can be described as an evanescent revival of a Wordsworthian “picture of the mind.” As such it forms a sequence with the other two paintings that recapitulates in miniature the narrative tradition which Brontë inherited. The Eton picture designates a model of distant retrospection that evokes but exaggerates the narrative structures appropriated from spiritual autobiography (for example, by Defoe) to impose a providential pattern on the protagonist's experience; the picture of X—recalls Richardson's “writing to the moment” pushed to extreme limits. Like the other two pictures, the Wordsworthian model is also exaggerated so as to make explicit its procedures and assumptions.

For recall that Wordsworth's retrospective narratives are poems, which means that they imitate spoken rather than written discourse. (No doubt that is why we refer to the “narrator” as the “speaker.”)6 Accordingly, the poems actualize both the speaker and the instance of uttering more than other texts—specifying to a greater degree the speaker's intonation and gestures by means of meter, spacing, punctuation, typography, and particularizing the speaker's spatial and temporal location (as the realistic narrator's is not) as well as that of the person addressed (for example, the speaker's sister in “Tintern Abbey” as opposed to the unspecified reader of a realistic text)—all in an effort to create the illusion of presence.

But it is only an illusion, for the poet is not present, and the poem is not spoken but re-cited in accordance with written instructions furnished in the text. The illusion functions to suppress the operation of reproductive mechanisms that regulate sound (harmonize it, impose a rhythm on it, modulate the pitch) and govern its transformation into language. The reference to “echo” in connection with the third picture of Brontë's text, therefore, makes evident the hidden repetition to which sound is subjected in such recitation. As Irigaray observes, the echo is a re-presentation which presupposes a single speaker and depends on the intervention of neutral blanks and silences in order to permit “words and their repetition to be discriminated and separated out and framed”; in this doubling process, the hiatus divides the present from the past, which it defines “as a present which has taken place” (Speculum 257).

Applying this notion of echo to Wordsworth's poems (staying with “Tintern Abbey” as our exemplary model), we can say that the relation between the text or script and the speech act that it imitates, exactly duplicates the relationship within the poem between the speaker's memory and his past sensory perception, which he never re-captures, only re-constructs, although the poem creates the illusion of temporal continuity through superimposition—of the speaker's memory (“the picture of the mind”) and a revival of that picture on the one hand; of the speaker's current relation to the past and his sister's repetition of that relation in the future on the other hand. Superimposition is a device that depends on/insures the preservation of the distinction between past, present, and future in order to create the illusion of continuity between the speaker's present and past selves; it indicates the speaker's investment in an empiricist notion of identity. Hence romanticism can be regarded as a qualified form of realism.

In Brontë's text, on the other hand, the proximity articulated in terms of the perspectives organizing the middle two pictures is manifested in William's narrative account of these stages of his life as disruptions of the retrospective temporal structure. Although the narrative is related in past tense for the most part, the present tense being reserved to designate the narrator's time zone, certain other present-tense insertions close the temporal gap between protagonist and narrator and make it difficult to distinguish the two time zones. One such disruption occurs when William-narrator portrays some of his students at Mlle. Reuter's pensionnat. Incidentally, he calls these descriptions “sketches” taken from his portfolio, and in fact pictures are used throughout the narrative to objectify his consciousness of other characters. However, because these are portraits, the perspective system is not specified as it is in the landscapes cited above. Instead, he uses scientific discourse to set them at a distance: he calls them “specimens,” which he is careful to locate as to “genus” and “class.” Furthermore, the descriptions follow a deductive order, moving from placement in a class or country to more specific, individual traits, most of which are selected according to the principles of the science of phrenology. Despite the use of scientific discourse, however, the first sketch, that of Aurelia Koslow, is given in present tense, which might be rationalized by locating the “sketch” in the narrator's time zone. However, even the account of her habitual behavior in class, which follows the description, is given in present tense: “The moment I enter the room, she nudges her next neighbor and indulges in a half-suppressed laugh. As I take my seat on the estrade, she fixes her eye on me …” (85). It is difficult to account for the present tense here except as William-narrator's failure to subordinate the past to the present, in other words his immersion or absorption into/by the past, because in the parallel sketch of the second student, Adèle Dronsart, he uses past tense to describe her habitual behavior in class: “… when I looked along the row of young heads, my eye generally stopped at this of Adèle's; her gaze was ever waiting for mine; and it frequently succeeded in arresting it” (86-87). It is unnecessary to discuss his sketch of the third student, Juanna Trista, except to say that it is given entirely in the past tense and therefore resists correlation with either one of the patterns established by the first two sketches.

Because the narrator's perspective is so close to the protagonist's, indeed at times collapses into it, it is especially significant that within the diegesis William-protagonist also occasionally experiences difficulties in separating the object from its representation. His response to his mother's portrait on the occasion of Edward Crimsworth's birthday party registers just such a confusion. William's lack of introduction to any of the young ladies present at the celebration thwarts his desire to dance with them. So though “tantalised,”7 he instead seeks out his mother's picture and proceeds to relate to it in a manner that merges desire and identification, which is to say substitutes a narcissistic relationship that represents the unresolved masculine version of the Oedipus. Specifically, William recognizes that his “heart grew to the image” because it is “a softened and refined likeness” of himself. Interestingly, this Oedipal configuration is immediately balanced by the “feminine” version, for the narrator uses a simile that compares William's pleasure in looking at the portrait to that of fathers who find in their daughters' faces “their own similitude … flatteringly associated with softness of hue and delicacy of outline” (18).

Notice that both versions similarly align sexual difference with subject-object positions: the subject is always male (son or fathers), the object female (mother or daughters). On the other hand, a reversal in the subject/object opposition insofar as it refers to genealogy is suggested by the transposition of generations (offspring looks at parent; parents look at offspring), which not only subverts chronology but further implies, since the offspring is the image of the parent and vice-versa, that neither is the original. Moreover, insofar as the figure compares biological and artistic modes of reproduction, it also blurs the distinction between reality and its representation: the mother's portrait and real daughters are equated in that they evoke similar responses. But since the fathers and daughters are part of a simile, they exist only figuratively in contrast to the “reality” of William and his mother's picture. In Lacan's terms, the experience may therefore be said to belong to the Imaginary register. But in this imaginary, sexual difference is already operative in that feminine subjectivity is foreclosed regardless of the inversions that occur.

If the mother's portrait is a sort of mirror image because William both desires and identifies with it and so implicitly jeopardizes his subject position, when he literally looks in the mirror, he sees himself quite specifically as an object of desire. On his way to his first interview with Mlle. Reuter he says,

I remember very well that before quitting my chamber, I held a brief debate with myself as to whether I should change my ordinary attire for something smarter. At last I concluded it would be a waste of labour. … And off I started, cursorily glancing sideways as I passed the toilet-table, surmounted by a looking glass: a thin, irregular face I saw with sunk, dark eyes under a large, square forehead, complexion destitute of bloom or attraction; something young, but not youthful, no object to win a lady's love, no butt for the shafts of Cupid.

(65, italics mine)

William is here relating to himself as women habitually relate to themselves. He is seeing himself as someone else would see him, while he identifies with the object. And this position occurs “at the cost of [his]self being split into two.”8 At the same time, the fact that there is a literal mirror in this instance and that he is literally (biologically) male makes explicit (1) that his designation as “feminine” is purely a construction of the process of looking and refers only to a position in relation to the image; (2) that the position is constructed in negative terms as the forfeit of subjectivity. Both these “mirror images” are, moreover, significant as analogues within the diegesis to William-narrator's project of writing his autobiography, a literary exercise that is conventionally described as looking at oneself to paint a self-portrait.

The passages above suggest a problematic relation to the symbolic order, hence to signifying systems. This dis-ease accounts for the distrust of language registered in a number of ways throughout the narrative. First, Brontë's characters use an idiom which may be described as highly formal, oratorical, or dramatic. These extremities of language suggest how the characters must strain to imbue speech with emotional tones that ordinary words lack.

The narrator as well as the protagonists finds ordinary language inadequate to articulate the feelings and attitudes he wishes to describe. Frequently he inserts self-conscious explanations about his choice of words which call attention to the process of writing. Furthermore, a tension marks the estrangement of the narrator from his language. This tension is revealed in the violent metaphors and the tendency to describe things by their opposites, that is, negatively (Kroeber 191). For instance, Chapter 19 opens with a rejection of extremes of emotion as inappropriate in a realistic representation: if novelists conscientiously studied real life, says the narrator, “they would give us fewer pictures chequered with vivid contrasts of light and shade …” (140). Despite this prescription, the narrator proceeds to specify what will be excluded, precisely those agonies of men “who have plunged like beasts into sensual indulgence,” who then are “wrung together with pain, stamped into the churchyard sod by the inexorable hell of despair.” Moreover, these agonies are not discernably less intense than the pain of “the man of regular life and rational mind,” described in paragraph 2 in terms of “acute pain” which “racks him,” “writhing limbs,” Death which “roots up and tears violently away” what he loves. In short, extremes of emotion are presented (negatively) even as they are overtly rejected. This incomplete sublimation makes evident the contradictions that are ordinarily rationalized in the realistic text, which in turn exposes realism as a homogenizing process.

Another signal of the distrust of language consists in the use of phrenology and physiognomy, which constitutes an attempt to transform physical characteristics into fixed signs indicating inner qualities, giving access to the reality hidden beneath the surface appearance, which is seen as a disguise. Even in the classroom context, which disposes of social, economic, and class roles, outward behavior provides no clear index of true motives. For instance, Pelet is discovered to hide his “flint or steel under an external covering of velvet” (58). And even William's professorial role is a mask which disguises his own vulnerability and lack of confidence in his relations with his students. Thus he acts (in both senses of the word) quite haughty and contemptuous on his first day in M. Pelet's school because his French is not quite good enough to go into lengthy explanations at this point (52-53). One might say that his students' latent rebelliousness and lack of interest in their studies force William to assume such a mask. Yet he also wears the “garb of austerity” in dealing with Frances, his eager and beloved pupil, to “cloak” a “kindness as mute as watchful” (131). William's sternness, therefore, is not a simple deception; it defies consistent interpretation.9 Hence the use of these two sciences in physical description is an attempt to objectify inherent mental qualities and bypass the surface manifestation of ordinary intercourse, in short, to pin down meaning.

Yet the antagonism towards language within the novel goes even further: finally, the characters resort to nonverbal communication as the most direct and truthful. While words often disguise true motives, the body, especially the eye, speaks for those who can read. For example, in the exchange between Hunsden and William following the latter's loss of position, William refuses to express in words his gratitude to Hunsden for precipitating a confrontation with William's brother, Edward. William perversely pretends that Hunsden has lost him the job he wanted. But,

I could not repress a half-smile as I said this. …

“Oh! I see!” said he, looking into my eyes, and it was evident he did see right down to my heart.


William and Mlle. Reuter also communicate through eye language. After his first class she asks him about the three unruly girls who sit in the front row. His words are dismissive, and she ceases to question him,

but her eye—… showed she was even with me; it let out a momentary gleam, which said plainly, “Be as close as you like, I am not dependent on your candour; what you would conceal I already know.”


And, of course, such non-verbal communication occurs throughout the novel between William and Frances, who begin to speak eye language immediately when William reads the appeal in Frances's eye to dictate more slowly on her first day in class (107).

Note that in each of these instances the characters may bypass the word through the exchange of looks, but insofar as William-narrator translates such exchanges, the narrative discourse does not similarly eschew verbalization. The recourse to eye language, then, merely exaggerates and thereby reveals the gap that always divides the perceptible (the characters' actions) from the intelligible (the narrator's interpretation) in the realistic text. However, just because that gap is so obvious here, the translation that spans it appears farfetched: just how does a “momentary gleam” say all that? Certainly not “plainly.” Again, the strain put upon the translation process exposes it qua process (as does the recourse to a fixed code of interpretation in the case of physiognomy).

On other occasions, however, the text offers no interpretation; it just registers. Examples include William's mysterious bout of hypochondria following his marriage proposal to Frances and the strange wrestling match that William and Hunsden engage in upon leaving Frances's house after Hunsden's first meeting with her. Critics repeatedly complain about the irrelevance of the hypochondria to the plot (see Martin 40; Ewbank 188). Even Crimsworth asks, “Why did hypochondria accost me now?” (203). But the incident's significance derives precisely from this irrelevance: it indicates the existence of material so complex and contradictory that it defies rationalization by the narrative discourse. So does the second incident. True, the struggle occurs in part as a result of William's having misled Hunsden about Frances's supposed social inferiority. During their meeting Hunsden has learned the enormous insufficiency of her description as a mere lacemender. (In other words, the physical struggle is sparked by a statement that is literally accurate.) However, this explanation of the incident is no more adequate than the description of Frances that ostensibly prompts it. After all, the two men end up rolling over the pavement: their conflict is too fierce to be regarded as a mere response to William's teasing. Moreover, William “grappled [Hunsden] round the waist” (215), which means that however fierce, the struggle is also an embrace.10 Neither incident, then, is thoroughly integrated into the narrative. Consequently, the text forces the reader as well to strain against the limits of discourse in an attempt to apprehend these strange relationships, even at the risk of alienating him/her. Eagleton's criticism of Crimsworth's defiance of the reader makes it clear that this risk is not negligible:

Not even the reader must be allowed to slip under his guard; and this is why in reading his narrative we have the exasperated sense that he is telling us only what he wants us to know … he treats the reader with something like the stiff, wary circumspection with which he handles Mdlle. Reuter.


I do not happen to share Eagleton's exasperation because for me this defiance is a mode of interrogating certain dominant narrative conventions. And the antagonism to language expressed by the violent metaphors, the negative presentation of characters and events, the use of phrenology and physiognomy, and the attempt to replace speech with extra-verbal communication ultimately ties in with the use of pictures, especially the portrait, throughout the narrative to designate material (that is, undischarged emotion) which cannot be contained by the narrative discourse or accommodated by the plot. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, writing on melodrama, has suggested an analogy between eruptions of such excesses in the narrative text and the

mechanisms of “conversion hysteria”: in hysteria, the energy discharged by an idea that has been repressed is displaced onto the bodily symptom. The hysterical moment of the melodramatic text, which otherwise adheres to the principles of realistic representation, occurs at precisely those points where the displacement of emotion ruptures the realistic conventions.


Now the notion of the hysterical text is particularly interesting in light of the classic correlation between hysteria and femininity, which requires further elaboration at this point. Recent feminist theory demonstrates that the hysterical character is merely an exaggeration of the feminine norm, that the case histories of Anna O. and Dora simply present extreme pathological versions of that norm. Freud himself suggested as much: “In a whole series of cases the hysterical neurosis is nothing but an excessive overaccentuation of the typical wave of repression through which the masculine type of sexuality is removed and the woman emerges” (“Hysterical Attacks” 157).

The reason for the correlation between hysteria and femininity is the twofold prohibition imposed on the woman. Like the little boy, she must give up the mother to accommodate a third person, but this renunciation is problematic for her because she can neither substitute the father as the object of her desire nor identify with him. The either/or opposition is transformed in her case into a neither/nor, and she is twice barred from assuming the position of subject of desire. (The little boy's Oedipal itinerary, on the other hand, enables him to exchange his passive relation to the mother for the possibility of a different, active kind of sexual pleasure.) The hysterical symptom can be viewed, then, as an effect on the woman of this double-bind situation because as a sign, the symptom bypasses consciousness and ordinary language as it registers on the body the clash between the impulse to signify desire and the multiple cultural injunctions that block her access to the place and means of its articulation (Freud, “Hysterical Phantasies” 150).

It is tempting to consider this symptom as an alternative mode of signifying in view of the fact that the “cure” for hysteria is talking—the translation of unconscious wish into conscious discourse. However, insofar as such translation forces the hysteric to assume a position that conforms more closely to the culturally defined norms, certain distortions accompany the conscious articulation of the wish, which indicate that the hysteric is more the victim than the perpetrator of the “duplicity” that characterizes the hysteric's discourse. More specifically, the commonly reported scenarios of seduction by the father, which Freud only later identified as “the expression of the typical Oedipus complex in women” (“Femininity” 106), transpose fantasy into fact and invert the subject-object relation through the use of the passive voice so that her desire for the father is transformed into her seduction by him (Laplanche 33-34). It is only through recourse to such distortion that desires so socially unacceptable can surface in consciousness (which, incidentally, clarifies why Crimsworth's Oedipal relation to his mother's portrait is explicitly compared to fathers' pleasures in looking at their daughters). Thus the talking cure may alleviate the symptom but does not at all address the cultural imperatives that precipitated the disease in the first place. As Freud explained to his patients, he could help them only to transform their “hysterical misery into common unhappiness” (Studies on Hysteria 305).

For this reason, it is quite interesting that in so many cases of hysteria the treatment was not completed.11 The instance of Dora is just the most famous of these. Peggy Kamuf argues that although Freud regarded this patient's abrupt termination of the sessions as an act of revenge designed to rob him of satisfaction in the success of his therapeutic efforts, it is possible, if we view the interruption from Dora's perspective, to see it as a protest or resistance to the submissive silence and passivity she could anticipate as the effect of her total cure and return to the norm (55).

Of course, this is mere speculation with regard to Dora, since in fact her perspective is not represented in Freud's case history. But it raises the issue of whether and how we can regard the hysterical symptom as a form of protest. Just what kind of resistance does it offer? Not a refusal of normative “feminine” identity in favor of some “other” sexuality, as perhaps Freud's references to the hysteric's bisexuality imply (see “Hysterical Phantasies” 150, 151). For the only “other” option offered by bisexuality is identification with a masculine position (as in the explanation of Dora's homosexual love for Frau K).

Resistance should rather be understood in the sense of questioning the interpretation that is imposed on the symptom, interrogating the ideology of the interpretation (Irigaray, This Sex 137). This means interrogating sexual identity per se by retraversing the history of the “feminine” subject as represented by the hysterical symptom, which Freud called a “memory symbol” because its particular form corresponds to some detail of the repressed phantasy (“Hysterical Phantasies” 149). An investigation of the relation between symptom and memory in Freudian theory might then be brought to bear on the analysis of a retrospective narrative like The Professor.

Freud observed that the correlation between the symptom and the repressed phantasy becomes obscured through the symptom's

representing several phantasies simultaneously by means of the same material, that is, through condensation. … The phantasies thus made to coincide are often of quite different kinds, for instance, a recent wish and the re-activation of an infantile impression. …

(“Hysterical Attacks” 153-54)

Also, symptoms can have several meanings in succession (Dora 70).

No wonder, then, that Freud found hysterics incapable of producing precise histories of their illness: their memories left gaps; connections remained incoherent; the sequence of events was uncertain. He regarded this impaired memory as “a necessary correlate of the symptoms and one which is theoretically requisite” (Dora 32, Freud's italics). He further maintained that the talking cure was designed to restore the memory:

It is only towards the end of the treatment that we have before us an intelligible, consistent, and unbroken case history. Whereas the practical aim of the treatment is to remove all possible symptoms and to replace them by conscious thoughts, we may regard it as a second and theoretical aim to repair all damages to the patient's memory. These two aims are coincident. When one is reached, so is the other; and the same path leads to them both.12

(Dora 32)

But, in fact, this promise of total recall is never realized first of all because the pre-Oedipal phase of mother-attachment, deemed critical to the account of the hysteric's bisexuality, “has in analysis seemed … so elusive, lost in a past so dim and shadowy, so hard to resuscitate, that it seemed as if it had undergone some specially inexorable repression.” This phase has been obscured insofar as the women Freud has analyzed “have been able to cling on to that very father-attachment in which they took refuge from the early phase,” rendering insight into the pre-Oedipus phase “comparable in another field with the effect of the discovery of the Minoan-Mycenaean civilization behind that of Greece” (“Female Sexuality” 195, 196). Actually, the emphasis on the archaic quality of the relation to the mother is just a decoy. For the phase is not problematic simply or primarily for that reason. (As Irigaray demonstrates, the pre-Oedipal phase is already sexually inflected to privilege the masculine model.) Moreover, Freud fails to distinguish the connection between the phase and the etiology of hysteria from the relation of all women to the phase of mother-attachment. Thus his assertion that “both the phase and the neurosis … are characteristically feminine” (“Female Sexuality” 196) merely implies that all women are hysterical by some inherent predisposition: it explains nothing.

As for that relatively more accessible father attachment, it too resists total recall because it is not exempt from the operation of Nachträglichkeit or deferred action, even if Freud seems to repress its function in the quotation above which promises complete restoration of memory. As Laplanche and Pontalis remark, the English translation of the term is somewhat misleading. The term does not refer to the intervention of a time-lapse between stimulus and response but to a reworking or revision of psychic material at a later time and therefore to a complex temporal logic which undermines the linear determinism implicit in any straightforward narration of events (Language of Psycho-analysis 112-14). The notion is described in a number of Freud's texts, but it receives one of its fullest elaborations in the 1895 “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” where it is associated with Freud's formulation of the concept of trauma as part of his seduction theory, which is also a theory of repression.

According to the theory, the symptom refers to an experience that was never present, not only because the existence of so many instances of actual seduction is doubtful, but also, and more importantly, because only the memory of the scene or event gives rise to the affect.13 More specifically, in the “Project” Freud recounts two scenes brought to light in the analysis of a hysteric he calls Emma. In the earlier scene an adult (a shopkeeper) makes a sexual overture to the eight-year-old child, which she does not understand. (Hence the scene is not sexual for her.) The second scene, which is nonsexual but bears some incidental resemblance to the first (two shop assistants laugh at her clothes), activates the memory of the earlier scene, now understood because she has reached puberty in the interval. On this occasion she experiences a sexual release, which turns into anxiety and which is followed by her totally forgetting (repressing) the first scene. Freud writes,

it is a highly noteworthy fact that [the sexual release] was not linked to the assault when it was actually experienced. Here we have an instance of a memory exciting an affect which it had not excited as an experience, because in the meantime changes produced by puberty had made possible a new understanding of what was remembered.

Now this case is typical of repression in hysteria. We invariably find that memory is repressed which has only become a trauma after the event.

(Origins 413, Freud's italics)

In other words, the notion of deferred action means that trauma cannot be located in a specific event because it is suspended between two temporally separated events as well as two registers of meaning: perception and consciousness. Freud thus assumes a psychical apparatus structured by a process of stratification, which renders any linear conception of causality untenable.14 Trauma, therefore, does not refer to the cause of the symptom in the form of a simple experience; rather, it is the after-affect of a process of interpretation. In short, Nachträglichkeit puts in question the primacy of event over significance (in the case of Emma, sexual meaning must be available to her in order for her to experience sexual release); indeed, it subverts the very idea of original event or primal scene.

The “Project,” therefore, rules out any simple causal association of hysterical symptom with the pre-Oedipus (in the sense of pre-sexual) because it undermines the notion of simple causal relations on the one hand and specifies the hysterical symptom as the deferred effect of a seduction scenario on the other. It is perhaps significant that at the time of writing the “Project” Freud had not yet identified such seduction scenes with the feminine Oedipus complex nor predicated the special significance of an archaic relation of the daughter to the mother. Possibly because his theory of feminine sexuality was not at stake, he was able to elaborate the knowledge process that constitutes the feminine subject.

Interestingly, it is the very same retrospective procedure that produces castration anxiety in the little boy (for example, in the castration scene described in “Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes”) and marks his entry into the symbolic order and consciousness. It is this process which constructs the feminine subject as hysteric, which is to say impossible, because for her it is primarily a process of repression. The difference between his consciousness and access to language and her repression can be aligned with two different notions of cause in these scenes. Recall that in the castration scenario a cause is designated in the form of a sight that inaugurates the boy's castration anxiety; but in the hysteria scenario delineated in the “Project,” the cause is missing insofar as trauma is conceived as a relation between events: trauma is not the cause but the effect of consciousness.

For Lacan the significance of this absence of cause in trauma is that it reveals the function of the real in relation to the symbolic as encounter “in so far as it is essentially the missed encounter,” that is, as that which is “unassimilable.” Lacan thus conceives of the real as “en souffrance,” a phrase that means “pending” or “in abeyance” as well as “in pain.” Hence Lacan's definition of the real as “impossible” (Fundamental Concepts 55-56). Thus Lacan detaches the significance of trauma from the hysteria scenario and generalizes its application, which is to say that he assimilates the concept of trauma to the masculine model. (Significantly, most of his references are to the traumatic primal scene elaborated in the Wolfman case history.)

For Irigaray, on the other hand, hysteria is not displaced by the “real” in general as the “privileged place for preserving—but ‘in latency,’ ‘in sufferance’—that which does not speak” (This Sex 136). Nor does she overlook the crucial distinction between the castration and hysteria scenarios; for her, the absence of cause in the latter indicates that the woman's relationship to the origin has been appropriated, the hysteria scenario thereafter being “condemned as so many ‘bad’ copies or gross caricatures of a ‘good,’ and valuable and valid, relationship to origin” (Speculum 60). For Irigaray it is feminine sexuality, not some generalized “real,” that is “impossible”: she demonstrates not that Lacan is ultimately wrong about the significance of trauma in the hysteria scenario but how, once again, he overlooks the sexual determination of that scene.

In this context, the hysterical moment in the text, specifically The Professor, clearly does not refer to the “return of the repressed” in the sense of a feminine essence that emerges in the content or a specifically feminine signifying practice that correlates with a particular literary form. Rather, the hysterical moment refers to those knots which cannot be comprehended by the realistic narrative system, which resist assimilation to consciousness and which therefore render totalization impossible. Invoking the logic whereby the exception proves the rule, the moment of hysterical rupture exposes the self-reflexive processes of realistic representation as processes that foreclose feminine subjectivity.

Surely it is not necessary to rehearse at this point the various strategies noted in the analysis of The Professor that bring to the surface the sexual determination of its procedures—the collapse of the oppositions whose implicit hierarchical organization insures the continuity of time, of space, of identity; the presentation of material that cannot be accommodated by the narrative discourse, and so on. But there is one aspect of the process that does require another word: the resistance of the reader.

The reader's function is crucial in realistic representation: all the reflexive structures within the text function to perpetuate the system by re-producing the same model of subjectivity—the masculine model. The reader is that subject. But what kind of subject/reader is constituted in The Professor? The reader, no less than the characters, becomes temporally disoriented on those occasions when the use of the present tense makes it difficult to discriminate past from present, narrator from protagonist.

Furthermore, in this novel the reader is denied omniscience first of all because his/her knowledge is subject to the limitations and fallibilities of Crimsworth's experience and memory. Of course, those limits apply to all autobiographical narrators (which is why there can be no simple correlation between narrative form and gender), but Crimsworth seems more unable than most to provide a smooth history (for example, the hypochondria incident). Secondly, this limitation is not strictly just a matter of the narrator's fallible memory and circumscribed experience: it also involves the reader's alienation. For the narrator's deliberate withholding of information keeps the reader at bay. Thus the identification mechanisms, which realism so heavily depends upon for the perpetuation of ideology and which can sometimes offer a distinct pleasure to compensate for the reader's limited access to knowledge, are here disrupted.

Disoriented, denied knowledge, denied identification—the reader's access to subjectivity is thus twice barred in this text. The reader's resistance to this foreclosure (evident, for example, in the harsh criticism leveled at the novel as noted above) is the measure of his/her determination by precisely those procedures in other, more realistic, representations. Paradoxically, then, the hysterical text alienates the reader only to implicate him/her more fully in the process of representation—especially its operation in other texts and contexts. For finally, the hysterical text shatters the frame that seals off the text and renders it an aesthetic object. The hysterical text reveals representation as the site of ideological/sexual conflict and production of the subject.


  1. My summary account of the premises of realism is based on Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth's excellent book-length study of the subject in Realism and Consensus in the English Novel, esp. 5, 10, 33-34.

  2. This broad definition of empiricism, elaborated by Louis Althusser, includes Cartesian rationalism, eighteenth-century sensualist empiricism, and Hegelian idealism; despite differences in the status of the subject and the object which account for the formal differences among these philosophical strands, the basic structure remains the same: these variants all confuse the object of knowledge with the real object, whether through the conceptualization of the real as the result of thought (as in Hegel's speculative idealism) or through the reduction of thought about the real to the real itself (as in empiricist idealism) (Althusser 35).

  3. In contrast, works of art that are not similarly arranged by a single, fixed viewpoint, for example Chinese or medieval painting, represent the essential qualities of objects as discrete from one another. Since form and position are not relative but absolute, such systems force the perceiver to relate to the various objects in the field individually yet simultaneously, thus producing at best a fragmented, discontinuous subjectivity.

  4. My analysis of this essay is indebted to Mary Ann Doane's discussion of it in “Film and the Masquerade,” 79.

  5. See J. Hillis Miller 21, 22 for a discussion of temporal distance between protagonist and narrator in Henry Esmond.

  6. My discussion of Wordsworth assumes Barbara Herrnstein Smith's elaboration of mimesis in poetry.

  7. The word “tantalise” appears in the text (17) and explicitly defines William's difficulty in expressing desire as a matter of the distance imposed by vision. The word means “to torment with the sight of something desired but out of reach.” The distance between William and the young ladies is too great for him to negotiate; he can relate only to objects that are close, like the portrait of his mother.

  8. In addition to this specific quotation (46) I am indebted to John Berger's entire chapter in Ways of Seeing on the European tradition of nude painting and the conventions by which women are seen as spectacles appealing to masculine spectators.

  9. This resistance to interpretation is precisely why the function of the mask (elaborated in Lacan's schema of the subject's determination in the visible by the gaze) corresponds to the function of the pronoun “I” in the verbal field. The inconsistency of meaning is also what distinguishes the subject's mask from the animal's camouflage in animal mimicry (Fundamental Concepts 107).

  10. Recall that the dreaded hypochondria also embraces William, “taking [him] entirely to her death-cold bosom, and holding [him] with arms of bone” (202).

  11. In his Letter to Wilhelm Fliess (21 September 1897) Freud complained of “the continual disappointment of my attempts to bring my analyses to a real conclusion, the running away of people who for a time had seemed my most favorably inclined patients …” (Origins of Psychoanalysis 215).

  12. The account of the treatment of Anna O. describes more specifically how a controlled form of retrospection is being substituted for a hysterical representation of the memory (although the case history fails to report that this treatment was incomplete, that it was followed by Ann's hysterical pregnancy):

    Each individual symptom in this complicated case was taken separately in hand; all the occasions on which it had appeared were described in reverse order, starting before the time when the patient became bed-ridden and going back to the event which had led to its first appearance. When this had been described the symptom was permanently removed.

    (Studies on Hysteria 35)

  13. Jean Laplanche, Life and Death in Psycho-analysis, 40. I am indebted to Chapter 2 as a whole for my account of Freud's seduction theory.

  14. In a letter to Fliess (6 December 1896) Freud described this process of stratification:

    the material present in the shape of memory traces is from time to time subjected to rearrangement in accordance with fresh circumstances—is, as it were, transcribed. Thus, what is essentially new in my theory is the thesis that memory is present not once but several times over, that is registered in various species of “signs.”

    (Origins of Psychoanalysis 173)

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis and Etienne Balibar. Reading Capital. Trans. Ben Brewster. London: New Left Books, 1970.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: BBC & Penguin, 1972.

Brontë, Charlotte. The Professor. London & New York: Dent & Dutton, 1910.

Burkhart, Charles. Charlotte Brontë: A Psycho-Sexual Study of Her Novels. London: Gollancz, 1973.

Cixous, Hélène and Catherine Clement. The Newly Born Woman. Trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

Doane, Mary Ann. “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator.” Screen 23 (Sept./Oct. 1982): 74-88.

———. “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space.” Yale French Studies 60 (1980): 33-50.

Eagleton, Terry. Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975.

Ermarth, Elizabeth Deeds. Realism and Consensus in the English Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Ewbank, Inga-Stina. Their Proper Sphere: A Study of the Brontë Sisters as Early Victorian Novelists. London: Arnold, 1966.

Freud, Sigmund. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Collier, 1963.

———. “Female Sexuality.” Sexuality and the Psychology of Love. Ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Collier, 1963.

———. “Femininity.” New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1965.

———. “General Remarks on Hysterical Attacks” (1909). Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Collier, 1963.

———. “Hysterical Phantasies and their Relation to Bisexuality” (1908). Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Collier, 1963.

———. The Origins of Psychoanalysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts and Notes: 1887-1902. Trans. Eric Mosbacher and James Strachey. New York: Basic Books, 1954.

———. “Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes.” Sexuality and the Psychology of Love. Ed. Philip Rieff. New York: Collier, 1963.

———, and Joseph Breuer. Studies on Hysteria: Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. Trans. James Strachey et al. Vol. 2. London: Hogarth, 1955.

Irigaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.

———. This Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Kamuf, Peggy. Fictions of Desire: Disclosures of Héloise. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

Kroeber, Karl. Styles in Fictional Structure: The Art of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1977.

———. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1977.

Laplanche, Jean. Life and Death in Psycho-analysis. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

———, and J.-B. Pontalis. The Language of Psycho-analysis. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Norton, 1973.

Martin, Robert B. The Accents of Persuasion: Charlotte Brontë's Novels. London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

Miller, J. Hillis. The Form of Victorian Fiction: Thackeray, Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot, Meredith, and Hardy. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. “Minelli and Melodrama.” Screen 18 (Summer 1977): 113-18.

Smith, Barbara Herrnstein. “Poetry as Fiction.” New Literary History 2 (Winter 1971): 259-81.

Heather Glen (essay date 1989)

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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: ‘[it] is disfigured by more coarseness—& profanity in quoting texts of Scripture disagreeably than in any of her other works’. On its first publication, an anonymous reviewer in the Athenaeum found that ‘the impression left on the reader’ was ‘one of pain and incompleteness’: subsequent critics have concurred in finding it the least satisfactory and certainly the least attractive of Charlotte Brontë's novels. The usual explanation is that this novel is merely a piece of prentice-work, written before its author found her mature fictional voice. Thus, early reviewers—indeed, Charlotte Brontë's publisher himself—saw The Professor as an abortive draft of Villette, cruder, clumsier, less finished. More recent critics have taken up this theme, often tracing the novel's ‘flaws’ to the fact that it is the only one of Charlotte Brontë's published works to adopt the point of view of a male narrator. The similarity between the main events of Crimsworth's story—the journey to Brussels to become a teacher, the struggle for economic independence, the longed-for love affair between master and pupil—and some of the facts of Charlotte Brontë's life has led them to see The Professor as a rather clumsy fictionalization of autobiographical concerns—concerns to which Charlotte Brontë later gave more successful expression through the female voices of Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe.

Yet Charlotte Brontë herself did not see it thus. In December 1847, two months after the publication of Jane Eyre, she replied to her publisher's request for a second, serial novel with the suggestion that she should ‘recast’ The Professor:

the middle and latter portion of the work, all that relates to Brussels, the Belgian school etc. is as good as I can write; it contains more pith, more substance, more reality, in my judgment, than much of Jane Eyre. It gives, I think, a new view of a grade, an occupation, and a class of characters—all very common-place, very insignificant in themselves, but not more so than the materials composing that portion of Jane Eyre which seems to please most generally—.

For several years after she had become a famous, indeed, a best-selling novelist, she continued to work over the manuscript with a view to publication. She drafted two prefaces. And when, in February 1851, her publishers Smith, Elder & Co. for a third time responded unenthusiastically, she humorously but definitively refused their suggestion that they take custody of the manuscript, and once again spoke up for her much rejected work:

of course my feelings towards it can only be paralleled by those of a doting parent towards an idiot child. Its merit—I plainly perceive—will never be owned by anybody but Mr Williams and me; very particular and unique must be our penetration, and I think highly of us both accordingly. You may allege that that merit is not visible to the naked eye. Granted; but the smaller the commodity—the more inestimable its value.

It seems unlikely that the novelist who had written, only six months before (in reply to the critics who had seen Wuthering Heights as ‘an earlier and ruder attempt of the same pen which had produced Jane Eyre’), that ‘that writer who could attempt to palm off an inferior and immature production under cover of one successful effort, must indeed be unduly eager after the secondary and sordid result of authorship, and pitiably indifferent to its true and honourable meed’1 should thus re-work and defend and endeavour to publish a novel that she herself regarded as immature, or as superseded by her own later achievement.

Was this merely authorial partiality? Is The Professor the assured and achieved work of art that Charlotte Brontë believed it to be? Or is it of interest today merely because it is a relatively unknown work by a major and much loved novelist? In this introduction I wish to argue that the charge of ‘unpleasantness’ that has so often been brought against this novel provides a more important clue to its nature than does the patronizing judgement that dismisses it as an immature failure. For much in The Professor that appears ‘unpleasant’ is in fact significant: part of a coherent imaginative interrogation of values and assumptions, which Charlotte Brontë is often assumed to have shared.

It is, perhaps, worth considering how The Professor would have appeared to early Victorian readers had it been published in 1846, when Charlotte Brontë first submitted it, and not as it appeared from the perspective provided by those later, more obviously compelling works, Jane Eyre and Villette, and by that most haunting of literary biographies, Mrs Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë. For to see The Professor simply as an earlier (or, as Terry Eagleton has argued, a ‘more dishonest and idealized’) version of Villette, or as a clumsy attempt to explore its author's own experiences through the awkward disguise of a male narrator, is essentially to fail to see the kind of thing it is. In one respect, at least, it is very different from Villette. For it is offered to the reader less as the confessional autobiography of a peculiar individual than as a fictional example of a quite distinct and influential contemporary genre—that of the exemplary biography of the self-made man. Such lives, usually in shorter versions, would have been very familiar by the middle years of the 1840s. In 1829 the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge had launched its Library of Entertaining Knowledge with the publication of George Lillie Craik's The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties, a compendium of biographies of scientists, scholars, engineers and inventors, intended to serve as models for those without birth or connections who wished to make their way in the world. Craik's volume went into several editions (one re-cast ‘with female examples’) in the 1830s and 1840s, and was well known enough to be mocked by Thackeray in Vanity Fair (Chapter 37). Similar ‘lives’ quickly become popular in periodicals such as Chamber's Edinburgh Journal and the Penny Magazine. It was not until 1859 that the genre reached its peak, with the publication of the phenomenally best-selling Self-Help by one of Craik's more admiring readers, Samuel Smiles. But the origins of Self-Help lay in the 1840s. The lectures that formed the basis of that classic were first delivered to a young men's mutual improvement society in Leeds in 1845—the year following that in which the Brontë sisters, only a few miles away, had produced the prospectus for the boarding-school that they had hoped would make them independent, and the year in which, very probably, Charlotte Brontë began to write this novel.

Many features of Charlotte Brontë's narrative may be paralleled in the writing of Smiles and his precursors. The commitment to sober realism announced in her preface—‘I said to myself that my hero should work his way through life as I had seen real living men work theirs’—reads like a description of their subject-matter: ‘the ordinary business and pursuits of common life … examples of conduct and character drawn from reading, observation and experience’. Like the heroes of Craik and Smiles, of Chamber's Journal and the Penny Magazine, her Crimsworth succeeds not because of birth or good fortune but despite handicaps, and through his own unaided efforts. The values he invokes are the classic values of the Self-Help tradition—industry and perseverance, self-reliance and independence, self-respect and self-control. And his story—the story of a young man who must make his own way in the world, who labours first as a clerk and then as a school-master, who works his way up until he owns his own school, and in the process makes a suitable marriage (rejecting a less prudent sexual adventure)—seems to be one in which those virtues are demonstrated and vindicated. When one sets it within this context, The Professor seems less a clumsy attempt to hide its author's ‘real’, feminine concerns behind the mask of a male narrator than a fictional imitation of a genre that (despite Craik's ‘female examples’) was overwhelmingly masculine.

Yet, unlike the classics of that genre, it failed—and has continued to fail—to win popularity. For, as generations of readers have noted, there is something oddly disagreeable, even repellent, about Crimsworth's story. It seems altogether more disturbing than one might expect of a simple tale of obstacles surmounted and victory won—full of suggestions of a barely suppressed violence, a peculiarly sadistic sexuality. And Crimsworth himself is a more disquieting character than the heroes of the Self-Help tradition—anxiously watchful, coolly domineering, a prey to ‘Hypochondria’. There seems to be a curious disjunction between his own self-image, of independence and success, and the overall effect of his narrative.

One way of accounting for this has been to cite Charlotte Brontë's inexperience as a novelist, the uncertainty she must have felt in the use of the masculine voice. Yet the reality, I think, is altogether more interesting than this. And here, once again, her preface provides a clue. For in the opening sentence of that preface she takes pains to deny that this is in any way ‘a first attempt’, and announces that ‘the pen which wrote it had been previously worn a good deal in a practice of some years’. And if one turns to what survives of that ‘practice’, to the extraordinary body of childhood and adolescent writings that were her contribution to the Brontë children's shared fantasy world, one sees a kind of literary experimentation which dispels the notion that the author of The Professor was an inexperienced amateur, clumsily seeking expression for her own personal concerns. For fifteen years before she came to write this novel, Charlotte Brontë had been playing with different kinds of narrative voice. The majority of her early stories are told from the points of view of male narrators, narrators who are themselves often seen with a highly sophisticated irony. A favourite, for instance, is Lord Charles Wellesley, a bombastic but uncertain, cynical but vulnerable, world-weary would-be Byronic hero: even as he swaggers and postures, his pretensions are exposed and mocked and his insecurities revealed. The voice of the first person in these tales is not simply one of special pleading, but is itself objectified and questioned. From a very early age, Charlotte Brontë seems to have been using the male narrator not as a ‘disguise’ but as a means of exploring the logic and the limitations of a particular kind of contemporary masculine stance.

To look at The Professor from the perspective provided by these writings is to begin to see a novel rather different from the awkward piece of prentice-work it has often been taken to be. The oddities of Crimsworth's narrative cannot, it seems, be attributed simply to Charlotte Brontë's inexperience in handling the masculine voice. Rather, they appear to be part of an astute and highly critical exploration of the nature and the implications of the existential stance he exemplifies—that existential stance which in mid-Victorian England was enshrined and celebrated in the tradition of Self-Help.

The first chapter of The Professor consists of a letter, which, the narrator explains, was ‘sent by me a year since to an old school acquaintance’; thereafter, the epistolary form is abruptly abandoned for a straight first-person narrative. But this apparent false start does not seem to be the result of authorial ineptness. For its effect is distinctive and powerful; and it is reinforced and elaborated in the novel that follows. We learn at the end of the first chapter that no answer to this letter was ever received; that by the time it arrived, its intended recipient had departed the country: ‘What has become of him since, I know not.’ The confidence and intimacy usually assumed by the first-person form thus receives a curious check at the outset of this narrative. Crimsworth announces, at the end of the chapter, that he will now ‘dedicate’ his tale to ‘the public at large’: but the opening image of the unreceived and unanswered letter to the now-vanished friend remains as a pendant to the rest. And as one examines the novel more closely, this seems less an awkward incongruity than an exact and ironic pointer to the import of the whole.

For the world that is introduced in this opening chapter is one in which there seems to be no possibility of positive human interaction at all. The first paragraph of Crimsworth's letter recalls and reconstructs the relation between himself and his friend in a prose whose insistent negativism suggests not expressive interrelation but unceasing defensive opposition:

What animal magnetism drew thee and me together I know not; certainly I never experienced anything of the Pylades and Orestes sentiment for you, and I have reason to believe that you, on your part, were equally free from all romantic regard to me … your sardonic coldness did not move me. I felt myself superior to that check then as I do now.

(p. 39)

‘I felt myself superior … then as … now’: the assertion of an unchanging and antagonistically ‘superior’ self against the threat that even a friendly other presents prefigures what is to follow. This, in a sense, is what this curious and chilling narrative of self-help is. And the final image, of separation and dead end, points towards some of the most peculiar features of that narrative.

From the very beginning, Crimsworth's story is framed in imagery of opposition, of antipathy, of rejection and resistance. The marked negativism of the prose is accompanied by a constant emphasis on refusal and denial: ‘his daughters, all of whom I greatly dislike’, ‘I declined both the Church and matrimony’, ‘I had had no thoughts of the sort’, ‘I do not think that my turn of mind qualifies me to make a good tradesman’, ‘my uncles did not remonstrate; they and I parted with mutual disgust’, ‘a resolution no more to take bread from hands which had refused to minister to the necessities of my dying mother’, ‘an irreparable breach’, ‘I repressed all—even mental comment on his note’, ‘I anticipated no overflowings of fraternal tenderness’, ‘my refusal of their proposals will, I fancy, operate as a barrier against all future intercourse’. These quotations are taken from the opening pages of the novel, but they are entirely characteristic of the whole. Not merely the narrator but all whom he meets habitually oppose, reject, repulse, resist, deny. Even supposedly non-hostile encounters are portrayed in terms of opposition and combat, from the first glimpse of Crimsworth's brother and his wife—‘she chid him, half playfully, half poutingly, for being late … Mr Crimsworth soon checked her animated scolding with a kiss … She and Edward talked much, always in a vein of playful contention …’ (p. 45, my italics)—to the closing portrait of the relation between Crimsworth and his son. The world of the novel is one in which awareness of difference leads not to interaction but to antagonism, rejection, separation. ‘Once convinced’, says Crimsworth, ‘that my friend's disposition is incompatible with my own, once assured that he is indelibly stained with certain defects obnoxious to my principles and I dissolve the connection.’ Teaching is a battle: the task of the teacher is not to respond to her pupils but ‘to enter into conflict with this foreign will to endeavour to bend it into subjection to her own’. And the pupils thus confronted are ‘marked by a point-blank disregard of all forbearance towards each other or their teachers; an eager pursuit by each individual of her own interest and convenience; and a coarse indifference to the interest and convenience of every one else’.

Even the courtship between Frances and Crimsworth is imaged as a struggle for power. Thus, when he praises her work she appears to him not gratified but ‘triumphant’—a triumph that he feels impelled to check by ‘reproof’. The scene of his proposal to her is marked by a barely suppressed violence. He holds her in ‘a somewhat ruthless grasp’ and insists that she speaks his language rather than hers: she, for her part, is ‘as stirless in her happiness as a mouse in its terror’. And the moment in which the marriage ‘compact’ is ‘framed’ and ‘sealed’ is a moment not of intercommunion, or even of emotional expressiveness, but one that confirms the fundamental separateness of each:

she and I were silent, nor was our silence brief. Frances' thoughts, during this interval, I know not, nor did I attempt to guess them; I was not occupied in searching her countenance, nor in otherwise troubling her composure. The peace I felt, I wished her to feel; my arm, it is true, still detained her; but with a restraint that was gentle enough, so long as no opposition tightened it. My gaze was on the red fire; my heart was measuring its own content; it sounded and sounded, and found the depth fathomless.

(p. 249)

The only ‘peace’ that Crimsworth can offer is one of relief from his ‘troubling’ attention. His ‘content’ is a private treasure, to be reckoned and hoarded up within himself.

Again and again, and in a variety of ways, the novel emphasizes the absence of anything like positive feeling for others within the world projected by Crimsworth's narrative. Where such feeling is envisaged, its nature is suggested by the word that is several times applied to it—‘forbearance’: it is seen as depending on the suppression, rather than the expression, of impulse. Throughout the novel, rare moments of accord are marked by comments such as ‘I agreed with him, but did not say so’, ‘I put no obstacle in her way.’ Good will is either so arbitrary, so inexplicable, as to appear to be a kind of perversity (Hunsden's assistance to Crimsworth is presented thus), or it is part of the universal, self-interested struggle to maintain ‘the advantage’ (M. Vandenhuten assists Crimsworth because he is desirous of ‘discharging the obligation under which he affirmed I had laid him’). Such concord between individuals as there is seems simply an extension of egotism. Crimsworth and his wife, Frances, become a joint financial and educational enterprise; she describes patriotism approvingly as that which ‘spreads man's selfishness in wider circles’. The pervasive image of human relations is of conflict or, at best, friction between self-defensive and self-seeking individuals.

Yet if there is little positive interaction between them, the people in this world are far from impervious to one another. One and all watch each other continually. Charlotte Brontë's carefully structured prose—very different from the colourless prose of the self-help narratives—charts a pervasive process not merely of aggressive opposition but of constant mutual surveillance. Almost as prominent in the novel as its imagery of antagonism is its imagery of looking and being looked at. The account that Crimsworth gives of his employment as a clerk is in fact an account of others' attempts to find him out (the taskmaster's watchfulness, his brother's inquiries, his landlady's speculations, Hunsden's curiosity) and his own efforts to evade them: ‘I was guarded by three faculties—Caution, Tact, Observation; and prowling and prying as was Edward's malignity, it could never baffle the lynx-eyes of these, my natural sentinels.’ The school to which he goes is a place of staring eyes—‘when I glanced around, behold all the boarders … were congregated within a yard or two of my desk, and stood staring with eyes and mouths wide open’—in which his central strategy is to watch more sharply and from a more ‘commanding’ position than they. ‘I carefully and deliberately made these observations before allowing myself to take one glance at the benches before me … I found myself cool enough to admit of looking calmly up and gazing deliberately about me.’ Interaction with others is a process of watching and counter-watching. Thus, Crimsworth's power struggle with Mlle Reuter begins with looks—‘Her look of affright I answered with one of composure’—and continues in the same manner:

her eye, fastened on my face, demanded of every feature the meaning of my changed and careless manner. ‘I will give her an answer,’ thought I; and, meeting her gaze full, arresting, fixing her glance, I shot into her eyes, from my own, a look, where there was no respect, no love, no tenderness, no gallantry.

(p. 142)

And his ‘war’ with the students is conducted in similar terms: ‘I found pleasure in answering the glance of vanity with the gaze of stoicism.’

But, more often, looking appears less as a mode than as a refusal of interaction. Again and again, at moments when another threatens in some way to impinge upon Crimsworth, that other is turned into an object of observation. Thus, as the ‘disgust’ inspired by his brother threatens his self-composure,

I looked at him: I measured his robust frame and powerful proportions; I saw my own reflection in the mirror over the mantelpiece; I amused myself with comparing the two pictures … As an animal, Edward excelled me far; should he prove as paramount in mind as in person I must be a slave … his cold, avaricious eye, his stern, forbidding manner told me he would not spare.

(p. 49)

The interview in which Hunsden challenges his efforts to become a tradesman stirs him deeply; but instead of betraying himself to this other he employs himself in ‘a rapid scrutiny of his physiognomy’, reading the signs of character in his face and lineaments. When Hunsden appears unexpectedly in his room in Belgium, his first act—even before speaking to his visitor—is to polish his spectacles and examine the other's ‘mien and countenance’: ‘I was sitting in the window-seat, with my back to the light, and I had him vis-à-vis: a position he would much rather have had reversed; for, at any time, he preferred scrutinizing to being scrutinized.’ ‘Her gaze was ever waiting for mine, and it frequently succeeded in arresting it,’ he says of Adèle, his ‘Gorgon-like’ pupil: but rather than allowing himself to be petrified by that gaze, he turns the face before him into an object of physiognomical observation—‘Suspicion, sullen ill-temper were on her forehead, vicious propensities in her eye, envy and panther-like deceit about her mouth.’

The objectifying language of physiognomy recurs throughout the novel. Even, or especially, when Crimsworth is moved by passion, this is his strategy. Admitting that he is ‘on the brink of falling in love’ with the fascinating Mlle Reuter, he decides to renew his ‘observations’ of her, and marvels at ‘how calm she is under scrutiny’: he spies on her, secretly, from the vantage-point of the window whose unboarding he has requested. Such imagery reaches its climax in his account of his developing relation with his future wife. At first she appears as a shadowy figure, of whom ‘I never had more than a passing glimpse … consequently I had no opportunity of studying her character, or even of observing her person much’; then she becomes a physiognomical specimen, whose ‘sentiments’ he attempts to ‘decipher in her countenance’. She looks at him; and his response is to scrutinize her—‘I saw the new pupil was puzzled at first … once or twice she looked at me with a sort of painful solicitude … She looked at me; her eye said most plainly, “I cannot follow you”’—and to turn away when communication is threatened—‘I disregarded the appeal.’ And these preliminaries are succeeded by a series of scenes in which Crimsworth spies on Frances, watching her grief in the cemetery, ‘eavesdropping’ on her landing before their marriage, observing her first encounter with Hunsden from ‘my position [from which] I could see them both’, following and watching as she bids her son goodnight years afterwards.

This imagery of looking and being looked at runs throughout the novel, chillingly replacing any more intimate conception of human interaction. And it points not merely to a peculiar strategy of the individual, Crimsworth, but to the essential nature of the world through which he moves. In an extraordinarily precise and consistent way, Charlotte Brontë seems to be exposing and articulating the logic of a whole society—a society whose essential dynamics are the same as those that Jeremy Bentham had sought to enshrine and objectify in his great plan for a ‘Panopticon’ some fifty years before. The Panopticon, it will be recalled, was an exemplary institution—a school or a madhouse, a factory or a prison—in which the inmates would be completely separated from one another within individual cells, and in which each would be clearly visible from a central inspection tower. It thus provides a peculiarly exact architectural image for those strategies of control through observation, through objectification of the other, that seem to dominate Crimsworth's world of individualistic achievement. As Michel Foucault, arguing for the centrality of such strategies in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century French and English society, puts it: ‘The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen.’2 This principle is evident, of course, in the institutions depicted in this novel: in Edward's factory counting-house with its vigilant ‘taskmaster’, in the schoolroom with its disciplinary surveillance. But, as her ‘autobiographical’ form suggests, Charlotte Brontë is not primarily concerned with institutions. Rather, with an often quite chilling acuteness, she charts the operation of such strategies in the most intimate recesses of the personality. And, in doing so, she exposes their disquieting implications.

The fundamental assumption of Crimsworth's narrative—an assumption embedded in that informing imagery of controlling observation—is the primacy of the antagonistic individual perspective, a perspective opposed to rather than shaped or modified by that of others. And, as Charlotte Brontë carefully shows, the individual who defines himself thus is a problematic entity. For even the most ordinary situations in this avowedly ‘plain and homely’ novel are charged, in Crimsworth's telling, with a peculiar tension. Thus he describes his first day as a clerk in his brother's counting-house:

A sentiment of keen pleasure accompanied this first effort to earn my own living—a sentiment neither poisoned nor weakened by the presence of the taskmaster, who stood and watched me for some time as I wrote. I thought he was trying to read my character, but I felt as secure against his scrutiny as if I had had on a casque with the visor down—or rather I showed him my countenance with the confidence that one would show an unlearned man a letter written in Greek; he might see lines, and trace characters, but he could make nothing of them; my nature was not his nature, and its signs were to him like the words of an unknown tongue. Ere long he turned away abruptly, as if baffled, and left the counting-house …

(p. 53)

Ostensibly, the moment is one of some satisfaction; of ‘keen pleasure’, even of victory. Yet that ‘keen pleasure’—a pleasure less in the employment itself than in the fact that it is an ‘effort’ to become self-subsistent—is scarcely admitted before it seems to be threatened by the only other present, the watching ‘taskmaster’. Thus, even positive feeling takes on the character of an antagonism—‘neither poisoned nor weakened’. The taskmaster becomes first an enemy whose ‘scrutiny’ is like a military threat; and then an inferior, an ‘unlearned man’ who cannot read the signs of the speaker's nature. The self in this encounter is hidden, defended, watching but indecipherable; and the confrontation ends, like most confrontations in this novel, with an abrupt turning away.

Yet if Crimsworth asserts his impregnable superiority, the prose registers an altogether more disquieting state of affairs. For the paragraph and the chapter end not with an account of the narrator's feelings, or of the work he pursues in such superior isolation (such as might be expected if the novel were to take his own view of himself, of his ‘pleasure’ and ‘security’), but with an almost obsessive concentration on the actions of the antagonistic other in this scene:

he returned to it but twice in the course of that day; each time he mixed and swallowed a glass of brandy-and-water, the materials for making which he extracted from a cupboard on one side of the fireplace; having glanced at my translations—he could read both French and German—he went out again in silence.

(pp. 53-4)

The embattled, defensive self has shrunk to a mere watching point of consciousness; more concerned, it seems, with that which threatens it than with its own activity. And the next chapter begins as this ends, with a description of the efforts of those about to find him out:

Mr Crimsworth watched sharply for defects, but found none; he set Timothy Steighton, his favourite and head man, to watch also. Tim was baffled … Mr Crimsworth made inquiries as to how I lived, whether I got into debt … Mr Crimsworth employed Tim to find out whether my landlady had any complaint to make on the score of my morals; she answered that she believed I was a very religious man, and asked Tim, in her turn, if he thought I had any intention of going into the Church some day …

(p. 55)

The essential drama has become not the development of, or even the choices facing, the self, but the activity of these others and the strategies of the self to evade them.

What we see in this passage we see in the novel as a whole. Crimsworth's story, on one level a tale of self-respect vindicated, of self-sufficiency affirmed and rewarded, of individual success, is on another level—one that is carefully articulated through syntax, through imagery, through narrative structure—a tale not of triumphant achievement but of thwarting and conflict, not of security arrived at but of continuing and irresolvable unease. It is a tale not of competence and independence but of a self unable to change the world through which it moves and antagonistically bound to that which it would reject. And if it is a tale of ‘self-control’, it is one in which ‘self-control’ is exposed as a process of radical, indeed violent, self-division.

Thus, as Crimsworth sits in self-contained silence, awaiting his first meeting with his brother Edward and anticipating (he avows) ‘no overflowings of fraternal tenderness’, his hand—‘so utterly a stranger to the grasp of a kindred hand’—clenches itself ‘to repress the tremor with which impatience would fain have shaken it’. Thus, on the morning after his discovery of the liaison between Mlle Reuter and M. Pelet, he has to rise at dawn and take a cold bath before he can greet the latter with ‘an unchanged and tranquil countenance’, without betraying ‘the sense of insult and treachery [which] lived in me like a kindling though as yet smothered coal’. Thus, Mlle Reuter, disappointed in her attraction to Crimsworth, adopts a demeanour towards him that is ‘deficient neither in dignity nor propriety’; but her former feelings have not disappeared. ‘Decorum now repressed, and Policy masked it, but Opportunity would be too strong for either of these—Temptation would shiver their restraints.’ The emphasis is less on the surface of propriety and indifference than on the processes of repression and denial by which it is produced.

In one way, the negation of impulse appears as an assertion of choice and control. Thus Crimsworth, the penniless foreigner, discovering that the woman he desires is secretly ‘affianced’ to his employer, adopts a position of lordly self-restraint. ‘I had no intention of getting up a scene with M. Pelet, reproaching him with perfidy, sending him a challenge, or performing other gambadoes of the sort.’ To reject and deny is to exercise power—over one's actions, over one's feelings, over others. It is the primary assertion of individual separateness; that which enables a public mask to be different from the private self. Yet, as Freud has famously argued, and as the example just given demonstrates, the use of the negative exposes a self-division that is the reverse of ‘integrity’, or individual wholeness: to deny an intention is to reveal its unconscious presence. In literature, alone among the arts, that which is negated can be given its full imaginative weight. And here, in this novel dominated by negatives, Charlotte Brontë exploits this fact to striking effect. The repeated use of the negative, here and throughout Crimsworth's narrative, gives a peculiar fictional life to that whole seething drama of denied impulse that it is the function of ‘self-control’ to conceal. Thus, Mlle Reuter presents an impassive façade to the world:

she said nothing, and her face and forehead, clothed with a mask of purely negative expression, were as blank of comment as her lips. As neither surprise, pleasure, approbation, nor interest were evinced in her countenance, so no more were disdain, envy, annoyance, weariness.

(p. 177)

But the effect of this description is the reverse of quiescent. The reader is invited to entertain and reject a whole succession of conflicting impulses; and Mlle Reuter appears less as a coherent individual than as a mass of warring and suppressed potentialities. Thus Hunsden rebukes Crimsworth's apparent passivity:

‘What are you then? You sit at that desk in Crimsworth's counting-house day by day and week by week, scraping with a pen on paper, just like an automaton; you never get up; you never say you are tired; you never ask for a holiday; you never take change or relaxation; you give way to no excess of an evening; you neither keep wild company, nor indulge in strong drink.’

(p. 67)

And the sequence of negatives opens up a series of rejected possibilities, enacting in miniature that strategy of denial, of repression of impulse and refusal of expressiveness through which Crimsworth defines and maintains his social identity. It is not simply that he has a series of violent impulses that he restrains. In the peculiar centrifugal prose of his story, self itself appears to be held together by violence.

And if ‘integrity’ is thus imaginatively questioned, so too is that other cornerstone of the Self-Help tradition, the desired end of individual ‘independence’. For Crimsworth, as for those about him, self-reliance—not being in any way dependent on, or indebted to, others—is not merely the key to success: it is essential to his whole mode of being. The words that he uses to describe this ideal state—key-words of early Victorian economic individualism—carry this resonance within them. To be economically self-sufficient is to have a ‘competency’—not merely enough to live on but also the capacity to act, the power to be. To have an income is to have ‘an independency’—not just money but freedom and autonomy as well. When Crimsworth is penniless, his plight presents itself in both economic and existential terms as ‘a pang of mortification at the humility of my position, and the inadequacy of my means; while with that pang was born a strong desire to do more, earn more, be more, possess more’ (my italics). Yet within the world he describes, economic self-sufficiency depends, paradoxically, on self-denial:

as it had ever been abhorrent to my nature to ask pecuniary assistance, I had early acquired habits of self-denying economy; husbanding my monthly allowance with anxious care, in order to obviate the danger of being forced, in some moment of future exigency, to beg additional aid.

(p. 55)

The image is less one of freedom and autonomy than of anxious defence against constantly present threat. Analogously, on an existential plane, the self whose mode of existence is one of rejection and denial is the reverse of expressively self-actualizing or freely self-determining. For far more powerfully present than that which it is, or does, is that which it is not, or cannot, or will not do. The repeated entertainment of denied possibility by which Crimsworth's narrative proceeds does not merely challenge his own self-image of ‘straight integrity’: it complicates the onward thrust of his story with a constant, undertowing awareness of energies choked off and repressed. And the negatives and denials by which he defines himself produce a sense of self as neither separate nor superior but as inextricably bound to that which it seeks to reject. The ‘independent’ individual appears as ineluctably social, the product of a whole constellation of active, antagonistic relationships.

The contradiction around which Charlotte Brontë's imagination is working and the sharpness with which she realizes it in this novel might perhaps be focused by considering the ways in which she plays upon the opposing meanings of a single word: that ‘propriety’ which emerges as a dominant value in the world she presents. In one key passage, Crimsworth praises the ‘British English’ in the girls' school where he teaches for their ‘native propriety and decency’; ‘by this last circumstance alone’, he says, ‘I could at a glance distinguish the daughter of Albion and nursling of Protestantism from the foster-child of Rome.’ And the surrounding imagery all emphasizes a primary, and now obsolete, meaning of ‘propriety’, that of ‘property’; and a second, now rare, that of ‘essence or individuality’. The self is here a private possession to be defended against attack and preserved in its inviolable distinctiveness:

proud, too, was the aspect of these British girls … they warded off insult with austere civility, and met hate with mute disdain; they eschewed company-keeping, and in the midst of numbers seemed to dwell isolated.

(p. 132, my italics)

But this constellation of meanings is almost the opposite of that which the word had come to bear by Charlotte Brontë's time and that which she emphasizes, equally tellingly, elsewhere in the novel. Thus of Hunsden's first meeting with Frances, Crimsworth remarks,

I thought I had never seen two such models of propriety, for Hunsden (thanks to the constraint of the foreign tongue) was obliged to shape his phrases, and measure his sentences, with a care that forbade any eccentricity.

(p. 259, my italics)

Here the context stresses not individuality but its reverse; not self-possession but conformity to others' rules and requirements. In both cases the restraint of free expressiveness is the same, as is the word that is chosen to describe it—‘propriety’. The sense of self as isolated, inviolate, the ultimate piece of private property, thus appears inextricable from its opposite—the sense that the self is inexorably bound by others' conventions and prohibitions, that it has no independent existence at all. Unobtrusively but exactly, Charlotte Brontë seems to be highlighting a fundamental contradiction within that early Victorian philosophy of self-sufficient individualism that Crimsworth, in his tale of successful self-help, seeks to affirm.

For if The Professor is not a disguised autobiography of its author, neither is it merely an exploration of the psychology of a peculiar individual. In choosing to cast this, her first novel written for publication, as the story of a self-made man, Charlotte Brontë was appropriating a form which, in a quite naked and archetypal way, embodied and celebrated some of the central ideological assumptions of her society. Through her presentation of Crimsworth's narrative she offers not merely an exposure of the shortcomings of this particular teller but a coherent imaginative interrogation of those assumptions, and a disturbingly intimate exploration of their experiential implications. Like the lyrics of Blake's Songs of Experience, this finely articulated dramatization of a representative monologic voice embodies as acute a vision of the logic of a whole society as do many more obviously sociological analyses.

And that logic, as it is elaborated here, is very bleak indeed. For if the novel's insistent negatives delineate a field of conflicting possibilities, those possibilities are all denied. The energy is that of deadlock: no movement beyond it is envisaged. Although Crimsworth's is a linear narrative, in which effort leads to success, the novel's imaginative structure is claustrophobically circular. It begins with a description of a ‘friendship’ fuelled by antagonism and of a family divided by hostilities; and it ends with a similar, if more ambiguous set of images. Frances, we are told, loves her English professor ‘too absolutely to fear him much’ (my italics). Their domestic idyll is shot through with a kind of amorous antagonism: she, he says, ‘would vex, tease, pique me’, and he responds with a ‘chastisement’, which ‘instead of correcting the fault … seemed to encourage its renewal’. The only fruit of this union is the suggestively named Victor; he, like his father, is to be sent away to Eton, where he will be ‘soundly disciplined’ and given a radical grounding in ‘the art of self-control’. Crimsworth's story is ostensibly one not merely of success but also of requited love. But it ends as it began, with an isolated, watching individual: with a man who spies on his wife and relates to his child by trying to break his will. The feeling is less of the boundaries of the self being expanded than of the anxious separateness of the original self being confirmed.

In the private sphere, as it appears here, there seems little possibility of creative interaction between individuals. And similarly, such images of the larger society as there are are images of exclusion and conflict. The England of the novel is a place of competitive enterprise, in which ‘Concern’ has a one-dimensionally economic meaning; of domineering masters and resentful ‘slaves’. Belgium is a place of ‘Popish’ duplicity and suspicious watchfulness, in which ‘getting on’ means gaining and maintaining ‘the advantage’ over others. One is reminded of a famous passage from Carlyle's Past and Present, published three years before this novel was written:

We call it a Society; and go about professing openly the totalest separation, isolation. Our life is not a mutual helpfulness; but rather, cloaked under due laws-of-war, named ‘fair competition’ and so forth, it is a mutual hostility.3

Instead of Dickens's great metaphors of circulation and stoppage and George Eliot's of the social web, Charlotte Brontë offers images simply of repression and repulsion; instead of a connecting energy, she shows the tense balancing of denied impulse. The energies that animate Crimsworth's world seem, indeed, to work against anything we might call social bonding. His tale is one of successful self-help, but there is no sense of a supportive context for this achievement. The world of business is a world of ruthless competition, in which individuals such as Edward Crimsworth fail and make fortunes in seemingly arbitrary ways. The reasons, the processes, are not imagined. But if the individual life-trajectory remains the focus, this seems less the result of Charlotte Brontë's failure to imagine a social world than the expression of the logic of her vision. For what she suggests, with an exactitude that echoes Carlyle's more out-spoken protest, is that in a fundamental sense a society composed wholly of competing self-interested individuals has nothing but violence to hold it together at all.

The world of The Professor is a world of ominous instability. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the final chapter, where Crimsworth gives a picture of the success to which his efforts have led. The closing pages of the novel are full of apparently unconnected images of insecurity and violence. The narrator interrupts his portrait of married bliss to interrogate his wife as to ‘what she would have been had she married a harsh, envious, careless man—a profligate, a prodigal, a drunkard, or a tyrant’. Their friend Hunsden suddenly tells a story of thwarted love for a woman who looks as if she ‘once wore chains and broke them’. Crimsworth shoots his son's rabid dog, and Victor is repelled by his ‘cruelty’. The picture of the child lying on the dog's grave is succeeded by one of the ‘utter wretchedness’ he will have to suffer when he is sent to Eton, and the misery the parents feel at the prospect of this ‘fearful operation’. Within the Edenic haven of Daisy Lane the serpent lurks, in the shape of the provoking Hunsden. Victor's affection for this unpredictable friend causes his mother ‘unexpressed anxiety’: while he is by, ‘she roves with restless movement round, like a dove guarding its young from a hovering hawk’. And as the novel closes, the ‘hawk’ enters to disrupt domestic peace: ‘But Hunsden comes; I hear his step, and there he is, bending through the lattice, from which he has thrust away the woodbine with unsparing hand, disturbing two bees and a butterfly.’ (p. 290)

Like the unanswered letter of the opening chapter, these final images are more integrally related to the rest of the novel than might at first appear. For they articulate a disquiet that has, in fact, been present throughout—a sense of something volcanic and subversive, which constantly threatens to disrupt the uneasy stasis achieved by ‘self-control’, something whose violence can be held in check only by an answering violence. Beneath the surface of Crimsworth's tale of successful self-help lies another world, an ‘infernal world’ (the phrase is one of Charlotte Brontë's names for her childhood fantasy world) of untrusted impulse and barely controllable feeling, a world far more ‘strange, startling and harrowing’ than that of the ‘romance’ that the preface announces this novel is not. The manifestations of that world are disruptively various: the unexplained tears that Frances sheds on the morning of her wedding day, or the ‘eccentric vigour’ she occasionally, disconcertingly, displays; the ‘hypochondria’ that ‘accosts’ and ‘tyrannizes’ Crimsworth; the peculiar, half-repressed sensuality that disrupts his descriptions of Mlle Reuter; the ‘electrical ardour and power—which emits, now and then, ominous sparks’ from Victor. Yet if they disturb the coherence of Crimsworth's narrative, that is perhaps their point. For the social world of the novel is one in which spontaneous feeling cannot be creatively expressed, one that offers no context of ‘reason or love’ within which it can safely be entertained. When such feeling appears it is as a ‘fierce revolt’, which must be subdued by violence, not merely by the inner violence of ‘self-restraint’ but by an external violence whose nature is focused and objectified in Crimsworth's reflections on his son's education.

The presence of Victor in the concluding pages of the novel provides a suggestive indication of the nature of Charlotte Brontë's interest in her subject: an interest not merely in Crimsworth's individual life-trajectory but in how the world he inhabits is sustained and reproduced. For here the myth of the self-made man is interrupted by a disturbing image, an image of the human being not as ‘self-made’ but as shaped in social relations, not as an ‘independent’ adult with feelings held under tight control but as a dependent and defenceless child in the grip of uncontrollable feeling. Such an image has no place in the classic self-help narrative. Childhood there is dealt with perfunctorily, as preliminary to, rather than part of, the real business of life. In this novel, Crimsworth barely mentions his own childhood: it is only towards the close of his story, when describing his ‘Hypochondria’, that he admits that he was ‘lonely’ as well as ‘parentless’. Yet his treatment of his son Victor, exactly mirroring his own self-suppression, is an external image of that violence of inner ‘self-control’ that has been evident throughout. And in thus presenting it, Charlotte Brontë does not merely offer an acute analysis of a psychological mechanism that has in recent years begun to be exposed and explored—the violence of the process whereby the authoritarian personality is produced and reproduces itself.4 She also suggests, very powerfully, that it is in its treatment of childhood that the essential nature of a whole society is revealed. The rarely smiling Victor must, Crimsworth says, be separated from his mother; for ‘she will accustom him to a style of treatment, a forbearance, a congenial tenderness, he will meet with from none else’. Within the family, Victor may be ‘subjugated’ by love. But love is a poor preparation for life in this society. For, as Crimsworth asks, with a bleak directness that irradiates not merely his own assumptions but the world that sustains and is shaped by them, ‘will reason or love be the weapons with which in future the world will meet his violence?’ Thus the novel concludes: not with an affirmation of that individual self-sufficiency its narrator seeks to celebrate but with a disconcerting image of the ‘infernal’ violence, both within and without, on which that achievement is based.

And it is with a shock that one realizes that it was with the same resonant image—the image of the rebellious, ‘subjugated’ child—that Charlotte Brontë began her next, very different novel, Jane Eyre. There the focus is on ‘the need of being loved’ rather than on the drive towards independence, on a woman's experience rather than on a man's. Yet the juxtaposition is suggestive. And it indicates, I think, something of the importance of The Professor within Charlotte Brontë's total œuvre. For this, her first, stubbornly defended novel, poses a distinctive challenge to the still common view that she is, essentially, a novelist of autobiographical ‘special pleading’:5 one who used her fiction as a vehicle for the indirect but powerful expression of her own ‘hunger, rebellion, and rage’6—her longing for the love of an impossibly idealized man, her desire to affirm women's right to self-sustaining independence. The Professor suggests that her imaginative exploration of the presuppositions of her society was more searching, more flexible, more disinterestedly intelligent than this. For here, through a distinctively literary interrogation of the premises of the classic self-help narrative, she offers a disquieting vision of the construction and the cost of masculinity in that society and a chilling critique of some of its most cherished values. Here successful manhood appears not as charismatically powerful but as blinkered and crippled, the ideal of independence not as desirable but as fundamentally flawed. To read the later novels from the perspective provided by this is to perceive a rather different set of emphases in them from those that they have customarily been made to bear. And to read this, her first and least regarded novel, with a full alertness to the sophisticated literary intelligence that is manifest in its pages is to discover a different Charlotte Brontë from the unreflective novelist of private love and longing that she is all too often taken to be.


  1. Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell, September 1850.

  2. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Clinic, trans. Alan Sheridan, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1977, p 202.

  3. ‘Gospel of Mammon’, Past and Present, Book Three, Chapter Two.

  4. See, for example, Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: The Roots of Violence in Childrearing, translated by Hildegarde and Hunter Hannum, London, 1983.

  5. Raymond Williams, The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence, London, 1970, p. 73.

  6. Matthew Arnold, in a letter to Mrs Forster, 14 April 1853.

Irene Tayler (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4593

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 teach English in Brussels at a school whose male and female divisions are directed by a M. Pelet and Mlle. Reuter. At the school William falls in love with a young pupil-teacher, Frances Henri, and, despite the jealous interventions of Mlle. Reuter (a fictionalized Mme. Heger), he eventually marries her. Together they run a successful school and finally return to England, where they have a son and live in a vine-covered cottage retreat.

William Crimsworth is lineal descendent of the Sir William who propositioned Elizabeth Hastings, and retains something of the edgy arrogance inherited from their joint forefather, Charles Wellesley, Charlotte's earliest mouthpiece and by extension still her narrator in this novel. But he now expands to include also certain elements of M. Heger, in being Frances' beloved “master” who fulfills Charlotte's wishful fantasy of being loved by her Belgian teacher. This “master” does not send away his gifted pupil, but rather repudiates all connection with her rival, Mlle. Reuter, seeks out the bereaved Frances at the grave of the aunt who had been a mother to her, and—in a marked new development for Charlotte—takes her to his heart forever.

Frances, in turn, descends from Miss West and Elizabeth Hastings. Miss West had been a “little dusk figure” beside her showy pupils; Elizabeth Hastings was a “dim dusk foil” to hers. As humble lace mender Frances Henri is at first an even more downtrodden and shadowy figure than they; but like them she harbors brilliant inner fires, and under William's encouraging support her fires kindle and flash even more than Miss West's or Elizabeth's had done.

The novel opens in a thinly disguised Angrian setting, with characters recognizable even by name: the brothers Edward and William Crimsworth are the old Edward and William Percy. Even the Angrian Percy's minion Timothy Steighton is present in this novel as Edward Crimsworth's minion of the same name; and William's odd friend, the hostile yet protective truth teller Hunsden Yorke Hunsden, descends from the prophetic Warner Howard Warner of Angria. (Hunsden and Warner, and later Mr. Yorke of Shirley, are all modeled to some extent on Mary Taylor's father, whose family business at the Hunsworth Mills contributed to the names of both Hunsden and Crimsworth.)

The grinding oppression under which William struggles in the opening chapters loosely parallels Charlotte's hard years as teacher and governess, when the sense that she was doing her duty was her only real-life pleasure. As if in reference to this autobiographical period, Crimsworth is said to appear “weary, solitary, kept-down—like some desolate tutor or governess”;2 he even compares his situation to that of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. But William's departure for Brussels and his job at the Pensionnat are drawn far more literally from Charlotte's life, with details changed only as necessary to account for the shift in gender. Doubtless partly because he is male and must incorporate elements of M. Heger, William is never a student in Brussels, as Charlotte herself had been; he is teacher only, and the role of pupil is assigned to Frances.

Ever since childhood Charlotte had been interested in exploring the implications of gender reversal—not only in assuming as author a male persona, but also in assigning character and role within her fictions. Charlotte seems to have been probing the problem of how gender relates to fate: must it always be the women who are swallowed up? Could Zamorna, with all his dangerous glamour, take female form? Before going any farther into The Professor, we must glance briefly at the history of Charlotte's interest in this question. Its issues are central to all her mature work.

To the early love story of Zamorna and his first wife, Marian, Charlotte attached a curious plot complication whose main purpose seems to have been to test the boundaries of gender. In “The Secret,”3 written in November 1833, we learn that there had been a childhood engagement between Marian and a third Percy brother, Henry, whom Charlotte apparently invented for this purpose. Marian and young Henry had not been in love; their engagement was rather the result of youthful friendship and the dying wishes of their mothers. Accordingly, when Henry was drowned at sea three years later in the wreck of The Mermaid (a ship commanded by the same Steighton who appears in The Professor), Marian felt regret at his death, but no deep loss. And soon thereafter she fell passionately in love for the first and only time of her life—or course with Zamorna. Just as plans for their marriage were going forward, however, Marian was told that her youthful fiancé was not dead after all, and the marriage was held up until Henry's wraith appeared supernaturally, assured her that he really was dead, and released her from all obligation. Of the several wraiths to appear in Charlotte's stories after “Albion and Marina,” Henry's most nearly prefigures that of the drowned woman in “Gilbert” (like hers, Henry's rises “wet and dripping” from the sea). But Henry's message is helpful rather than vengeful: “fear not that I shall return. Death and the waters of a vast deep chain me to my place; be happy and think of your first love no more.” To be sure, Henry had no grounds for vengeance: Marian had neither seduced nor abandoned him. She did not even meet Zamorna until well after The Mermaid had gone down with her young betrothed. Still, Marian's new attachment bears implicitly on Henry's fate; and her metaphoric destiny (ocean tomb and sea-sand pillow) mirrors his literal one.

Charlotte finished “The Secret,” in 1833; but apparently she felt that she had not yet finished exploring the implications of Henry's story, for in 1834 she returned to the topic in a long poem entitled “Stanzas on the Fate of Henry Percy” (#95).4 In this new, expanded version, Marian is still not explicitly responsible for Henry's death. But her passion for Zamorna is now directly implicated, and the narrator assures Henry that she will suffer just as he has:

… thy love, so strong, so unreturned,
          Shall be avenged, on earth her time is brief
The radiant Form, for whom, her spirit burned
          Shall smile awhile then leave her bowed with grief[.]

Near the end of the poem Charlotte shifts her meter to signal a shift in narrative perspective. Henry is now dead, and the speaker addresses us rather than him: Henry “never from that vision woke,” we are told; “coral banks” now “pillow” his head, and “tangled seaweeds wet with brine / Are garlanding his hair.” Although “how he died no tongue can tell,” still “dark … rumors” suggest that Percy, Henry's “awful father!” may have had Steighton kill the boy. Meanwhile Henry's rival in love, the successful Zamorna, basks in public adulation. In familiar figure, he is a wild and stormy but “enkindling” power.

Marian is in this poem less an independent agent than a middle figure caught between the two men. As she is swept by “passion's waves of conflict” in her love of Zamorna, Henry in turn drowns loving her. But the critical point has been established: men as well as women may drown in love. And this point is reinforced by the water imagery that consistently links love with death. Marian's eyes shine “like mirrored stars that glassed in dark waves lie”; her love for Henry disappears in the “rapid burning tide / That flows” from Zamorna's eyes. And of course the implications of stormy and engulfing water are literalized in Henry's drowning. The narrative hints that it was the sight of Marian's defection that really killed Henry: having once envisioned her burning for the “radiant form” of Zamorna, Henry “never from that vision woke.” But Percy too may have had a hand in it. A father figure's treachery would be for Charlotte an entirely consistent element of the emotional blow of loss.

That Henry's ship is called The Mermaid is a point of central significance to this issue of gender inversion. As early as 1830 Charlotte had written in a poem titled “A Serenade” (#57) of the dangerous mermaid whose “still, sad music”—not “of humanity,” as in Wordsworth, but of inhumanity—lures sailors to their death:

It is the maiden of the sea, that sings within her cell …
And when her, monstrous form is seen swift-gliding o'er the deep
The Blood within the sailors veins, in frozen streams doth creep[.]

This same mermaid is still a topic in Shirley, when Shirley and Caroline, planning a voyage, imagine encountering some mermaid with a “preternatural lure in its wily glance.” “Were we men,” Shirley observes, “we should spring at the sign, the cold billow would be dared for the sake of the colder enchantress; … Temptress terror! monstrous likeness of ourselves!” Caroline objects that the mermaid is “not like us: we are neither temptresses, nor terrors, nor monsters”; but Shirley reminds her that “Some of our kind, it is said, are all three. There are men who ascribe to ‘woman,’ in general, such attributes.”5 In her lethal attractiveness the mermaid is Charlotte's version of a female Zamorna; this is her meaning in Henry Percy's story, where The Mermaid bears Henry to his love death. But her added association in Shirley with the gentle Caroline, whose hair is “long as a mermaid's” (p. 112) and whose face is in the mermaid “style” (p. 276), suggests that Charlotte thought that any woman, even the least offensive, might have some mermaid characteristics.

The mermaid as dangerous siren stands for men's fear-induced misapprehension of women; Charlotte has Shirley assert that even “the acutest men are often under an illusion about women … they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend” (p. 395). But mermaids also represent a certain truth about women. Women provide within their own bodies the amniotic sea that we all left behind in being born. The man who is lured to his death by a mermaid is in effect lured by woman-as-mother, in whom reside both the ocean of his origins and the life-long model of all his objects of sexual desire. His watery plunge, and the consequent loss of masculine separateness that he undergoes in responding to the mermaid's seductive appeal, is the male analogue of the infantilization and loss of identity that Charlotte feared from the submerging embrace of the false father.

We may pursue the parallel even further. As the male God redeems man from eternal death in the great “mother” whose dangers the mermaid emblemizes, so for Charlotte the female Divinity—Hope, the moon-mother, etc.—helps woman defend herself from the seductive father. Recall Zamorna's siren call to Caroline Vernon: “he knew how to give a tone, an accent … which should produce ample effect …—there was something protecting & sheltering about it as though he were calling her home.” He is calling her in fact to his fatherly bosom and her doom. “When Zamorna kissed her & said in that voice of fatal sweetness … ‘Will you go with me,’” Caroline, lacking a mothering conscience, is as lost as any succumbing sailor at sea.6

This dark version of the family romance is dramatized at least twice in The Professor. Just after William has wooed and won his cherished pupil, he falls briefly but helplessly prey to “hypochondria.” As Charlotte associated woman's experience of hypochondria with being folded in the submerging bosom of an infantilizing father-lover, so William's hypochondria is personified as a woman who takes him “to her death-cold bosom” and holds him “with arms of bone.” Though no mermaid, this figure is symbolically related: a “sorceress,” she draws William to the brink of death's “black, sullen river.” Because what she embodies is Charlotte's fear that the sexual plunge taken in marriage may be fatal, William rightly sees his hypochondria as the rival of his love: “I repulsed her as one would a dreaded and ghastly concubine coming to embitter a husband's heart towards his young bride.” It may be that she frightens rather than attracts William partly because (though a man) he has already seen and been strengthened by the goddess Hope.

In another startling image Frances too encounters the pull of a love that is crossed with death. Having just agreed to marry her beloved “maître,” she pauses in rapt contentment: “as stirless in her happiness as a mouse in its terror” (p. 224). What terrifies her, of course, is the possibility that she has gained her heart's desire at the price of being swallowed up. She weeps at the approach of her wedding; more ominously, perhaps, she shows herself after it “as docile as a well-trained child” (p. 247). It is her attendant capacity for “firmness”—chiefly shown in her insistence on retaining her professional occupation—that saves her from a Mary's fate.

Charlotte's interest in gender inversions, her awareness that both sexes may be seduced as well as seducing, helps explain why in The Professor she appropriates the roles of both male and female protagonists. She was struggling to imagine a sexual relationship in which both members might prosper; in which, because both are versions of herself, neither need be a “siren” luring the other to doom. As William is Charlotte's persona, a version of the voice she had been using for years, so the name “Frances” too emphasizes the ambiguities of gender—especially so since the M. Pelet who marries Frances' rival, Mlle. Reuter, is named “François” (p. 110). And Frances Henri's surname is of course a link back to Henry Percy. Although in her effort to make William convincingly masculine Charlotte attributed to him characteristics that are traditional in her domineering males—overbearing aloofness, touches of sadism—she studied the characteristics from the inside, providing motivation, exploring, as if it were her own, the need or desire out of which such behavior might arise. William flings open the classroom door and strides in masterfully just the way M. Paul will. But William offers a practical reason: “I had found that in entering with aplomb … consisted the grand secret of assuring immediate silence” (p. 118). He takes on the hard and indifferent character of “a rigid pillar of stone” not because it is innate to him as it will be to Brocklehurst, but in response to Mlle. Reuter's behavior: “Servility creates despotism” (p. 129).

Several critics have remarked on the feminine imagery that attaches to William. Not only is he “kept down like some desolate tutor or governess,” a detail from Charlotte's own experience, but there are several slips into gender-inappropriate metaphor, as when Hunsden remarks that “Any woman, sinking her shaft deep enough, will at last reach a fathomless spring of sensibility in thy breast, Crimsworth” (p. 93), or when Mlle. Reuter's addresses to him are couched in the figurative language of male seduction or rape: “her finger, essaying, proving every atom of the casket—touched its secret spring, and for a moment—the lid sprung open, she laid her hand on the jewel within …” (p. 105).

In The Professor Charlotte's pattern of sinking and rising is experienced by both William and Frances. Frances' experience is given in two versions: it is encapsulated in the poem ostensibly written by Frances, said to be “not exactly the writer's own experience,” but suggested by “portions of that experience” (p. 217), and it is recounted in the plot. The poem was actually, of course, Charlotte's own wish-fulfilling fantasy, composed on leaving Brussels and later published among her poems under the title “Master and Pupil” (#205). In the poem the young speaker “Jane” falls ill at a school closely modeled on the Pensionnat Heger; but when visited at her bed by her beloved Professor, who places his hand on hers “with gentle stress” and says “God—she must revive!” she feels “The sense of Hope” begin its “healing work.” Then as she convalesces the Professor continues to show a tender solicitude for her, and when at the end of the poem she must depart, he urges his “foster child” to “come home to me again.” Thus as Jane sinks, her Professor is a mothering figure bringing hope (another gender inversion, of course, and as such it looks forward to the healing role of Caroline's mother in Shirley), even as he also offers the fatherly “home” that Charlotte's heroines have been learning to refuse in the interests of survival and achievement.

The other version of Frances' rising is an alternate wish fulfillment. She sinks in having lost all who love her: her aunt has died, her rival has dismissed her from the job that gave access to her Master, whom she expects never to see again. In her despair, she retreats to the fetal harbor of the graveyard “nook” where her aunt lies buried. There William discovers her and raises her into the sunshine of love, work, and a happy marriage.

This time Charlotte's old opposition between love and achievement is partly resolved by the fact that William is less a “father” than a male version of the author. But it is resolved only partly; for Frances is the female version of the author, and Frances splits in two after her marriage. “I seemed to possess two wives,” marvels William. The first is the achieving “Madame the Directress” of their school, “a stately and elegant woman, bearing much anxious thought on her large brow,” but the second—a lovable, adoring little pupil—takes her place at six o'clock. “I then came home, for my home was my heaven—ever at that hour, as I entered our private sitting-room—the lady-directress vanished from before my eyes, and Frances Henri, my own little lace-mender, was magically restored to my arms; much disappointed she would have been if her master had not been as constant to the tryste as herself” (pp. 251-52). Frances is in fact Charlotte's first heroine to keep alive both her sexuality and her intellectual ambition. The cost is high—a compartmentalization that verges on dissolution. But the gain is crucial too.

William's experience of sinking and rising provides the novel's basic story line. He is first rather attracted to Mlle. Reuter but then meets the far worthier Frances and begins to take joy in her—the first real joy he has known in life. But suddenly she disappears; and William compares his loss and prospect of recovery with that greatest falling and rising, death and resurrection. Then he finds Frances in the graveyard nook, recognizes their mutual love, and sees the goddess “Hope.” Here complications enter, in the form of additional variations on the theme of collapse and recovery. These variations seem necessary not to the plot but to the author, allowing her to recur to favorite themes.

The first of these variations is William's odd encounter with hypochondria, which we have discussed already. But more curious by far is William's relationship with his friend Hunsden, who now returns to the story. Hunsden is another ambiguous parent figure—hostile and teasing, but ultimately supportive. Though modeled in part on Mary Taylor's father, Hunsden is (like his handwriting) “neither masculine nor exactly feminine” (p. 192). As observed earlier, his Angrian original was the religious and prophetic Warner Howard Warner, who had actually been called a hermaphrodite. Hunsden's return to the story is initiated by a compressed allusion to the Old and New Testament themes of Egyptian bondage and Christian salvation. He warns of his approaching visit with a letter in which he teasingly imagines William “sitting like a black-haired, tawny-skinned, long-nosed Israelite by the flesh-pots of Egypt,” and tells his friend to be ready for him: “Be on the look-out, for you know neither the day nor hour when your———(I don't wish to blaspheme, so I'll leave a blank) cometh” (p. 193). The unspoken “Redeemer” is part Hunsden himself, part the gift that he brings—a portrait of William's mother, which William has longed for but never hoped to possess, and which Hunsden makes him “pay” for through a species of humiliating teasing. Here, as throughout the novel, Hunsden is characterized by a strange perversity, evident here in both the near-blasphemy and the combination of kindness with cruelty. But perhaps this perversity, too, may be explained as a function of Charlotte's experiments with gender. The hero and heroine of The Professor are both explicitly parentless. Hunsden seems meant to fulfill the roles of a mother who supports and urges forward and a masculinely tough and satiric father. Thus he catapults William somewhat roughly out of the Egyptian slavery of Edward's millworks (like a masculine mother) and later descends on him bearing his mother's portrait, as a “Redeemer” (like a female father). In all of this Hunsden is not a very successful creation, but Charlotte's conception of him was certainly ambitious.

We can see the way William and Frances each reflect Charlotte's view of her own self and history. William represents Charlotte not only in that he is the oppressed “slave” of his brother, and then a teacher in the Pensionnat schoolroom; but also in his physical similarity to his sadly sensitive dead mother, in his susceptibility to hypochondria, in his vision of the goddess “Hope.” In short, even though William is a man, he speaks from Charlotte's experience, both inner and outer.7

Frances, meanwhile, has Charlotte's gender as well as her small stature and delicate features; she is literally banished (as Charlotte had felt figuratively banished) by a powerful rival for her “master's” heart (Zoraide Reuter is an unflattering portrait of Zoë Parent, M. Heger's wife). Frances' difficulties in achieving authority as a teacher were evidently Charlotte's; she offers her “master” the “charms” that Charlotte felt she could offer Heger—“application, love of knowledge, natural capacity, docility, truthfulness, gratefulness” (p. 120)—and, like Charlotte, she differs from the Belgian girls in being “of a race less gifted with fulness of flesh and plenitude of blood, less jocund, material, unthinking” (p. 122). Like Charlotte, Frances knows the power of her intellectual gift. Though she does not respond in words to her teacher's praise, her “radiance” and “frank and flashing glance” communicate the self-confidence of genius, something Charlotte herself must often have felt: “Do you think I am myself a stranger to myself? What you tell me in terms so qualified, I have known fully from a child” (p. 137). And, as Charlotte had regarded Belgium so Frances regards England as “the promised land.” Like Charlotte, “a little affection, ever so little, pleased her better than all the panegyrics in the world” (p. 147). Like Charlotte she feared for her eyesight (p. 191). And finally, the fact that Frances has no real home, but lives in “Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges” (the Street of Our Lady of the Snows), looks forward to the virginal Lucy Snowe into whom Frances will develop in Charlotte's final novel.

But the mutual growth of love between Frances and her “master”; their rediscovery of one another, after cruelly imposed separation, at a “mother's” grave; the calm courtship, happy marriage, successful joint careers—all of these are the stuff of Charlotte's wishful fantasy, even though muted to the terms of what she imagined to be workaday marital realism.8

The marriage of William and Frances is thus at one level a model of the marriage Charlotte dreamed she might have had with Heger, had Fate only arranged things differently. But at a deeper level—the level of her profoundest hopes and fears—this is no marriage at all, but rather a metaphor for the union of elements within Charlotte herself, of her male narrator and female self-representation. The way is prepared for Jane Eyre, the first of Charlotte's heroines to write her own life.


  1. Ewbank, observing this split, describes it well: the hero and heroine “have natures and careers so similar as to make them one character distributed over two sexes” ([Ewbank, Inga-Stina. Their Proper Sphere: A Study of the Brontë Sisters as Early-Victorian Female Novelists. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.], p. 157). Keefe makes a similar point in [Keefe, Robert. Charlotte Brontë's world of Death. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979], p. 85.

  2. [Brontë, Charlotte. The Professor. Ed. Margaret Smith and Herbert Rosengarten. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987], p. 23. Further page references will be given in the text.

  3. This tale is printed in [Holz, William, ed. Two Tales by Charlotte Brontë: “The Secret” and “Lily Hort.” Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1978].

  4. The numbering of Charlotte's poems follows [Neufeldt, Victor A., ed. The Poems of Charlotte Brontë. New York: Garland Press, 1985]. All quotations from her poetry are from this edition.

  5. [Brontë, Charlotte. Shirley. Ed. Herbert Rosengarten and Margaret Smith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.], p. 276. Further page references will be given in the text. The social and psychological implications of the mermaid as metaphor for woman (as she is feared and disparaged by men) are suggestively explored by Dinnerstein, [Dorothy. The Mermaid and the Minotaur. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.] and her summary of the implications of this fish-woman is remarkably apt for Charlotte's use of the figure. The treacherous mermaid who lures voyagers to their death, writes Dinnerstein, is the “seductive and impenetrable female representation of the dark and magic underwater world from which our life comes and in which we cannot live” (p. 5).

  6. [Brontë, Charlotte. Five Novelettes: Passing Events, Julia, Mina Laury, Captain Henry Hastings, Caroline Vernon. Ed. Winifred Gérin. London: Folio Press, 1971.], “Caroline Vernon,” pp. 352, 354.

  7. For one further, oddly obtrusive example, note that Crimsworth voices Charlotte's judgment on Branwell, whose affair with Mrs. Robinson resulted in his being sent home in disgrace from Thorpe Green in July 1845. Crimsworth speaks: “Limited as had yet been my experience of life, I had once had the opportunity of contemplating, near at hand an example of the results produced by a course of interesting and romantic domestic treachery … it was very loathsome. I saw a mind degraded by the practice of mean subterfuge, by the habit of perfidious deception, and a body depraved by the infectious influence of the vice-polluted soul. I had suffered much from the forced and prolonged view of this spectacle …” (p. 187). The account is entirely gratuitous, except as it evidently relieved Charlotte's personal feelings.

  8. Even the name Charlotte chose for Frances' and William's child—Victor—serves this fantasy in echoing the name of the Hegers' fifth child, Victorine (a girl), born shortly before Charlotte's final departure from Brussels.

Bettina L. Knapp (essay date 1991)

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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 them another chance to pursue the best and most righteous of courses. As in Agnes Grey, integrity and forthrightness are uppermost in the outlook of hero and heroine. Nevertheless, the power of passion pulsates, albeit in diminished and most always controlled sequences. Although hatred, jealousy, anger, and the purest and most naive of notions are interwoven in the very fabric of The Professor, these emotions are used as literary strategies designed to heighten or slacken suspense. So thought out is The Professor that the feelings motivating the protagonists' actions give the impression of having been built into the very lining of their personalities, thus divesting them of any authenticity. Still, the touches of morbidity and the sequences focusing on the male protagonist's sexual awakening are sufficiently complex to give the reader pause.

Like Marcel Proust who, in Remembrance of Things Past, transformed many a male into a female character and vice versa, thus enabling him to conceal certain anomalies, so Charlotte, unwilling to lay bare tendencies embedded within her own psyche that could possibly be offensive to Victorian readers, altered the sexual identities of her characters. She seemed to feel greater ease using a male protagonist as spokesman to disclose her feelings and thoughts than a female.

Most arresting in The Professor is the in-depth psychological study of hatred existing between two brothers, Edward and William Crimsworth. So understanding is the author of the problems involved, so sensitive is she to the nuances of their needs and motivations that one is inclined to consider them somewhat auto-biographical in nature. Is the seething antagonism implicit in The Professor a manifestation of her relationship with Emily and Anne? Or are the two brothers to be viewed as doubles—concretizations of polarities buried within her own psyche? The theme of the double is not without precedent, as, for example, Poe's “William Wilson,” Dostoyevsky's The Double, and Gogol's Diary of a Madman.


The first part of The Professor, which takes place in England, focuses on the bitter enmity existing between Edward and William Crimsworth. Such hostility, viewed psychologically, occurs when a shadow projection is operative.

The shadow is that part of the unconscious personality containing inferior characteristics that the individual is unwilling or as yet unable to recognize as his own and, therefore, projects onto another or others. William, the narrator, is oblivious to the fact that the “evils” he condemns in his brother are the very ones he detests and seeks to annihilate in himself. Condemning Edward freely and without any self-examination, William maintains his own sense of integrity and righteousness on the surface at least. More serious is the fact that the longer he attributes to his brother characteristics he cannot or is unwilling to accept as his own—allowing hatred, rage, and antagonism to be meted out freely to Edward—there can be no increase in self-knowledge on his part.

What is the basis of the hatred existing between the two brothers? Both are orphans. Their father, having failed as a mill owner, died six months before William's birth; the mother succumbed in childbirth. Having been repudiated by their wealthy and aristocratic maternal family, who had never forgiven Mrs. Crimsworth for having married beneath her station, the brothers were brought up with the minimum of charity by their father's uncles. Only by dint of threats from other members of the family does William receive support and go to Eton. Unwilling to enter the church upon his graduation, the twenty-year-old William opts for a business career. To this end, he seeks out his thirty-year-old brother, Edward, who through hard work, ingenuity, and a good marriage, has become a successful mill owner at Bigben Close in the North of England. Jealous of William's Etonian education, Edward harbors no warmth for his brother, and offers him a relatively low job—a second clerkship—for someone so well educated.

Although both brothers had been orphaned, Edward was ten when his parents died, and had suffered most grievously from their loss, while William had never really known them. On the other hand, Edward had benefited from his mother's love, whereas William, deprived of all maternal feeling, had been divested of all sense of belonging, warmth, and well-being. Did Edward unconsciously consider William a murderer, blaming him for his mother's demise, since she died in childbirth?

Edward's overtly destructive responses to William may be viewed as projections of negative characteristics lodged deeply within William and not necessarily contents belonging to the wealthy mill owner. It may be suggested that both Edward and William are split-offs of one person—the shadow side of each juxtaposed to the positive aspects of the other. Since Edward is the more emotional of the two, and affects usually emerge when adaptation is weakest, his uncontrollable behavioral patterns disclose an inability to cope with his sense of inferiority.1

The day after his first visit to Crimsworth Hall, Edward's “Good Morning” to William was abrupt, after which he “snatched” a newspaper from the table and began reading it “with the air of a master who seizes a pretext to escape the bore of conversing with an underling.” There was no dialogue between the two. William repressed his hurt. As he was cogitating about how best he could endure his brother's insults while maintaining, at least on the outside, a courteous stance, he happened to see Edward's reflection in the mirror. But was it actually Edward's countenance that he had viewed? Or was he in fact looking upon those secret and unacceptable qualities within his own self that he had projected onto his brother? But then, William rationalized, the qualities in which his brother excelled were merely physical or “animal.” As an intellectual, the younger brother considered himself superior to the business man, and has decided to “force” his mind to learn to cope with the situation at hand. As a thinking person, he was determined to force his will to dominate any emotional encounter and any unconscious pulsations that might spin off from their meeting. To assess his brother's personality might yield positive results; it would not only give William the key to his future comportment, but would help him extricate himself from an unpleasant present situation. For example, he understood that he could expect no “lion-like generosity” from his brother; nor did Edward's stern and forbidding manner augur well for the birth of any kind of relationship between the two. The consideration of both brothers as dual aspects of a single personality, foretells incompatibility within that one individual.

Because “Caution, Tact, Observation” determined William's behavioral patterns, his life became increasingly solitary. His practice of self-analysis, however, encouraged him to question his motives, needs, and desires, and to listen to his inner voice for “a clear notion” of what he was, what he wanted, and how much unhappiness he would be able to endure. He came to understand finally that were he to remain for any length of time in his brother's employ, he would not only not derive any emotional compensation from his work, but would, on the contrary, stagnate and even regress. Neither warmth nor understanding nor even a texture of friendship could be expected. The psychological condition of stasis he was suffering is reflected in the iciness of his rented room, in which the maid always forgot to light an evening fire. Without fire, an agent of transformation, no feelings or love could be born. Only rigidity.

Two factors intervened encouraging William to change his course. The first was William's chance meeting with Mr. Hunsden, a manufacturer and mill owner who saw how diligent a worker he was and how ill-treated he had been by his brother. In Hunsden's rooms, the “bright grate was filled with a genuine—shire fire, red, clear, and generous.” It was Hunsden, a fire principle, who advised William to strike out on his own. What career would be to his liking? was the question. Teaching was the answer. Whereupon, Mr. Hunsden wrote a letter of introduction to a well-placed man in Brussels, who might be in a position to offer William a post as a teacher. The second event precipitating William's departure was his brutal and unjust dismissal by Edward whose wrath had been aroused by the rumor that William had spoken ill of him.

Only one object had arrested William's attention during the three months he spent working for his brother: the portrait of his mother hanging at Crimsworth Hall. So important had it become for him that it symbolically pointed to the next step in his maturing process: the seeking out the mother image, the carrier and embodiment of the feminine principle—known as anima in the male.


The personification of the feminine principle, the anima, as previously defined, is “an autonomous psychic content in the male personality”; an inner woman, or the “psychic representation of the contrasexual elements in man.”2 When a man's anima is projected onto a living woman, it leads him to fall in love. If he is involved with a willful, devouring, and demonic type, and if his projection is unconscious, his ego may be submerged by the power she has over him and reduce him to a state of paralysis or childlike obedience to her. If, on the other hand, he is conscious of his anima, and his ego is sufficiently developed, she may lead him to know a meaningful and profound relationship.


Upon his arrival in Brussels, and thanks to Hunsden's intervention, William obtains a post as English and Latin teacher in a boy's school directed and owned by a M. Pelet. Although surprised by the mediocre intellectual level of the students, William enjoys his new post and earns respect and confidence. He pleasures in Mr. Pelet's company and is able to relate to this “clever and witty” Frenchman.

One of the windows of William's room overlooked the garden of the girl's school opposite, and decency had dictated that it should be boarded to prevent a prying eye from peering into feminine mysteries. Utterly naïve in matters of sex or anything remotely identified with womankind, William was excited about the very thought of such an interdict. When alone, he tried to find some chink or hole in the boarded-up window that might allow him to “peep at the consecrated ground.” Although his efforts were to no avail, the thought of the “allée defendue” aroused sexual awareness in him. How much he would have enjoyed spying on these forbidden delights is conveyed metaphorically—as a beautiful garden with flowers and trees, somewhat reminiscent of a Garden of Eden.

So one-sided was William's upbringing, so identified was he with the spirit rather than with anything relating to the human sphere, that when Mr. Pelet's mother invites him to goûter, he is convinced that she seeks to make love to him! Mrs. Pelet's invitation is, however, business-oriented, and leads to the contrived offer to William of a position as English teacher at the “Pensionnat des demoiselles” adjacent to Mr. Pelet's academy. “I shall now at last see the mysterious garden, I shall gaze both on the angels and their Eden,” William thinks.

Zoraide Reuter, director of the girls' pensionnat, was an anima figure: a seductress capable of leading William step-by-step into the world of feminine mysteries. Bewitching by her demeanor from the very outset, she, like the goddesses of antiquity, aroused in William hitherto unknown sensations of love.

In reality, Zoraide was an illusion-creating anima figure who sought, perhaps unconsciously at first, then with open determination, to envelop, embrace, and devour her prey. A negative feminine principle, she represented danger to the naïve, deception to the morally sound, and suffering to the gullible. It was only a matter of time before William would be caught in her web, and left there to strangle helplessly.

Unaware of her power over him, however, William blithely became enticed by Zoraide's bewitching feminine charm. Each time he returned from the girl's school, happiness rather than his usual somberness was imprinted on his features and his confidence and competence as a teacher also improved.

Mr. Pelet, aware of William's naïveté in terms of the opposite sex, was quick to point out to him that “any woman, sinking her shaft deep enough, will at last reach a fathomless spring of sensibility in thy breast.” Believing that God's light was shining upon him and Zoraide, William was all the more unprepared for the cruel deception that was forthcoming: leaning out of his window one evening to look down on the very spot that had witnessed the first and most delectable discussion with his ladylove, he overheard a conversation between her and Mr. Pelet, which revealed that they were secretly engaged and had encouraged his infatuation simply for amusement. So deeply shocked is William that he swears to maintain henceforth a stone-cold countenance toward Zoraide.

Perplexed, because she cannot account for the sudden change in William's behavior, Zoraide becomes attracted to his invulnerability and impassibility. Using her wiles, she does her best to soften his hostility; and to impress him with her altruism, she tells of her kindness toward a poor young English-Swiss seamstress in the school's employ, Frances Evans Henri.


If Zoraide may be considered a negative anima type, interested only in gratifying her own desires and calculating how best to ensnare and then devour her prey, Frances Evans Henri was her antithesis. Natural, innocent, methodical, and candid, she also possessed a certain winsomeness. Although spiritually oriented, she was firmly rooted to this earth, but had no illusions about life or people. She conformed to expectations both as an employee in the school and in the city, but being ambitious, she sought to improve her command of the English language and eventually gain access to better employment.

As anima, she embodied William's suprapersonal values or ideal. Like the femme inspiratrice, she would unconsciously play an indispensable role in his world, knowing instinctively how to focus on her own goals, and at the same time help William to function at his best under dismal circumstances. As anima, her qualities reflected his own rich unconscious feminine side.

Frances would not only play the role of the beloved, but also that of a nourishing and kindly mother figure. She would fill the void in William's heart, which had been created when he looked so longingly at the portrait of his mother hanging in Edward's home. Coincidentally, it was this very painting that Mr. Hunsden, on a visit to Brussels, had brought to William, telling him that he had bought it at an auction sale following Edward's bankruptcy.

William becomes increasingly impressed by Frances's intelligence and her beautiful character traits. Unspoiled, demure, even shy at times, she is endowed with perseverance, a sense of duty, and an extraordinary ability to contend with life's difficulties. Her integrity is antipodal to the moral unsoundness of Zoraide who, now jealous of Frances, summarily dismisses her. The “perfidious” vamp, dominated by a “vice-polluted soul,” resorts to the lie, telling William that the little seamstress employed by the school has resigned her post and left no forwarding address.

Fruitlessly, William makes inquiry everywhere hoping to discover Frances's whereabouts. Finally resigning his teaching post, he sets out in search of her in the city, visiting even the Protestant cemetery in Brussels. It is there that he finds her, beside the grave of her last living relative, her recently departed aunt. Although William realizes he is in love with Frances, he cannot propose to her until he finds a new situation. Disheartening weeks follow. Finally, thanks to the father of one of his former students whom he had saved from drowning, he obtains a fine teaching position, proposes to Frances, and is accepted.

Accustomed to supporting herself in life, Frances—a good feminist—is determined to keep on working as a lacemaker and mender, even after marriage, despite William's wish that she remain a homebody. Her determined refusal is quiet but steadfast. No human power could bend her will. “Think of my marrying you to be kept by you, Monsieur! I could not do it—and how dull my days would be!” By dint of the couple's hard work, in ten years time they amassed sufficient capital to enable them and their son, Victor, to retire to England, Frances's “Promised Land.”

Charlotte's expository discourse in The Professor concludes without being judgmental. She succeeded in cutting open the bruised soul of her protagonist—a manifestation of her own—but she did not know how to express the workings of the masculine psyche. William's needs and ideations seem contrived, awkward, and conveyed in stilted language, and, as the reviewer for the North British Review wrote:

It is quite obvious to any reader who attends to the sketch of the character of the Professor, that the Professor is a woman in disguise, … for she is quite properly stripped of her male costume … There is a shyness, a sulky tenderness, and a disposition to coquet manifest in the Professor's relations with his friend … which betrays to us at once that the picture is drawn from a lady's experience of her friendship with the other sex.3


  1. C. G. Jung, The Portable Jung, p. 145.

  2. Edward Edinger, “An Outline of Analytical Psychology,” p. 10.

  3. Earl A. Knies, The Art of Charlotte Brontë. From “Novels by the Authoress of ‘John Halifax,’” North British Review, 29 (1858), pp. 474-475.

Annette R. Federico (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7996

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 feminine plots1—grammatical gender in a Victorian novel is as ideologically constructed as the gendered body inhabited by the author.

If narrative voice is a site of ideological tension, it is even more difficult to construe when a male voice is adapted self-consciously by women writers who call themselves “Currer Bell” or “George Eliot.” Indeed, because narrative authority conforms to rather than challenges “hierarchical, patriarchal norms” (Cohan & Shires 146) we can gain insight into the ways women who use male narrators understand gender relations, and how they reproduce masculinity—and with it, dominant discourse—in the choice of male language, preoccupations, and pursuits.

In her first novel, The Professor, Charlotte Brontë uses a first-person male narrator, and, as I will discuss, critics have tended to see this as both an artistic error and an elision of her feminist voice. But whether she takes a male or female narrator, Brontë is no less intent on examining the encoding of gender in nineteenth-century discourse. Specifically, the male voice provides an opening to confront a central issue for Brontë—power—which is different from her explorations of powerlessness in her later heroine-centered novels. In The Professor, she is learning what it is to have the power of authorship, and therefore it is consistent that she should go inside the system to attempt to represent the source of that power.2

Many psychoanalytic approaches to The Professor accept the “feminization” of the male narrator as the woman writer's personal experience of subordination translated into a pseudo-male voice. Though this helps in understanding biographical issues and the so-called “female imagination,” such readings tend to overlook how the appropriation of the male voice may challenge a tradition of androcentric narrative and Victorian patriarchal hegemony. As Terry Eagleton explains, one interpretation of feminism “is not just that women should have equality of power and status with men; it is a questioning of all such power and status. It is not just that the world will be better off with more female participation in it; it is that without the ‘feminization’ of human history, the world is unlikely to survive” (150). Brontë engages this concern by using an intrinsically authoritative male voice to tell a story that is not about a heroine's traditional growth into power, but instead authorizes a masculine growth out of power by asserting the need to temper male authority with “feminine” social virtues, usefully defined by Susan Morgan as “gentleness, flexibility, openness to others, friendship, and love” (19). At the same time, however, Brontë describes the practical and psychological obstacles to this “feminization” for men who are subject to ideological constraints, particularly the insistence on sexual difference. For as Mary Poovey has persuasively argued, “[M]en were too thoroughly ensnared in the contradictions that characterized this ideology to be charged with being simple oppressors” (22). William Crimsworth, the hero-narrator of The Professor, represents a view of masculinity that differs entirely from Brontë's later portraits of attractive and powerful men who threaten the heroine's autonomy. In her first novel, Brontë attempts to be the autobiographical male, to imagine what he imagines, even to have a male body3—in other words, to treat the burdens of sex from the male point of view, and thereby explore the social consequences of her culture's constructions of gender.

Critics tend to speak summarily about The Professor, written in 1846 and published posthumously in 1857. It is “a rehearsal for Villette” (Lane vii) or an early “failed” attempt to create a heroine like Jane Eyre (Basch 68-9). In A Literature of Their Own, Elaine Showalter mentions The Professor only briefly as an example of how “women writers internalized the values of their society” (136-7). Even critics who turn their full attention to the novel, such as Helene Moglen and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, are conscious of a tendency to make excuses for its flaws. Moglen sees Brontë's choice of a male narrator as evidence that she is still “bound to the ambivalent attitudes of adolescence,” unable to associate a female voice with authority; Crimsworth's voice is the novel's most “crucial problem” (86-8). In The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar concede that to discuss the novel as they have done “in terms merely of roles and repressions is … to trivialize the young novelist's achievement in her first full-length book” (335). Their description of The Professor as an extension of Brontë's “exotic ‘male’” Angrian tales full of “obsessive and involuntary” characterizations (313-15), and as a “pseudo-masculine Bildungsroman,” “literary male-impersonation,” and “male mimicry” (318-19) suggest that the novel's difficulties or flaws are linked to Brontë's handling of gender, especially the use of a male narrator. Instead of dismissing the narrator as a clumsy mistake by a young writer, Gilbert and Gubar at least try to make sense of the masculine voice, explaining that “by pretending to be a man, [the woman writer] can see herself as the crucial and powerful Other sees her” (317). To put it differently, by pretending to be male, Brontë can better analyze what really concerns her: being female.

Gilbert and Gubar make a similar argument about the male narrator in George Eliot's novella, The Lifted Veil (1859), a text that, like The Professor, has been either ignored or dismissed as an unsuccessful attempt by a relatively inexperienced writer of fiction.4 Claiming Eliot's debt to Charlotte Brontë and Mary Shelley, Gilbert and Gubar see The Lifted Veil as a dramatization of Eliot's “internalization of patriarchal culture's definition of the woman as ‘other’” (466). The clairvoyant male narrator, Latimer, who finds women both fascinating and repulsive, is an expression of Eliot's divided consciousness and represents her attempt to survive “in a male-dominated society by defining herself as the Other” (476). “Like Charlotte Brontë's early male persona … Latimer reflects his author's sense of her own peculiarity” (447). In both The Professor and The Lifted Veil, then, the woman writer with the masculine pseudonym engages her own status as female Other by assuming the voice, the authority, and the privileged position of the male subject. In this interpretation, Brontë and Eliot are not concerned with the experience of the narrator as a man or the representation of masculinity; authorial voice is still tied to female “schizophrenia,” a “dis-ease with authority,” self-hatred, and internalization (Gilbert and Gubar 444-5, 449).

Such readings are useful in their focus on the whole problem of “otherness” for Victorian women writers. But to claim that a woman chooses a male voice in order to work out her ambivalence about being female narrows the ideological implications of otherness, as well as the revisionist possibilities of these texts. Indeed, the resonance of “otherness” in these interpretations, with its suggestions of psychological oppression, indicates the problem inherent in women's writing, so that female subjectivity and feminist discourse is necessarily undermined by the constraints of man-made language.

The fact that the Brontës' books were called “masculine” by contemporary reviewers and George Eliot's quasi-dramatized narrators arrogate masculine authority5 suggests how well the language and voice of the male subject can serve the cause of sexual equality. “In order to be a complete individual, on an equality with man, woman must have access to the masculine world as does the male to the feminine world, she must have access to the other” (de Beauvoir 761). For Brontë and Eliot, as for many Victorian women, such access was not always possible. Brontë admitted as much in a letter to James Taylor written in 1849: “In delineating male characters, I labour under disadvantages; intuition and theory will not adequately supply the place of observation and experience. When I write about women, I am sure of my ground—in the other case I am not so sure” (Shorter 30). For Brontë, men occupy a world that is closed to her observation; masculine psychology and motivation are mysterious, impenetrable. He is truly “the other case.” Yet if one accepts Carolyn Heilbrun's claim that “No woman writer struggled as [Brontë] struggled against the judgments of sexual polarization” (78), The Professor may be read as Brontë's earliest effort to confront the ideology of separate spheres. To tell a man's story is to insist on access, to insist on her complete individuality as a person and as an artist. Indeed, Brontë's interest in socialized gender roles, for boys in particular, is evident in a letter written to Miss Wooler just a year before she began The Professor:

You ask me if I do not think men are strange beings. I do, indeed—I have often thought so; and I think too that the mode of bringing them up is strange, they are not sufficiently guarded from temptations. Girls are protected as if they were very frail and silly indeed, while boys are turned loose on the world as if they, of all beings in existence, were the wisest and the least liable to be led astray.

(Shorter 315)

By using the voice of one of these “strange beings” in The Professor, Brontë examines with a mixture of irony and compassion the moral and emotional immunity built into Victorian constructions of masculinity. As “a tale of socialisation[,] of becoming masculine” (Boumelha 47), The Professor is attentive to the costs of being indoctrinated into patriarchy, and of naturalizing characteristics Victorian society admired in men, such as fixity, dominance, exclusion, competition, and stoicism.

The voice of William Crimsworth, far from sounding “curiously androgynous” (Gilbert & Gubar 319), is aggressively masculine throughout his narrative, locked into a socially sanctioned tone of superiority. There is no feminine apologizing, no womanly code of docility. His voice approximates the literary qualities assigned to men, which Showalter has identified as “power, breadth, distinctness, clarity, learning … shrewdness, knowledge of life, and humor,” along with “masculine faults,” such as “coarseness and passion” (“Double Standard” 340). In other words, Brontë, who aspires to professional status as a novelist, is writing as a professional—that is, as a man. Although Crimsworth tells the reader “I always speak quietly,” and he is an idealistic young man, his language has a feel of license which for Brontë probably defined male discourse: “to scout myself a privileged prig” (77), or “‘Stuff! I have cut them’” (41). If the voice comes across as false machismo, it may be because Brontë felt permitted to be extreme. Crimsworth has a man's right to say what he wants, for the basis of his character is his relative power and his uneasy participation in various systems of oppression. Despite his physical weaknesses (he is near-sighted, and describes himself as thin and slight) and his temporary status as a dependent, Crimsworth's voice resonates with confidence. As it should. Simone de Beauvoir has claimed that “One of the benefits that oppression confers upon the oppressors is that the most humble among them is made to feel superior. … The most mediocre of males feels himself a demigod as compared with women” (xxviii). It is precisely this assumption of male power that Brontë seems to question. For Crimsworth does feel a demigod compared with women. He is not one of Brontë's feminine heroes, a man who “must learn how it feels to be helpless and to be forced unwillingly into dependency” (Showalter, Literature 152). For one thing, he has an Eton education.6 He also has a choice of professions, and obtains some influential male friends—Hunsden, Brown, and Vandenhutten—who write letters of recommendation and advise him about his investments. The material conditions of his life are not unbearable, and unlike the heroine of Villette in a similar situation he can at least walk down the streets without being harassed.7 If gender in the novel is a semantic symbol denoting power, as Moglen suggests (89), Crimsworth's masculinity automatically confers social and psychological advantages over, for example, Jane Eyre or Lucy Snowe. He does possess, at least to some degree, four qualities which define power in Victorian society: education, money, mobility, and autonomy (Newton 7).

Nevertheless, Brontë begins The Professor with Crimsworth as a victim of male exploitation: his wealthy maternal uncles had refused to aid Crimsworth's dying mother, and for this (after accepting the ten years at Eton), Crimsworth denies any future aid. He is then pitted against the tyranny of his elder brother, Edward, who employs him as a clerk in his mill. He resents being treated as an inferior by other men (“I hate to be condescended to” [19]), and loathes being his brother's “slave”—a word Brontë applies almost obsessively to his situation in the first five chapters of the novel. Again, one is reminded of Brontë's heroines—particularly Jane and Lucy—when they suffer similar privations; although Jane longs for a new servitude, for example, the language of Brontë's heroine is nothing compared to the fierce resentment of her hero. According to Susanne Kappeler, “The status of the slave … is not in itself objectionable or dehumanizing, it is only so in the context of a male being held a slave, that is to say, held like a woman” (154). Crimsworth has been thoroughly emasculated, and Brontë understands this. By allowing himself to be treated as a slave, “kept down like some desolate tutor or governess” (17), he is obeying a feminine code of passivity which is mocked by his acquaintance Yorke Hunsden, who further insults his masculinity by telling him the only way he'll get ahead in the world is through a woman's agency: “your only chance of getting a competency lies in marrying a rich widow, or running away with an heiress” (31). Yet the apparent extremity of his situation does not approximate that of a governess, “disconnected, poor, and plain” (Jane Eyre 190), as much as it does that of any middle-class woman, who must rely on the charity of those in power for security.8 But Crimsworth's position fails to call out the reader's sympathy because it is described in the self-satisfied tones of masculine authority; his superior attitude, as a man and an aristocrat, only invites us to objectify the desolate governess as the lowest of the low. The fact that the hero has been a victim of male oppression (his brother even whips him) does not quicken his sympathies for the oppressed; he seeks to exert his prerogative and find someone—and why not a woman?—to exploit in return. If he cannot do this materially, he will do it verbally in his narrative by, for example, privately abusing “‘That slut of a servant’” who neglects to light his grate (24). Crimsworth is disinherited and strange-looking, and he is brought low; obviously he is an example, along with Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe, of Brontë's misunderstood misfits. But the voice of this novel is never really conscious of being perceived as less than fully human, which is the female experience of otherness; he always maintains the privilege of the masculine subject. Even after Brontë drops the artificial, epistolary opening with its male interlocutor, one has the feeling throughout the novel that the narratee is also male.9 The absence of feminine consciousness contributes to this, of course, but there is also the narrator's complete failure of imagination when it comes to female experience, and his persistent distancing from and objectification of women.

For example, in the blighted industrial town where he goes to work “with other slaves” (31), Crimsworth's tendency is to view the feminine element with aloofness. He would deem it “like a night-mare” to marry one of his six cousins, and especially abhors “the large and well-modelled statue, Sarah.” The “young, tall, and well-shaped” (7) wife of his rich brother is dismissed as childish, and the other “tall, well-made, full-formed, dashingly dressed” young ladies (sexually mature women clearly make him uncomfortable) are totally uninteresting: “I considered them only as something to be glanced at from a distance; their dresses and faces were often pleasing enough to the eye: but I could not understand their conversation … When I caught snatches of what they said, I could never make much of it” (181). Brontë did not approve of the accepted standards of female attractiveness—tall and full-figured, vain, coquettish—any more than she approved of the social ideal of masculinity. But she is even-handed enough to give the lie to Crimsworth's attitude of superiority. Yorke Hunsden tells the hero that it is his own fault if women do not find him interesting, for he is too narrow-minded to find them interesting: a man who only perceives otherness is deprived of the pleasures of equality. “There are sensible as well as handsome women … women it is worth a man's while to talk with, and with whom I can talk with pleasure,” says Hunsden (181). Instead, Crimsworth is drawn to the portrait of his dead mother, whom he resembles: he has her aristocratic features, such as the “true and tender feeling” expressed in her face (8). Every man Crimsworth knows, however, treats this susceptibility to emotion as a defect (even though most of the time they discover it by examining his physiognomy, rather than in any emotional words on his part), thereby applying pressure on Crimsworth to conform to a strict gender role. After ten years at Eton, it can be supposed that Crimsworth made only one friend, and this turns out to be a “sarcastic … cold-blooded” man who could acceptably converse about the masters, but received Crimsworth's occasional allusions to beauty or sentiment with “sardonic coldness” (1). Hunsden judges Crimsworth's features as too like his mother's, saying “There's too much of the sen-si-tive” (19). And later, M. Pelet bluntly tells Crimsworth the “weak point” in his character is “the sentimental” (79). These indictments of male feeling or “weakness” work effectively to construct a masculine ideal that is stoic, shrewd, and masterful. The voice of The Professor is just such a man; that he is imbued with Charlotte Brontë's Romanticism does not really dilute her critique of sexual polarization. The “bull-like,” aggressive Edward Crimsworth is a melodramatic villain, but he is also the cultural ideal of manliness, “fine-looking,” “well-made,” “of athletic proportions,” a man with “business-like habits” (5). Brontë clearly calculates the emotional costs of a repressed sensibility in men: Edward mistreats his horse, is cruel to his brother, and eventually abuses his wife. But that he is thoroughly masculine is never questioned.

For his patient endurance of injustice, Crimsworth is labeled “‘a fossil,’” “‘an automaton,’” “‘an essential sap, and in no shape the man for my money’” (29) by the feminine-looking Hunsden. Brontë's loose, cynical tone describes masculine banter affecting to disguise care and compassion with sarcasm and insults. The masculine expression of emotion is couched in terms of perverse indifference—for example, Hunsden's sneering generosity and Crimsworth's constant refusal to express his gratitude. At one point, after Hunsden meets Crimsworth’s future wife, Frances, the two men grapple on the street:

No sooner than we got into the street than Hunsden collared me. … [H]e swayed me to and fro; so I grappled him round the waist. It was dark; the street lonely and lampless. We had then a tug for it; and after we had both rolled on the pavement, and with difficulty picked ourselves up, we agreed to walk on more soberly.


What seems like antagonism is more like a male version of an embrace, and points to the cultural prohibitions placed on expressions of affection between men.10 The “feminine” qualities of solicitude and compassion, which he identifies with his mother's portrait, are driven underground by other men in the novel who are equally bound by ideological constraints. The hero's “feminization” is constantly embattled and subdued, despite his half-suppressed longing for love or the confession that, “I am my mother's son, but not my uncles' nephew” (42).

Crimsworth's voyage to Belgium initiates a psychological quest for the “mother's son,” and, significantly, commences a conventional (feminine) love and marriage plot, as the hero seeks “the mother who looms in each woman for the grown-up boy” (Rich 152). In Brussels, he is forced to confront aspects of himself that both define and diminish his masculine identity. Crimsworth's tearful exclamation, “Mother!” as he gazes on her portrait, echoes two earlier raptures: the strange “reedy” and “fertile” countryside draws the breathless cry, “Belgium!” (45), followed by the equally strange “Pensionnat!” (50) as Crimsworth gazes at the walls restraining the adolescent demoiselles. His maternal legacy emanates from a foreign landscape that is totally Other—Flemish, Catholic, French-speaking—for until this time, Crimsworth admits that “feminine character” was as alien to him as Brussels. At the Pensionnat de Demoiselles, he has an opportunity to consolidate as well as to modify the pleasure of being a man—that is, of having personal power. But as we have already seen, in doing so he relinquishes the pleasures of sexual equality—the pleasures of shared humanity. For example, Crimsworth takes a scientific pleasure in studying the “hundred specimens of the genus ‘jeune fille,’” but Brontë also makes it clear that the hero must unlearn what patriarchal, and capitalist, ideology has reinforced, and “that unlawful pleasure, trenching on another's rights, is delusive and envenomed pleasure” (166).

But the habit of privilege is difficult to surrender. Even when he arrives in Belgium—a foreigner, poor, without friends or connections—he is in the position of the masculine subject, almost immediately telling the reader about a “picturesque,” though “eminently stupid” Flemish housemaid, and seeking pretty faces under the bonnets of the demoiselles at the Pensionnat. Crimsworth is, in fact, virtually obsessed with knowing the mysterious female, but this may be less because Brontë is also obsessed with femaleness than with the fact that in creating a male figure she is engaged in a study of oppression from the inside. What nineteenth-century woman writer, taking a male voice, would not need to imagine how men see women? For if she doesn't know “the other case” she does know what it is like to be the object of male scrutiny.

Along with the authority that comes with his status as professor, Crimsworth reveals an insufferable snobbishness based on his nationality, his aristocratic lineage, and his sexual superiority. If Brontë is using a male narrator to engage in fantasies of power, she nevertheless does not make that power attractive. This sexually fastidious man assumes almost immediately, for example, that Zoraide Reuter is “an old duenna of a directress” (55) or “a stiff old maid” (65), and totally dismisses the kind Madame Pelet as “ugly, as only continental old women can be” (59). His smug curiosity about the “unseen paradise” of the demoiselles' garden reveals the degree of his unchallenged indoctrination into his rights as subject: “I thought it would have been so pleasant to have looked upon a garden planted with flowers and trees, so amusing to have watched the demoiselles at their play; to have studied female character in a variety of phases, myself the while sheltered from view by a modest muslin curtain” (54, my emphasis).

To handle male appropriation of the feminine from the center of masculine consciousness is crucial to Brontë's critique. Crimsworth's interest in the demoiselles as female “specimens,” his sexual “mastery” over both Zoraide Reuter and Frances Henri, his critical observations of young women's bodies and faces are precise means for developing and affirming his manliness. As Kappeler has explained, what is at stake in the objectification of women is the very basis of patriarchy and of masculine selfhood: “His understanding of gender relations is at the very bottom of his understanding of himself, it informs his understanding and organization of society, and it informs his semantics, his symbolization of it” (155). Brontë thus makes Crimsworth's masculinity and his discourse almost entirely dependent on how he relates to women. The “sketches” of young women Crimsworth describes in close physical detail are all negatively stereotypic: viragos, coquettes, peevish brats, cool manipulators (there is one attentive student, Sylvie, who is also “the ugliest … in the room” [74]). The level of discomfort Crimsworth endures when confronting these womanly-looking students (72) seems particularly sexual. This is adolescent female sexuality without the “modest muslin curtain” to protect his amour-propre. The peep show, which would have displayed “the angels and their Eden” (64) and which protected Crimsworth from interacting with real women, has become uncomfortably confrontational. The professor who had earlier stated “I am not easily embarrassed” (66) can blush with shame when in the presence of the demoiselles:

More obvious, more prominent, shone on by the full light of the large window, were the occupants of the benches just before me, of whom some were girls of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, some young women from eighteen (as it appeared to me) up to twenty; the most modest attire, the simplest fashion of wearing the hair, were apparent in all; and good features, ruddy, blooming complexions, large and brilliant eyes, forms full, even to solidity, seemed to abound. I did not bear the first view like a stoic; I was dazzled, my eyes fell …


Though disturbed by his sexual interest in young women, what is most troubling is their bold disregard for his privilege of objectifying them. “If I looked at these girls with little scruple, they looked at me with still less” (72). Their exhibitionism and their aggressive looks—“An air of bold, impudent flirtation, or a loose, silly leer, was sure to answer the most ordinary glance from a masculine eye” (84)—appalls Crimsworth.11 He earlier has confessed how he deplores Pelet's free allusions to “le beau sexe,” telling the reader, “I abhorred, from my soul, mere licentiousness” (59). Whereas these young women are abundantly female, they are not (with the exception of Frances) demurely feminine, and this is what Crimsworth both expects and requires. In fact, they are as rowdy as his male pupils: “when it came to shrieking the girls indisputably beat the boys hollow” (55). These deviants' sexual curiosity about him gives Crimsworth some relief from guilt about his voyeuristic fantasies. But finding his subjectivity challenged, he retrenches his power, he covers his emotional nakedness: “I had buckled on a breast-plate of steely indifference, and let down a visor of impossible austerity” (73). Thus psychologically armored, Crimsworth can reassert his subjective authority by repeatedly describing the now-repulsive physical features and the bold glances of his pupils (received “with the gaze of stoicism” [103]); he launches his erotic conquests over their sluggish minds instead of their bodies: “Owing to her education or her nature books are to her a nuisance, and she opens them with aversion, yet her teacher must instil into her mind the contents of these books; that mind resists the admission of grave information, it recoils, it grows restive …” (104). The use of the generic feminine pronoun in his discourse consolidates his subjective privilege.

This social form of power is based, of course, on the narrator's role as tutor; but it is equally based on gender (age is not much of a factor, since Crimsworth is only a few years older than his pupils) and is endowed with the eroticism that Brontë must certainly have felt simmering in the classrooms of the Pensionnat Heger, but which would have been unacceptable if described from a female point of view. Indeed, Crimsworth's insistence on his superiority to sexual temptation gives the lie to his professional disinterestedness, and only attests to the appreciable tensions of his situation. As if suspecting how impossible it is to believe a male teacher could show such self-control, he declares, “Know, O incredulous reader! that a master stands in a somewhat different relation toward a pretty, light-headed, probably ignorant girl, to that occupied by a partner at a ball, or a gallant on the promenade” (104). The incredulous (male) reader then receives privileged information about how women really are (or at least, how Belgian women really are). In those rare situations where prettiness and ignorance are not encouraged in order to attract male admiration, women are fully men's equals in aggressiveness and pride.

Crimsworth among the demoiselles seems an effort to correct patriarchy's appropriation and symbolization of women. At least twice Brontë deliberately calls attention to the fact that “female character as depicted in Poetry and Fiction” (76) is onesided and sentimental. Crimsworth must discover that women are not “earthly angels and human flowers” (83). It would be a misreading to suppose that here Brontë castigates her own sex as mendacious, foolish, and sensual. On the contrary, it is to insist on women's individuality and full participation in human life. “Give us back our suffering!” cries Florence Nightingale in Cassandra (29), meaning give us back our faults, our humanity. It could be the motto for Brontë's entire oeuvre.

When Zoraide Reuter, a forerunner of Madame Beck in Villette and a woman who uses seduction and flattery to achieve her political ends, tells Crimsworth, “men have so much more influence than women have—they argue more logically than we do; and you, Monsieur, in particular, have so paramount a power of making yourself obeyed” (112), Brontë displays her awareness of two ideological assumptions. First, that to possess power of any kind is a virtue, and second, that it is intrinsically a male privilege. Zoraide's remark is intended to appeal to Crimsworth's vanity; but it also serves to remind him of his complicity in male dominance and the unearned advantages of masculinity. Later, when she is debased by his rejection of her, Crimsworth has an important revelation about his capacity for despotism:

I had ever hated a tyrant; and behold, the possession of a slave, self-given, went near to transform me into what I abhorred! There was at once a sort of low gratification in receiving this luscious incense from an attractive and still young worshipper; and an irritating sense of degradation in the very experience of the pleasure. When she stole about me with the soft step of a slave, I felt at once barbarous and sensual as a pasha.


Brontë makes it clear that power is sexually stimulating (it is important that Zoraide is “attractive and still young”), and yet it is “irritating” to the masculine ego that he should derive pleasure from feminine submission. Nevertheless, Brontë obviously sees this intersection of power and pleasure as a defining factor in male socialization, and she is critical of the cultural myths that reinforce it, chiefly the doctrine of separate spheres and women's economic dependence. When Frances insists on giving lessons after they are married, for example, Crimsworth describes, in chivalric terms, the egotistical pleasure of controlling women: “There is something flattering to a man's strength, something consonant to his honourable pride, in the idea of becoming the providence of what he loves—feeding and clothing it, as God does the lilies of the field” (199-200). Here he does not feel a “demigod” compared with women, but God himself—“it” becomes his creation, just as “Woman” is an icon of Victorian patriarchy. Brontë, though, undermines the intense pleasure of the narrator's generosity and power: Crimsworth's God-like fantasy gives way, and he “permits” his wife to continue teaching. Physically, though, during these negotiations, Crimsworth keeps Frances on his knee with his arms tightly around her. He describes her as “a mouse in its terror” and says he holds her “with restraint that was gentle enough, so long as no opposition tightened it” (199).12

Allowing his wife to work is not much of a concession, given the fact that it is Frances's “pleasure, her joy to make me still the master in all things” (223). Unlike Rochester, Crimsworth does not undergo “the inevitable sufferings necessary when those in power are forced to release some of their power to those who previously had none” (Heilbrun 57). On the contrary, the “feminization” of the male narrator involves very little suffering. By the end of the narrative, Crimsworth even seems more manly and powerful than ever: he continues to conceal his emotional vulnerability, thinks of his love and his sexuality as a “gift” to confer on the “penniless and parentless” Frances (he later refers to himself as “a man of peculiar discernment” for finding a plain woman sexually appealing) and after they are married, continues to treat her as a “docile … well-trained child” (219). Eventually Crimsworth and Frances open a school, return to England, make sound investments, and retire with an independency. In this novel, to “feminize” the hero is clearly not to symbolically castrate him, nor have him killed during a voyage, nor have him submit to a woman's influence. Still, despite Crimsworth's mastery over his wife and his full participation in patriarchal hegemony, Brontë concludes The Professor with an important critique of the system that produces male privilege—produces, in effect, the disconcerting sexism of The Professor, a novel written only a year before Brontë's feminist manifesto, Jane Eyre. The real “masquerade” in the novel has not been Charlotte Brontë as William Crimsworth (Gilbert & Gubar 318), but the character of Crimsworth himself as a perfectly adjusted Victorian gentleman. Though he adopts a manly role—as master, squire, professor, husband, and, improbably, killer of rabid dogs—he finally questions the virtue of passing on a patriarchal legacy to his young son, Victor. Elaine Showalter writes, “Victor Crimsworth will learn self-mastery in an all-male world” (Literature 137). But Crimsworth's description of the all-male world of Eton is highly qualified, and the tone is clearly that of regret. Their neighbor, Hunsden, affirms that Victor's mother “is making a milksop”—but, Crimsworth gives us Frances's retort: “Better a thousand times he should be a milksop than what he, Hunsden, calls a ‘fine lad’” (232). “‘Good fellow,’” “‘fine fellow,’” “‘fine lad’”: by placing these epithets in inverted commas, Brontë exposes the artificiality of Victorian gender roles. Despite Hunsden's praise of the boy's manly potential, Victor has the “swelling germs of compassion, affection, fidelity” (235) which threaten to undermine his development as a genuine “good fellow.” But the suggestion that Eton will take care of these tendencies indicates that Brontë understands what an education in competition and mastery will produce, since after all, Crimsworth is a product of Eton, too. But Brontë also seems to understand that in a man's world such qualities are necessary to achieve material success—at the end of the novel we learn that Crimsworth's vicious older brother “is getting richer than Croesus by railway speculations” (237).

Descriptions of male mastery, voyeurism, or sexual suppression are not signs of Brontë's self-loathing, her disgust with the female body, or “a characteristically female desire to comprehend the mysteries of femaleness” (Gilbert & Gubar 321). On the contrary, the masculine voice of The Professor is a representation of Victorian masculinity. It is not a picture of unqualified heroism, nor is it an unqualified success as a realistic novel—I agree with those critics who find the narrator sometimes awkward, his choice of language occasionally only “the verbal equivalents of aggressiveness” (Taylor 7). But if we consider Brontë's limited experience, the novel is a fascinating transposition of her culture's construction of men as masters of their emotions, who are nonetheless driven by desires for power and sexual domination. Certain scenes seem remarkably insightful; for example, as a Victorian man who would have absorbed his culture's construction of the Other as virgin/whore, Crimsworth is fascinated with young women, but also ambivalent towards female sexuality. The attack of “Hypochondria” he suffers after he has proposed to Frances has been interpreted both as his fear of sexual initiation (Moglen 95-6), and as “guilt for unresolved boyhood desires for his mother” (Maynard 88). But his illness could also be provoked by the loss of his voyeuristic freedom: being sexually faithful to one woman significantly curtails his right to sexually dominate many women.

The sexual tensions of The Professor do reflect indirectly those felt by Victorian women; but the novel also attempts to comprehend the tensions felt by Victorian men who enjoyed the privilege of cultural subjectivity. For Brontë, such pleasure, linked to the exploitation of other human beings as “specimens,” were morally dangerous—“delusive and envenomed pleasure” as Crimsworth eventually concedes (166). The Professor is a remarkable early effort to confront how Victorian ideologies of gender both form and limit personality, for in using a male voice, Brontë uncovers how the gender of her character largely makes him who he is.

In this sense, Brontë's confidently masculine, objectifying, often misogynist voice itself embodies anxieties about Victorian sexuality. And although each of Brontë's novels confront issues of power, The Professor deals not with how to obtain power (the problem for Brontë's heroines), but how to outgrow the need for power. Crimsworth has the desire for power, but he also learns the terror of being powerful. It is specifically a masculine and middle-class problem, and perhaps the principle artistic inheritors of social privilege—middle-class male novelists—were unable to treat so studiously, from within a man's experience, their own complicity in Victorian society's treatment of women. Of course, it is important to acknowledge that any use of a male narrator is a reinscription of male authority and hence of male power—male narrators generally tend to be invested with authority, and this leaves the reader with the difficult question of how we evaluate a novelist's perspective on a first-person narrator. And it is certainly feasible—and probable—that Crimsworth's scorn for Belgian Catholics, for example, is an indirect expression of Brontë's feelings based on her experiences at M. Heger's pensionnat. Though these considerations are important, they do not, I think, on the whole obscure Brontë's interrogation of Victorian gender roles. The whole experience of socialized gender may have been more recognizable to women writers, who have not only felt social prejudice more acutely, but have a greater awareness of themselves as sexually defined members of society. In this sense, the mid-Victorian woman writing from the male perspective has the difficult task of reproducing a voice which trivializes her experiences, while at the same time maintaining an alternative, subtextual authority—her own—with its insider's knowledge of the conditions of women's lives. This double perspective in literature may be connected with her double consciousness as a middle-class woman living within a patriarchal, capitalist society; she is part of the dominant culture, but she occupies a place separate and inferior within it. If nothing else, because Brontë chooses in The Professor to negotiate, rather than ignore, this double perspective, she amplifies the importance of recognizing the gendered nature of all discourse.


  1. These segregated terms seem to undercut any critique of gendered language or narrative that Brontë might have wished to engage. But a pervasive Victorian ideology of separate spheres has led modern readers quite naturally to construct readings of these texts largely based upon sexual difference. To refer to male or female language, male/quest or female/marriage plots, male or female Bildungsromane, etc., is almost unavoidable. What is interesting is how some women novelists who use male narrators still produce a heroine-centered story and a female plot. George Sand's Indiana (1832), for example, is narrated by a man, but the book belongs to the heroine entirely, as does, to a lesser extent, Willa Cather's My Antonia (1918). Brontë's eponymous narrator, on the other hand, is not telling a woman's story, he is telling his own; the heroine is secondary. This is important to keep in mind in an attempt to understand Victorian attitudes towards sexual polarity, since even the title of a novel may be an attempt to raise expectations in terms of plot, literary value, and even language. George Eliot's masculine titles (Silas Marner, Adam Bede, Daniel Deronda) signal a male-centered story, though women are more often than not the psychological focus. Dealing with “masculine” and “feminine” language is difficult without falling into facile stereotypes. Brontë's narrator, however, uses language that is marked, sometimes exaggeratedly, as masculine according to Dale Spender's use of gender differences as described by linguists: men's speech is “forceful, efficient, blunt, authoritative, serious, effective, sparing and masterful” (Man Made Language 33). This is certainly the style of speech the narrator often adopts, usually as a way to hide certain “feminine” propensities.

  2. Charlotte Brontë sought professional advice, and she wanted to be published. More than her sisters Emily and Anne, she wished to be a professional novelist, and “regardless of any woman writer's ambivalence toward authoritative institutions and ideologies, the act of writing a novel and seeking to publish it … is implicitly a quest for discursive authority: a quest to be heard, respected, believed, a hope of influence” (Lanser 7).

  3. For a woman writer, to imagine what it is like to be a man seems difficult enough even today. When recently asked in an interview if she felt able to imagine what it is like to live in a male body, American novelist Mary Gordon said, “To be larger … Not to be afraid of being raped … No, I can't imagine it yet” (25; “Love Has Its Consequences,” The New York Times Book Review, August 8, 1993: 1+). This suggests that the greatest challenge for some women writers may be imagining personal security and control of the body in a society hostile to women. As Lanser explains, “the authorial mode has allowed women access to ‘male’ authority by separating the narrating ‘I’ from the female body” (18). But Brontë seems yet unable to separate her male “I” from her female body: it is significant that Crimsworth sometimes feels sexually threatened. Penny Boumelha has pointed out that in the episode where he is invited to tea with Madame Pelet and Madame Reuter “he undergoes a fantasy of rape-seduction far more fearful and explicit than anything Brontë assigns to her female characters” (43).

  4. Beryl Gray's Afterword to the 1985 Virago edition briefly summarizes the novel's reception: Henry James called it a “jeu d'esprit,” Marghanita Lanski a “sadly poor supernatural story,” and Christopher Ricks “the weirdest fiction she ever wrote” (The Lifted Veil 69-70).

  5. In the “Biographical Notice” to the 1849 edition of Wuthering Heights, Brontë wrote that she and her sisters chose pseudonyms “without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine.’” Most readers of Scenes of Clerical Life and Adam Bede did not doubt that “George Eliot” was a man (although Dickens was convinced the author was female), and her publisher, John Blackwood, continued to address Eliot as a man even after he knew her true identity. See Redinger, 332-4.

  6. However much he despised Eton, his training there is instrumental to his status as hero, and comes in handy when the boat of one of his Flemish pupils capsizes: “I had not been brought up at Eton and boated and bathed and swam there for ten long years for nothing; it was a natural and easy act for me to leap to the rescue” (174).

  7. In Chapter 7, when Lucy Snowe first arrives in the city, she is warned that it is too late “for a woman to go through the park alone”; she is subsequently followed by two insolent men whom she calls “my dreaded hunters.” They pursue her until she is “out of breath … my pulses throbbing in inevitable agitation” (125).

  8. Brontë was severely critical of women's economic dependence within marriage. She wrote to Ellen Nussey (August 9, 1846), “I do not wish for you a very rich husband, I should not like you to be regarded by any man ever as ‘a sweet object of charity.’”

  9. Lanser has observed that in Jane Eyre, the female voice is insistently and personally “in contact with a public narratee in the manner of the ‘engaging’ authorial narrator” (185), and I think this is true partly because, for most of the story, Jane's voice represents many voices: “Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot … Women feel just as men feel … It is thoughtless to condemn them …” (141). Rhetorically, personal contact with a reader who may be sceptical or complacent is crucial in Jane Eyre, for Brontë wants to change the reader's way of thinking about governesses, class privilege, beauty, even novel-writing. There are addresses to the reader in The Professor, but they do not have the same urgency for connection with an oppressed class.

  10. Ruth Johnston views this episode, in the context of Lacan's theory of the production of the subject/reader, as another way of alienating the reader by withholding knowledge and the identification necessary in realism (370-1). But the scene is accessible if we think of the pressures of Victorian manliness. Brontë may have been describing the constraints for men in expressing their affections within the polarized bounds of “male” reason and “female” emotion. Of course, the scene can also be read as homosocial bonding.

  11. Beth Newman's “‘The Situation of the Looker-On’: Gender, Narration, and Gaze in Wuthering Heights” uses Lacanian theory to discuss the implicit gendering of gaze, associating the female gaze with male castration anxiety.

  12. Basch (165-66) and Moglen (64-77) identify a pattern in Brontë's fiction, based on her belief in romantic love, where the woman's pleasure is derived from feeling physically overpowered at the same time that she successfully asserts her autonomy.

Works Cited

Basch, Francoise. Relative Creatures. New York: Schocken, 1974.

Boumelha, Penny. Charlotte Brontë. New York: Harvester, 1990.

Brontë, Charlotte. The Professor. 1857. London: Dent, 1969.

———. Jane Eyre. 1848. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988.

———. Villette. 1853. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.

Cohan, Steven and Linda M. Shires. Telling Stories: A Theoretical Analysis of Narrative Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1988.

de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Trans. H. M. Parshley. New York: Vintage, 1952.

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Criticism: An Introduction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

Gray, Beryl. Afterword. The Lifted Veil. By George Eliot. New York: Virago, 1985. 69-91.

Heilbrun, Carolyn. Towards a Recognition of Androgyny. New York: Norton, 1973.

Johnston, Ruth D. “The Professor: Charlotte Brontë's Hysterical Text, or Realistic Narrative and the Ideology of the Subject from a Feminist Perspective.” Dickens Studies Annual 18 (1989): 353-80.

Kappeler, Susanne. The Pornography of Representation. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986.

Lane, Margaret. Introduction. The Professor. By Charlotte Brontë. London: Dent, 1969.

Lanser, Susan Sniader, Fictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992.

Maynard, John. Charlotte Brontë and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.

Moglen, Helene. Charlotte Brontë: The Self Conceived. New York: Norton, 1976.

Morgan, Susan. Sisters in Time: Imagining Gender in 19th-Century British Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Newman, Beth. “‘The Situation of the Looker-On’: Gender, Narration, and Gaze in Wuthering Heights.PMLA [Publications of the Modern Language Association of America] 105 (1990): 1029-1042.

Newton, Judith Lowder. Women, Power, and Subversion: Social Strategies in British Fiction, 1778-1860. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1981.

Nightingale, Florence. Cassandra. 1852. New York: Feminist Press, 1979.

Poovey, Mary. Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England. Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1988.

Redinger, Ruby. George Eliot: The Emergent Self. New York: Knopf, 1979.

Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born. New York: Norton, 1976.

Shorter, Clement. The Brontës: Life and Letters. 2 vols. 1908. New York: Haskell, 1969.

Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977.

———. “Women Writers and the Double Standard.” Woman in Sexist Society. Eds. Vivian Gornick and Barbara K. Moran. New York: Basic Books, 1971. 323-43.

Spender, Dale. Man Made Language. London: Routledge, 1980.

Taylor, Anne Robinson. Male Novelists and Their Female Voices: Literary Masquerades. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1981.

Catherine Malone (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6038

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 of the circumstances of her life.

Brontë's life was now found to contain all the necessary elements for elevation to a Victorian model of womanhood: an isolated, religious childhood; literary precocity; unstimulating, unappreciated work as a governess and teacher; devotion to duty and family none the less; fortitude in the face of family deaths; reward through fame and marriage to a clergyman. Thus 1857 finds Brontë being held up as a pattern of ‘the moral battle of life fought out and nobly won’:

the lives of the saints were the theology of the monasteries. In the heroines, and the confessors, and martyrs, men saw before them examples of what they, too, might become. These forms have passed away, but the substance remains; and, as little as Charlotte Bronté [sic] knew it, she was earning for herself a better title than many a St. Catherine, or St. Bridget, for a place among those noble ones whose virtues are carved out of rock, and will endure to the end.6

By the end of the decade, Women of Beauty and Heroism (1859), Heroines of Our Time: Being the Sketches of the Lives of Eminent Women, with Examples of their Benevolent Works, Truthful Lives, and Noble Deeds (1860), and Women of Worth (1859) all contain chapters on Brontë. In the last of these, alongside ‘The Newgate Schoolmistress—Elizabeth Fry’ and ‘The Earnest Christian—Lady Warwick’, appears ‘The Worthy Daughter—Charlotte Brontë’: ‘Everything was against her through life—plainness of person, poverty, a solitude and sensitiveness of soul that no one could appreciate, and disappointment of almost every expectation and wish. Yet she nobly struggled on—her watchword duty and her reliance Heaven.’7 Emerging as it did amid this euology, few critics castigated The Professor as they had Brontë's previous works.8 The Eclectic Review concludes upon the biography, ‘now that we have finished the strange, sad story, we have no heart for mere literary criticism … others may criticize her writings—we are unable to think of anything but her life.’9

In the long term, however, The Professor has perhaps suffered from the timing of its publication. Since Brontë's personal history embraced many of the components of Victorian popular fiction and was brought to the public by an acclaimed novelist, the Life was treated almost as a novel itself. To the British Quarterly Review, ‘the story of this remarkable woman, told with such deep and simple pathos by her gifted and affectionate biographer, becomes as interesting as the tale of a second Jane Eyre’.10 It was the beginning of the merging of Brontë facts and Brontë fictions. Critics were more interested in the drama of the Life than in the ‘chastised, controlled, subdued temper’11 of The Professor, and those critics who did pronounce upon the novel invariably did so in the light of the biography, endeavouring to equate the characters with those in Brontë's life or at best, with her later literary creations: ‘Hunsden is an undeveloped Rochester’;12 ‘the Professor is a woman in disguise,—as indeed she proves to be,—for she is quite properly stripped of her male costume, and turned into “Lucy Snowe” in Villette. There is a shyness, a sulky tenderness, and disposition to coquet manifest in the Professor's relations with his friend the Yorkshire manufacturer’;13 ‘Into the character of the Professor himself the writer has transferred much from her own nature’.14 An American critic, Margaret Sweat, extends the biographical interest of the novel to an influence by Emily and Anne—‘its choice of material … reminds us of her sisters rather than of herself as we now know her’15—although it is difficult to imagine that she could see in Crimsworth the passion of Heathcliff, the depravity of Arthur Huntingdon, or the piety of William Weston. ‘We are unable to think of anything but her life’: a pattern for criticism of The Professor was thus established which has changed remarkably little in the twentieth century. But should the novel be so read?

Contemporary critics were bemused by the character of Crimsworth, finding him either ‘dull’16 or, after the intense engagement between narrator and reader in Brontë's other novels, aloof: ‘The principles and the art of the author, though true, excite no corresponding sympathy on the part of the reader,—few demands being made on his softer or gentler nature. There is no Helen Burns that we can watch or weep over,—no sprightly little Adele [sic] that we can sport with.’17 Yet both qualities, so at odds with the typical self-portrayal of an autobiographer, are central to why Crimsworth is so interesting, if not likeable, a character. Why did Brontë choose to make her hero so unengaging? The answer surely lies in the novel's form. As in Jane Eyre and Villette, Brontë plays upon the potential in autobiographic narratives for discrepancy between the narrator's and the reader's perceptions of the text. An abandoned Preface to The Professor, probably written in November or December 1847 when Brontë was first attempting to persuade Smith, Elder to reconsider the work for publication, highlights this aspect by having a more objective observer, a friend of Crimsworth's, introduce the manuscript:

I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Crimsworth very well—and can vouch for his having been a respectable man—though perhaps not altogether the character he seems to have thought he was. Or rather—to an impartial eye—in the midst of his good points little defects and peculiarities were visible of which he was himself excusably unconscious—An air—a tone of his former profession lingered over & round him—a touch of the pedagogue—unobtrusive but also unmistakeable.18

One of the most notable examples of Crimsworth being ‘not altogether the character he … thought he was’ is his perception of his sexuality. Crimsworth likes to believe he is set apart from other men—‘“I must follow my own devices—I must till the day of my death—because I can neither comprehend, adopt nor work out those of other people”’ (p. 52)—and includes his lack of interest in women as a facet of that superiority. He observes of his brother's wife's childish mannerisms, ‘this lisp and expression were, I have no doubt, a charm in Edward's eyes, and would be so to those of most men—but they were not to mine’ (p. 13), and of Frances, that she is ‘for a sensualist—charmless’ (p. 168). Yet while at the beginning of the novel he declares an interest only in women with ‘the clear, cheering gleam of intellect’ (p. 13), asserting that for a professor, feminine ‘mental qualities; application, love of knowledge, natural capacity, docility, truthfulness, gratefulness are the charms that attract his notice and win his regard’ (p. 120), the puritanical image he presents is continually undermined by his regard for physical beauty, manifest in his obsession with the boarded window in his bedroom at M. Pelet's, and his observations on his female pupils and the women with whom he has already come into contact. During the party at his brother's house, Crimsworth is not introduced to the ‘group of very pretty girls’ surrounding Edward and feels that he can take no part in the dancing: ‘Many smiling faces and graceful figures glided past me—but the smiles were lavished on other eyes—the figures sustained by other hands than mine—turned away tantalized’ (p. 24).

Similarly, it is Mlle Reuter's outer rather than inner charms which chiefly attract Crimsworth. It is he who nearly falls in love with Zoraïde and she, confident in her relationship with Pelet, who plays with his affections. Although any relationship between the two has been largely of Crimsworth's imagining, on discovering the engagement, he considers Zoraïde and Pelet's deceit an act of ‘treachery’ (p. 112)—one which does not just cause him momentary bitterness, shame, or embarrassment but temporarily extinguishes his entire ‘faith in love and friendship’ (p. 111). Within a short space of time, he has eradicated any feeling of culpability from his mind to such an extent that he is able to maintain, ‘Neither could [Hunsden] suspect for an instant the history of my communications with Mdlle. Reuter; secret to him and to all others was the tale of her strange infatuation: her blandishments, her wiles had been seen but by me, and to me only were they known’ (p. 205); her ‘infatuation’ is indeed known only to Crimsworth because it existed only in his mind. Even after he has fallen in love with and determined to marry Frances, he continues to be powerfully attracted to Zoraïde, to the point of being capable of adultery. Crimsworth is told by Pelet that he would be welcome to remain in his establishment after he has married Zoraïde, but declines the offer: ‘I was no pope—I could not boast infallibility—in short—if I stayed, the probability was that in three months' time, a practical Modern French novel would be in full process of concoction under the roof of the unsuspecting Pelet’ (p. 187). Since the consequence of rejecting the offer is that he must find other lodgings, he later considers the possibility that his intended step is unnecessarily severe: ‘“And all this,” suggested an inward voice, “because you fear an evil which may never happen!” “It will happen; you know it will;” answered that stubborn monitor, conscience’ (p. 188). That which he first poses as a ‘probability’ he now confesses, extraordinarily, to be a certainty. Crimsworth, then, is not a character to be taken at his ‘dull’ face value, on his own terms. The Critic was one of the few contemporary voices to express some reservations about the hero: ‘Had the description of the three young Graces of the “pensionnat” come from a “bonâ fide” Professor, we certainly should refuse to recommend him for any such post for the future’;19 while to the Literary Gazette, the same passage is a series of ‘voluptuous descriptions which, ploughing up the passions at every sentence, give occasion to much wonder’.20

The majority of contemporary critics ascribed Crimsworth's reserved, unappealing nature to the fact that Brontë ‘had not yet attained to that powerful delineation of character which constitutes the charm of her later performances’.21 Brontë herself confessed to a weakness in the depiction of male characters:

You both [James Taylor and W. S. Williams] complain of the want of distinctness and impressiveness in my heroes. Probably you are right. In delineating male character I labour under disadvantages: intuition and theory will not always adequately supply the place of observation and experience. When I write about women I am sure of my ground—in the other case, I am not so sure.22

Many modern critics, therefore, look no further in accounting for the comparative failure of The Professor. However, I would argue that the failing is not that Brontë cannot convincingly create male protagonists but that a male protagonist cannot convincingly tell the type of story Brontë wanted to narrate: a history of suffering. Brontë sets out her intention for her hero in the Preface—‘that whatever small competency he might gain should be won by the sweat of his brow … As Adam's Son he should share Adam's doom—Labour throughout life and a mixed and moderate cup of enjoyment’ (pp. 3-4)—but in the event Crimsworth's life is not one of true sweat or labour because throughout the novel he is able to rely on the privileges of his sex and class. The Economist is representative of contemporary, and some modern, criticism in claiming, ‘The rather dismal little heroine of “Villette”, Lucy Snowe, is transformed here into a young man who is “the Professor” of the story’23 but the different gender of the two characters makes for two very different novels. A typical example is each protagonist's first morning on the Continent. Crimsworth is buoyant:

I never experienced a freer sense of exhilaration than when I sat down at a very long black table (covered however in part by a white cloth), and, having ordered breakfast, began to pour out my coffee from a little black coffee-pot. … [A] gentleman, after looking towards me once or twice, politely accosted me in very good English …

I lingered over my breakfast as long as I could, while it was there on the table and while that stranger continued talking to me, I was a free, independent traveller …

(pp. 58-9)

He then walks to Mr Brown's where he presents Hunsden's letter, declines two posts as clerk and bookseller, and accepts one as teacher.

Lucy Snowe, on the other hand, feels entirely lost:

It cannot be denied that on entering [the coffee-room] I trembled somewhat; felt uncertain, solitary, wretched; wished to Heaven I knew whether I was doing right or wrong; felt convinced it was the last, but could not help myself. Acting in the spirit and with the calm of a fatalist, I sat down at a small table, to which a waiter presently brought me some breakfast; and I partook of that meal in a frame of mind not greatly calculated to favour digestion. There were many other people breakfasting at other tables in the room; I should have felt rather more happy if amongst them all I could have seen any women; however, there was not one—all present were men.24

Lacking Crimsworth's education, Lucy is unable to speak French and is without his confident ease of being a man in a man's world. Crimsworth can walk freely from his hotel to Mr Brown's; Lucy is pursued by two men on her walk to Mme Beck's from the bureau where her coach stops. Here, she has no letter of introduction and, in no position to be able to turn down employment, has to plead to be accepted for the most menial of posts. When Jean Baptiste Vandenhuten nearly drowns, Crimsworth is able to save him—‘I had not been brought up at Eton and boated and bathed and swam there ten long years for nothing; it was a natural and easy act for me to leap to the rescue’ (p. 196)—and thus gain the valuable friendship and patronage of his father, as a woman in his position could not have. Few observations, then, could be further from the mark than the Critic's description of Crimsworth as ‘a Jane Eyre in petticoats’.25 Brontë's words in the Preface—‘I said to myself that my hero should work his way through life as I had seen real living men work theirs’ (p. 3)—are thus fulfilled more literally than she perhaps envisaged: her hero exploits the privileges of his sex as fully as any other.

The most significant suffering in the novel is experienced rather by Frances. Contemporary critics enthused about her as a literary creation (the poet and essayist William Roscoe judges her to be ‘decidedly the most attractive female character that ever came from the pen of this author’,26 Gaskell, ‘the most charming woman she ever drew, and a glimpse of that woman as a mother—very lovely’27) but, as with Crimsworth, saw her as a mere adumbration of later characters. The Dublin University Magazine reads her as ‘a silhouette of the Jane Eyre, afterwards so exquisitely matured’,28Blackwood's, somewhat surprisingly, as ‘a sort of feminine [M.] Paul’.29 Yet Frances is an important character in her own right, both within the text and in terms of Brontë's novelistic development, and of a more ambivalent nature than Victorian critics were willing to concede. The main action in Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette ends, for the most part, with the proposal to the heroine, followed by a brief closing chapter. In The Professor, two long chapters follow the proposal scene, amounting to almost a seventh of the novel, in which Frances becomes the central focus. The implication is that Brontë felt unable to conclude the novel without articulating Frances's own perception of her history and relationship with Crimsworth, and the inclusion of Frances's first-person poem is a part of the attempt to offer a female voice. Brontë defended her first novel throughout her correspondence with Smith, Elder. Rereading it after the publication of Jane Eyre, she wrote to W. S. Williams, ‘I found the beginning very feeble, the whole narrative deficient in incident and general attractiveness. Yet the middle and latter portion of the work, all that relates to Brussels, the Belgian school, etc., is as good as I can write: it contains more pith, more substance, more reality, in my judgment, than much of “Jane Eyre”’,30 and it is in the middle and latter portions of the novel that the interest transfers to Frances.

Crimsworth may share some circumstances and experiences with Frances but again, his sex brings an entirely different perspective to them. He defines himself not as an exile but as an ‘Israelite crawling over the sun-baked fields of Egypt’ (p. 41), with the additional connotations of being a chosen one of God, and he feels liberated in Belgium by the fact that he is a foreigner and without family; Frances finds the same situation restricting and isolating. Crimsworth twice chooses to hand in his notice; Frances is in effect dismissed from Mlle Reuter's. The reader's only means of learning how Frances responds to these events, however, is through the inadequate medium of Crimsworth—through a male consciousness. His method of presenting Frances to the reader mirrors his method of teaching Frances in the schoolroom: ‘motioning to her to rise, I installed myself in her place, allowing her to stand deferentially at my side’ (p. 138); he installs himself in her place as the narrator of her history and the reader's knowledge of the woman by his side is one of his interpretation and editing. It becomes increasingly obvious to the reader that there are complexities in Frances's character and in her relationship with Crimsworth unacknowledged by the novel's narrator. Her first conversation with Hunsden, in which she emerges as vibrant and excited, is to Crimsworth a ‘display of eccentric vigour’ of which he observes, ‘To me, once or twice, she had in intimate conversation, uttered venturous thoughts in nervous language, but when the hour of such manifestation was past, I could not recall it’ (p. 237); it is a side of Frances's personality in which he is uninterested, which he deems to be of no importance. Long before he has any thoughts of marrying Frances, he speculates on the type of wife he will choose:

‘the idea of marrying a doll or a fool was always abhorrent to me; I know that a pretty doll, a fair fool might do well enough for the honey-moon—but when passion cooled, how dreadful to find a lump of wax and wood laid in my bosom, a half idiot clasped in my arms, and to remember that I had made of this my equal—nay my idol, to know that I must pass the rest of my dreary life with a creature incapable of understanding what I said, of appreciating what I thought or of sympathising with what I felt!’

(p. 108)

He here reveals not only that he is capable of being swept away by passion and marrying purely for beauty, but that he conceives of his wife in terms only of how she can tend to his needs—to his words, thoughts, and feelings.

The most unsettling instance of Crimsworth's narrative silence or lack of curiosity with regard to Frances is his relation of their very wedding day. He comes to her lodgings to accompany her to the church:

Singular to state, she was or had been crying—when I asked her if she were ready she said ‘Yes, Monsieur,’ with something very like a checked sob; and when I took a shawl, which lay on the table, and folded it round her, not only did tear after tear course unbidden down her cheek, but she shook to my ministration like a reed. I said I was sorry to see her in such low spirits and requested to be allowed an insight into the origin thereof. She only said ‘It was impossible to help it,’ and then voluntarily though hurriedly putting her hand into mine, accompanied me out of the room, and ran downstairs with a quick, uncertain step, like one who was eager to get some formidable piece of business over.

(p. 245)

To Crimsworth, it is a ‘singular’ outburst which makes him not anxious or perturbed but ‘sorry’. To the reader, it appears that as much as Frances loves Crimsworth, the decision to marry him, to relinquish her independence perhaps, is by no means an easy one; she has earlier speculated that ‘“if a wife's nature loathes that of the man she is wedded to, marriage must be slavery”’ (p. 255) and her first request on accepting his marriage proposal is that she may continue to teach. Crimsworth is reluctant to grant this request because to his mind ‘there is something flattering to man's strength, something consonant to his honourable pride in the idea of becoming the Providence of what he loves—feeding and clothing it, as God does the lilies of the field’ (p. 225). The comparison again strikes the reader uneasily, with its suggestion that his love is as much for playing God as it is for Frances. The impression is confirmed by an earlier description of Frances: ‘[one] over whose expression I had such influence; where I could kindle bliss, infuse awe, stir deep delight, rouse sparkling spirit, and sometimes waken pleasurable dread’ (p. 188). The reader may well wonder whether the dread is mutually pleasurable.

While Crimsworth undoubtedly loves Frances, his depictions of her have a static, passionless quality. He terms her ‘my best object of sympathy on earth’, ‘my ideal of the shrine in which to seal my stores of love’, ‘silent possessor of … those sources of refreshment and comfort to the sanctuary of home’ (pp. 168-9); more bizarrely and disturbingly, he describes her after their first embrace as being ‘as stirless in her happiness, as a mouse in its terror’ (p. 224). The image, together with that of her as being ‘docile as a well-trained child’ (p. 247) and his admission that when Mlle Reuter steals about him ‘with the soft steps of a slave’ he feels at once ‘barbarous and sensual as a pasha’ (p. 184), suggests a desire in Crimsworth for mastery. Brontë, however, allows the reader to discern the inadequacy of such descriptions and that Frances, even after they are married, has an independence from Crimsworth's conception of her. When Crimsworth jokingly concedes, in reference to Frances's roles as directress and wife, ‘I seemed to possess two wives’ (p. 250), his words have a greater pertinence than he realizes.

Crimsworth's autobiography could be read as an attempt to create a new self, to write as he would wish to be perceived: as a man who is independent, determined, courageous under affliction, firm in love. He alleges, ‘Novelists should never allow themselves to weary of the study of real Life—if they observed this duty conscientiously, they would give us fewer pictures chequered with vivid contrasts of light and shade; they would seldom elevate their heroes and heroines to the heights of rapture—still seldomer sink them to the depths of despair’ (p. 159). In complying to this doctrine, he attempts to reduce his story to a uniform sameness, passing over or ignoring ‘light and shade’, dwelling on the grey of what he deems ‘real Life’. The result is that the reader is aware of two stories: the history Crimsworth openly narrates, and that which he endeavours to conceal or of which he is unaware—his insecurity, his jealousy of Hunsden, his limited comprehension of Frances. That Brontë did not intend Crimsworth to be an entirely sympathetic character is confirmed in references to the novel in her correspondence. When George Smith, although unwilling to publish the work, offered to keep the manuscript in London for safe-keeping, Brontë refused:

You kindly propose to take The Professor into custody. Ah, no! … Perhaps with slips of him you might light an occasional cigar, or you might remember to lose him some day … No, I have put him by and locked him up, not indeed in my desk, where I could not tolerate the monotony of his demure Quaker countenance, but in a cupboard by himself.31

If Frances's apprehensions about marriage are apparent in the sobs on her wedding morning, Crimsworth's make a still stranger manifestation. His marriage proposal having been accepted by Frances, he returns home only to be tormented by hypochondria for ten days. He attempts to rationalize the incident to the reader: ‘Man is ever clogged with his Mortality and it was my mortal nature which now faltered and plained; my nerves which jarred and gave a false sound, because the soul, of late rushing headlong to an aim, had overstrained the body's comparative weakness’ (p. 228); but the abstract, impersonal language strikes the reader as an unconvincing explanation of such an intensely physical attack. Similarly, he uses biblical allusions, such as ‘A horror of great darkness fell upon me’ (p. 228)—echoing Genesis 15: 12—as a convenient means of relaying his state of mind without having to enter into a detailed analysis of his psyche. Far more telling is his relation of the seizures, which he characterizes as a relationship with a lover:

I had her to myself in secret; she lay with me, she ate with me, she walked out with me, shewing me nooks … where we could sit together, and where she could drop her drear veil over me … taking me entirely to her death-cold bosom, and holding me with arms of bone. What tales she would tell me, at such hours! What songs she would recite in my ears! How she would discourse to me of her own Country—The Grave—and again and again promise to conduct me there erelong; and drawing me to the very brink of a black, sullen river, shew me on the other side, shores unequal with mound, monument and tablet, standing up in a glimmer more hoary than moonlight. ‘Necropolis!’ she would whisper, pointing to the pale piles, and add ‘It contains a mansion prepared for you’.

(p. 228)

The images betray at once disgust and attraction: he goes on to repulse her ‘as one would a dreaded and ghastly concubine coming to embitter a husband's heart towards his young bride’ (p. 229). Although he has earlier referred to Frances as a ‘novice in the art of kissing’ (p. 226), he provides no evidence that he is any less of a novice himself. The novel marks his progress from a dismissal of an ‘Oriental’ homage to beauty (p. 13) to the confession, ‘It appeared then, that I too was a sensualist, in my temperate and fastidious way’ (p. 227). Crimsworth, accustomed to being the ‘maître’ in the relationship, must now come to terms with the fact that it is Frances who awakens the sensualist in him, who could be perceived as an object of fear as well as desire. All that can be deduced from the incident is that for Crimsworth, as for Frances, the prospect of marriage is more unsettling than he is willing to acknowledge. Moglen comments, ‘The illness which lasts for two weeks is similar to the ordeals later endured by Jane Eyre, Carolyn [sic] Helstone, and Lucy Snowe. For all, recovery marks a psychic rebirth: an entry into a new life.’32 I would argue that although Crimsworth may become a husband, father, and the director of a school, it is one of the many curious aspects of the attack that there is no ‘psychic rebirth’, barely any psychic change; for the remainder of the novel, he is as aloof, as self-absorbed, as unperceptive as ever.

It was presumably the inclusion of such disquieting scenes and biblical allusions in the novel which led to Gaskell's misgivings: ‘It is … disfigured by more coarseness,—& profanity in quoting texts of Scripture disagreeably than in any of her other works.’33 Each of Brontë's novels was the victim of such accusations and even The Professor did not entirely escape; the Press held its language to be ‘very good, though at times tainted with that coarseness which disfigured Miss Brontë's later works’.34 But such censures were very much an exception. The Christian Remembrancer remained sceptical of Brontë's Christian faith even after reading the biography—‘her character was essentially unspiritual’35—but now that Brontë was known to have had a life punctuated by tragedy, now, more especially, that she was known to be both the daughter and the wife of a clergyman, every effort was made by the critical establishment to portray her in as favourable, even saintly, a light as possible. Any defects in the morality of The Professor were whitewashed or resolutely ignored. The Saturday Review uses the novel to defend Brontë against the charge of coarseness:

The Professor also shows that … Miss Brontë owed to her residence in Belgium a very peculiar view of the relations of the sexes. She states, as distinctly as words enable her to state, that she found thoughts current among women of all ages in Belgium, which were strange, repulsive, and unknown to an English girl … The Professor is fuller than any of her other tales, of passages which show she was aware of this material side of love. We wish not to be misunderstood. There is not an expression or allusion that a prude could call indelicate, but there are traces, faint but unmistakeable, of a knowledge into which, happily for themselves and their country, Englishwomen are seldom initiated. We cannot doubt that Miss Bronté derived an instruction which to a less noble, unstained, and devotional mind might have been perilous, from her residence in a foreign school …36

Yet for all the new idolization of Brontë, the problem remained of reconciling her novels with the noble, unstained, and devotional character now attributed to her. Women and girls may have been encouraged to emulate Brontë's life but it by no means followed that they were encouraged to read her works. Parental censorship prevailed. The daughter of the author Elizabeth Malleson, for example, remembers being read to as a child in the 1860s: ‘Our mother was a past-master in the art of skipping as she read without pause or loss of continuity anything unsuitable to our youthful ears. I remember she read us Jane Eyre from beginning to end entirely omitting Rochester's mad wife, and so skilfully that we noticed nothing amiss with the plot.’37 Quite some feat. In all the hagiographic accounts of Brontë's life, therefore, remarkably little mention is made of her novels, the very reason for her celebrity. Heroines of Our Time alone alludes to the incongruity: ‘we have learnt to love her more than her books.’38

The Brontë legend, then, arose with astonishing rapidity, based solely on the revelations of the Life. Appearing just four months after the biography, The Professor received the full force of the change in the critical heart. In 1853 the Dublin Review was by no means alone in considering the author of Villette an ‘unpleasing and unamiable writer’;39 in 1857 the Eclectic Review has as much support in regarding The Professor as a ‘legacy of Charlotte Brontë's genius’ which will ‘confirm the general admiration of her extraordinary powers’,40 the same powers which, after reading all four novels, have the critic and essayist Badeau bowing to ‘the mysterious supremacy of genius’ and crying out ‘“This is the finger of God”’.41 Victorian critics, keen to reappraise Brontë, chose to forget that Brontë was a writer and not a saint—a writer, moreover, of novels with problematic characters, problematic endings, and which raised problematic questions. To many modern critics, The Professor is of interest only when read in conjunction with Villette. The nineteenth-century eulogies may be exaggerated but the twentieth-century indifference is surely unwarranted. Something of a balance is found in the American and perhaps more objective assessment by Harper's New Monthly Magazine: ‘As a preliminary study for the composition of Jane Eyre and Villette, it is full of interest, and in itself possesses attractions to the lover of acute psychological analysis far superior to the majority of English novels.’42


  1. ‘The Professor’, Saturday Review (13 June 1857), 549-50 (p. 549). All reviews are anonymous, unless otherwise stated.

  2. ‘The Last New Novel’, Mirror, 2 (1847), 376-80 (p. 377).

  3. ‘The Caxtons’, English Review, 12 (1849), 306-7 (p. 307).

  4. H. R. Bagshawe, ‘Jane Eyre and Shirley’, Dublin Review, 28 (1850), 209-33 (pp. 210-11).

  5. ‘The License of Modern Novelists’, Edinburgh Review, 106 (1857), 124-56 (p. 153).

  6. ‘Contemporary Literature’, Westminster Review, 68 (1857), 235-314 (p. 295). Attributed in the Wellesley Index to Harriet Martineau, but disputed in Harriet Martineau: Selected Letters, ed. V. Sanders (Oxford, 1990), 144.

  7. Anon, Women of Worth: A Book for Girls (London, 1859), 30.

  8. There is, however, a comparative scarcity of known reviews of The Professor. Friends and Smith, Elder sent reviews to Brontë of the three novels published in her lifetime and she duly wrote to thank them, mentioning each notice by name. With The Professor, this source is obviously eliminated and the correspondence of Patrick Brontë, Ellen Nussey, and Elizabeth Gaskell all fail to give reviews the same careful scrupulous attention. Allott's Critical Heritage of the Brontës, for example, contains only four reviews; I refer to sixteen.

  9. ‘Charlotte Brontë’, Eclectic Review, ns 1 (1857), 630-42 (p. 630).

  10. The Life of Charlotte Brontë’, British Quarterly Review, 26 (1857), 218-31 (p. 218).

  11. ‘Novels of the Season’, Eclectic Review, ns 2 (1857), 54-66 (p. 64).

  12. The Professor’, Critic (15 June 1857), 271-2 (p. 271).

  13. R. H. Hutton, ‘Novels by the Authoress of “John Halifax”’, North British Review, 29 (1858), 466-81 (p. 474).

  14. The Professor’, Examiner (20 June 1857), 388.

  15. M. J. Sweat, ‘Charlotte Bronté and the Bronté Novels’, North American Review, 85 (1857), 293-329 (p. 326).

  16. ‘New Novels’, Press (13 June 1857), 584.

  17. The Professor’, Athenaeum (13 June 1857), 755-7 (p. 755).

  18. Repr. in Charlotte Brontë, The Professor, ed. M. Smith and H. Rosengarten (Oxford, 1987), 295. All page references are to this edition and will hereafter be cited in the text.

  19. Critic, 272.

  20. The Professor’, Literary Gazette (20 June 1857), 584-7 (p. 585).

  21. Press, 584.

  22. Letter to James Taylor, 1 Mar. 1849 (T. J. Wise and J. A. Symington (edd.), The Brontës: Their Lives, Friendships and Correspondence (4 vols., Oxford, 1932; repr. in 2 vols., 1980); ii. 312—refs. are to part nos. of the 1980 edn.).

  23. The Professor’, Economist (27 June 1857), 701-3 (p. 701).

  24. Charlotte Brontë, Villette, ed. H. Rosengarten and M. Smith (Oxford, 1984), 80.

  25. Critic, 271.

  26. W. C. Roscoe, ‘Miss Brontë’, National Review, 5 (1857), 127-64 (pp. 161-2).

  27. Letter to Emily Shaen, 7-8 Sept. 1856 (The Letters of Mrs. Gaskell, ed. J. A. V. Chapple and A. Pollard (Manchester, 1966), 409-10).

  28. S. A. Brooke, ‘Currer Bell's “The Professor”’, Dublin University Magazine, 50 (1857), 88-100 (p. 97).

  29. E. S. Dallas, ‘Currer Bell’, Blackwood's Magazine, 82 (1857), 77-94 (p. 91).

  30. Letter, 14 Dec. 1847 (Wise and Symington (edd.), The Brontës, ii. 161).

  31. Letter, 5 Feb. 1851 (Wise and Symington (edd.), The Brontës, iii. 207).

  32. H. Moglen, Charlotte Brontë: The Self Conceived (New York, 1976), 96.

  33. Letter to Emily Shaen, 7-8 Sept. 1856 (Letters of Mrs. Gaskell, ed. Chapple and Pollard, 409-10).

  34. Press, 584.

  35. ‘The Life of Charlotte Brontë’, Christian Remembrancer, 34 (1857), 87-145 (p. 91).

  36. Saturday Review, 550.

  37. H. Malleson, Elizabeth Malleson 1828-1916: Autobiographical Notes and Letters (printed for private circulation, 1926), 90.

  38. J. Johnson, Heroines of Our Time (London, 1860), 105.

  39. C. W. Russell, ‘The Novels of 1853’, Dublin Review, 34 (1853), 174-203 (p. 191).

  40. Eclectic Review, ns 2, 64.

  41. A. Badeau, The Vagabond (New York, 1859), 165.

  42. ‘Literary Notices’, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 15 (1857), 404–5 (p. 404).

Carl Plasa (essay date 2000)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9867

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:

To this letter I never got an answer—before my old friend received it, he had accepted a government appointment in one of the colonies, and was already on his way to the scene of his official labours. What has become of him since I know not.


Charles's silent withdrawal to an unspecified colonial margin provides Crimsworth with the opportunity to take up where the letter leaves off, regaling “the public at large” with the autobiography—in the shape of the novel itself—originally begun for the “private benefit” (14) of his mysteriously estranged correspondent. The story of his professional and personal fortunes that Crimsworth recounts has three distinct phases. The first sees him moving from the south of England to the north, where he is employed as “second clerk” in the Yorkshire textile mill owned by the entrepreneurial Edward, his elder brother and “manage[s] the foreign correspondence of the House” (18). Dissatisfied with the task of “copying and translating business-letters” and feeling victimized, in particular, by the “Antipathy” (30) his employer/brother demonstrates toward him, Crimsworth invokes the translator's prerogative, converts his linguistic mobility into geographic form, and travels to Belgium. Here he teaches English as a foreign language, first to male and then female students in boarding-schools run by Monsieur Pelet and Zoraïde Reuter, respectively. It is here, also, through a combination of endeavour and chance, that he eventually secures his financial independence. In the novel's brief final stage, Crimsworth returns to England, accompanied by his Anglo-Swiss wife and former pupil, Frances Evans Henri and their refractory young son, Victor.

For many critics, the epistolary manoeuvre with which Brontë begins The Professor is both artificial and clumsy. It is, they argue, the sign of an early gaucherie on the part of a would-be novelist perilously aspiring—like Charles and Crimsworth in their own spheres—to secure a professional status within the male-dominated literary establishment of mid nineteenth-century England. Yet as Brontë informs the reader in the “Preface” to The Professor, the faults of her “little book” should not be excused on the basis of a “first attempt […] as the pen which wrote it had been previously worn down a good deal in a practice of some years” (3). The principal allusion here is to the vast and sprawling body of Brontë's Angrian writings, produced in collaboration with her brother, Branwell, between 1829 and 1839 and situated in a phantasmagoric colonial space “carved,” in the words of Juliet Barker, “out of the interior of Africa” (Juvenilia 270). It is thus apparent that the divergence of career between Charles and Crimsworth with which The Professor begins at the same time enacts a certain shift, inaugurated by The Professor itself, in Brontë's own fictional trajectory: like Crimsworth, her novels will remain, for the rest of her career, securely located within English and/or continental borders.

Yet if colonialism is excluded as a literal presence in Brontë's post-Angrian fiction—no longer setting the “scene” for her own “official labours,” as it were—it continues to return in a number of significant unofficial forms. In the case of The Professor, Crimsworth's practice as “English Master” (67) in Belgium “can easily be viewed,” as Firdous Azim has argued, “against the class-bound and colonial tradition that accompanies the teaching of English” (163). In this respect, the severed epistolary exchange with which the novel opens is ironically inverted, as a correspondence with colonial margins is implicitly maintained: Crimsworth's supremacist assumptions about his own language and culture take their place alongside those informing the kind of colonial pedagogy beginning to emerge in the context of British expansion in India and most notoriously advocated, for example, in Thomas Babington Macaulay's “Minute on Indian Education” of 2 February 1835.1

Azim's reading of The Professor is an important one, not least because it represents the first sustained attempt to situate Brontë's novel within the archive of a colonial history. At the same time, however, there are two respects in which The Professor enables a development of the approach initiated by Azim. The first of these relates to the reemergence of the colonial as textual resource. The unequal power-relations that the novel charts in the contexts of class and gender are repeatedly figured in terms of a slavery only recently abolished in Britain's colonies, and still institutionalized in the American South, when the novel was first composed. In this way, it becomes evident that The Professor's rhetorical operations are involved in a politics of identification that is highly problematic. The second concerns the way in which, more broadly, questions of nation and race come to be played out in the register of sexuality. As he struggles, throughout the narrative, to negotiate his own desires—and those of others—Crimsworth consistently associates sexuality with forms of foreignness, whether these be continental or Oriental, thus constituting it as something that threatens to infect and undo his sense of himself as an Englishman. Although he claims not to know “What has become” of his friend in the wake of his colonial posting, Crimsworth's own traveller's tale dramatizes fears and fantasies of contamination analogous to those entailed in the colonial project itself. The Professor's use of slavery as figure implies an identification with the other whose impetus reverses, in the context of sexuality, into flight and defence.


In the “Preface” to The Professor, Brontë records her “surprise” (3) at the unfavourable response that her novel has elicited (it was rejected nine times in total [xxiii]). Having deliberately eschewed “the ornamented and redundant in composition” in preference for the “plain and homely,” and “adopted a set of principles on the subject of incident &c.” (3) that is stringently realist, she discovers that the novel's prospective “Publishers […] scarcely approved this system” and, it transpires, “would have liked something more imaginative and poetical” (4) than the worldly tale of self-advancement that she tells. This unexpected situation leads to a reflection on the deceptiveness of appearances in which gender-stereotypes are over-turned. Herself concealed behind the masculine persona of “Currer Bell” (5), Brontë remarks:

until an author has tried to dispose of a M.S. of this kind he can never know what stores of romance and sensibility lie hidden in breasts he would not have suspected of casketing such treasures. Men in business are usually thought to prefer the real—on trial this idea will be found fallacious: a passionate preference for the wild wonderful and thrilling—the strange, startling and harrowing agitates divers souls that shew a calm and sober surface.


For Brontë's text to be judged by “Men” who are the (feminized) opposites of what they seem is oddly appropriate for, as Penny Boumelha has argued, “The Professor's is a world of doubleness” in which “Virtually every major character is radically divided” (38).

In changing the original title of her novel from The Master to The Professor (xxx), Brontë appears to signal this sense of “doubleness” and radical self-division. In one respect, the new title might be considered to be something of a misnomer. As Crimsworth soon comes to learn from Mr. Brown, his contact on arriving in Belgium, the appellation bestowed on him does not possess quite the same meaning—or cachet—as in England. It translates differently: “The word professor struck me. ‘I am not a professor,’ said I. ‘Oh,’ returned Mr. Brown—‘Professor, here in Belgium, means a teacher—that is all’” (60). Yet if “[t]he word professor” distorts and inflates Crimsworth's standing within the pedagogical hierarchies of the schools run by Pelet and Zoraïde alike, it is, at the same time, an accurate designation. Like several of the other key figures in the text, Crimsworth is precisely a “professor” in the alternative, or non-professional, sense defined by Boumelha, repeatedly “manifesting one motive, feeling or state of mind but also privately harbouring another” (38).

Crimsworth's tendency—in that lightly pleonastic phrase—to make “false professions” (181) is evident not just in the context of the personal images that he shapes for others (as for himself) in the course of the narrative. It is also to be discerned in terms of his textual practices as an autobiographer and, in particular, his habitual use of metaphor, a trope itself traditionally linked to notions of deception and duplicity. Especially in The Professor's first six chapters, metaphor functions as the figurative vehicle for the return of the colonialism seemingly jettisoned so pointedly at the novel's outset, as Crimsworth draws on a historically burdened language of mastery and enslavement in order to represent the fraternal and class conflicts in which he is initially implicated. As his unread introductory letter attests, Crimsworth is the product of a marriage that crosses class boundaries: his mother is of aristocratic descent, with a “rare […] class of face” (14), while his father is a “—shire Manufacturer” who becomes “bankrupt a short time previous to his death.” On the demise of his mother, “some six months” (7) after these events, Crimsworth is entrusted to the care of the affluent “maternal uncles” (6) who will later fund his education. By subsequently rejecting their patronage, he is forced to enter the realm of mercantile capitalism in which Edward is “fast making a fortune” (8). At the end of chapter 4, Crimsworth returns to his “lodgings” to prepare for the next day's labours, flooded with “regrets” (39) as to the unpromising position to which he has been relegated. He is further agitated by the repeated “goading” (37) of Hunsden Yorke Hunsden. As his palindromically shaped name suggests, Hunsden's unpredictable appearances in the text are typically marked by an enigmatic poise that contrasts sharply with the uncertainty of Crimsworth's own prospects:

Why did I make myself a tradesman? Why did I enter Hunsden's house this evening? Why, at dawn to-morrow, must I repair to Crimsworth's Mill? All that night did I ask myself these questions and all that night fiercely demanded of my soul an answer. I got no sleep, my head burned, my feet froze; at last the factory-bells rang and I sprung from my bed with other slaves.


The “bells” that ring here are literal and metaphorical at once. Crimsworth's participation in the routines of the factory worker is evidently for him the cue for other echoes and resonances, prompting a crossracial identification with the disciplined body of the slave.

In summoning the worker/slave to his duties, those “bells” would seem to reverberate with the promise that the capitalist order of things will be renewed and soundly maintained. Yet equally, if obliquely, they constitute a call to insurrection that finds its response, in personal if not collective terms, in the next chapter. Crimsworth's literal dawn rising, in the passage above, prefigures what he refers to as “‘The Climax’” (40), the moment of his rebellion against the oppressor/brother. Violently accused of spreading slanders about Edward that are subsequently traced back to Hunsden, Crimsworth is finally moved to liberate himself from the “yoke” (59) of his brother's employ:

“Come, Edward Crimsworth, enough of this. It is time you and I wound up accounts. I have now given your service three months' trial and I find it the most nauseous slavery under the sun. Seek another clerk—I stay no longer.”

“What! Do you dare to give me notice? Stop at least for your wages.” He took down the heavy gig-whip hanging beside his Mackintosh.


Crimsworth's rebellious turning against Edward is also a linguistic one, again performing, as it does, a troping of class in terms of race, the domestic in terms of the colonial.

The presence of slavery as metaphor in The Professor has some curious effects, the first of which relates to Crimsworth's role as “tradesman.” While his decisive altercation with Edward clearly confirms Hunsden's taunting prophecy that “[he]'ll never be a tradesman” (38), there is a sense in which Crimsworth's vocation as metaphorist at the same time both reinterprets and challenges Hunsden's assertion: his trade is in language, regulated by the exchange of the literal meanings of words for figurative ones. The second effect is to qualify the stylistic claims that Brontë makes in her “Preface,” as the novel turns out to be much less “plain and homely” than she takes it to be. Not only is Crimsworth's narrative recurrently “ornamented,” quite plainly, by a particular figure of speech, but the figure in question is one that entails a kind of departure from the “homely” also. For metaphor, as Eric Cheyfitz points out, is a rhetorical operation in which words are transferred from literal to figurative usages, travelling from familiar to foreign destinations (36).2 If Crimsworth will, for the bulk of the novel, be an Englishman abroad, there is a sense in which such a spatial relocation only recapitulates the itinerary laid down in advance by his own language.

Even as they question Brontë's understanding of her own text, Crimsworth's rhetorical strategies cast a different kind of doubt on themselves. The essential problem with his rituals of metaphorical self-representation is that, ultimately, they can only seem like hyperbolic gestures, variously ironized by the unstated historical truths that The Professor encrypts within itself. To compare class relations in the north of England to slavery would seem, on the one hand, to be an effective means of underscoring the oppression and injustice to which the worker is subjected by early to mid nineteenth-century industrial capitalism. Yet, on the other hand, Crimsworth's self-figuration carries out its own injustice. The “other slaves” whom he blithely fashions out of metaphor have their counterparts in the shape of black subjects literally enslaved either in the context of the British West Indies or the American South. As several critics, from Marx to Fanon and beyond, have argued, it is the regulated bodies of these other “other slaves,” so to speak, that drive the capitalist economy from which Crimsworth freely withdraws his labour.3 In identifying himself with the figure of the slave, Crimsworth in effect performs a metaphorical colonization, or colonization through metaphor, expropriating the racial other for his own self-serving ends.

The discrepancies between Crimsworth and the slave in terms of whom he sees himself are most visible, of course, with regard to the privileges that accrue to him by virtue of what Macaulay calls the “aristocracy of skin” (qtd. in Blackburn 448)—the fact of Crimsworth's whiteness. Although he has not followed the obscure colonial career of the correspondent alluded to in the novel's first chapter, Crimsworth nonetheless shares the assumed racial superiority on which such a career is predicated. Both figures are in turn racially elevated above the white creole pupil, the 15-year-old Juanna Trista, whom Crimsworth encounters in Zoraïde's school. As a “girl […] of mixed Belgian and Spanish origin” who is born “in the—Isles” (100), Juanna is not quite to be included in the same racial echelon as her “English Master.” Even so, as she leaves Europe to return to her father's unnamed West Indian estate, she does so “exulting in the thought that she should there have slaves whom, as she said, she could kick and strike at will.”4 With “the legible graving of […] Mutiny and Hate” on her “brow” (101), Juanna's celebration of her future role as colonial dominatrix underscores the dubious politics of Crimsworth's figurative tendencies. Its effect is to expose the realities of colonial and racial conflict that the logic of metaphor—stressing sameness over difference—threatens to efface.

Crimsworth's metaphorical identifications open up The Professor to the kind of contrapuntal reading proposed by Said in the epigraph above, inviting themselves to be placed and considered, for example, in relation to Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself (1845). Douglass's text is exactly contemporary with the writing of Brontë's novel and, as one of the formative works in the African-American autobiographical tradition, centrally concerned, like The Professor, with processes of self-making. These processes are encapsulated in the famous liberatory chiasmus of Douglass's “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man” (47). They are subsequently initiated by the pivotal physical “battle” (50) between Douglass and the “‘nigger-breaker’” (42), Edward Covey. From this conflict, lasting “nearly two hours,” Douglass emerges triumphant, his “sense of […] manhood” both “revived” and transfigured in a “glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom” (50). Douglass's account of his experiences provides a powerful counterpoint to the terms in which Crimsworth likes to frame his own, driving his metaphors back toward their literal ground. If Crimsworth's “brazen face” fails to “blush black” (44) during the course of his brother's verbal assault, his narrative is characterized, it would seem, by rhetorical displays that are their own impertinence.

Douglass goes on to offer a more explicit corrective to the dangerous affront of slavery as trope in another context. In the course of a lecture given to a meeting in Newcastle upon Tyne on 3 August 1846, Douglass defines it as his “duty to direct […] attention to the character of slavery, as it is in the United States.” He proceeds to inform his audience of the urgency of his task:

I am the more anxious to do this, since I find the subject of slavery identified with many other systems, in such a manner, as in my opinion, to detract to some extent from the horror with which slavery in the United States is so justly contemplated. I have been frequently asked, since coming into this country, “why agitate the question of American slavery in this land; we have slavery here, we are slaves here.” I have heard intemperance called slavery, I have heard your military system, and a number of other things called slavery, which were very well calculated to detract from the dreadful horror with which you at a distance contemplate the institution of American slavery.

(Frederick Douglass Papers 317)

Here Douglass spells out the potential ironies that attend the slave trope. The language of a domestic politics needs to be properly disciplined if it is not simultaneously to collude with, diminish and perpetuate a “horror” that, even “at a distance,” seems “dreadful.”

Whether the effects are “calculated” or not, The Professor deploys slavery as a trope in the context not only of class- but also gender-relations. At several junctures, white female figures are associated—either by Crimsworth or themselves—with rebel slaves and/or a violent blackness. This is the way, for example, in chapter 10, in which Caroline de Blémont, one of the three self-crowned “queens” in Zoraïde's school, forces herself upon her teacher's attention:

Caroline shook her loose ringlets of abundant but somewhat coarse hair over her rolling black eyes; parting her lips, as full as those of a hot-blooded Maroon, she showed her well-set teeth sparkling between them and treated me at the same time to a smile “de sa façon”.


In this passage (whose syntax is almost as “loose” as Caroline's “ringlets”), Crimsworth's vision is a double one. The danger embodied in white female sexuality is represented as a colonial rebellion signalled in the allusion to the “hot-blooded Maroon.”5 If the allusion is defensively misogynist in its figuring of white female sexuality in terms of slave revolt, it is at the same time racist, as the stereotypical traits of blackness slide between Caroline and “Maroon” alike. Both have “lips” described as “full,” while the former has “rolling black eyes” and a characteristic “smile” that discloses, in those “well-set teeth,” a cannibalistic appetite.

It is not only the sexually excessive female who comes to be identified with a rebellious blackness but the conventionally feminine Frances also. In the novel's final chapter, after Crimsworth and Frances have been married for some ten years, he speculates on what might have become of his “good and dear wife” had she married “a profligate, a prodigal, a drunkard or a tyrant.” To Crimsworth's insistent pursuit of these curious possibilities, Frances responds, with an equally “strange kind of spirit in her eye”: “if a wife's nature loathes that of the man she is wedded to,” Frances asserts, “marriage must be slavery. Against slavery all right thinkers revolt” (255). The potential for (un)wifely revolt that Frances hints at here is still more emphatically associated with blackness in the previous chapter (Meyer 62). During an exchange concerning the merits and demerits of her native land, Frances tells Hunsden that if he were to “take a wife out of Switzerland” and subsequently impugn her nation—as he has indeed just done, for example, by “mention[ing] the word ass in the same breath with the name Tell”—his insolence would meet with lethal consequences: his “Mountain Maid” would “some night smother” him, “even as […] Shakspeare's Othello smothered Desdemona.” As if immediately to partake in the reprisal imagined against Hunsden, the future “plan” that Frances “sketche[s]” involves an attack on a figure central to Hunsden's sense of his own cultural supremacy. Frances's revisionary drama is, as he himself recognizes, “a travesty of the Moor and his gentle lady in which the parts [are] reversed” (242), as white female revenge shockingly weds the monstrosity of black male violence.


At the beginning of chapter 3, Crimsworth recalls his time as a subject under surveillance in his brother's mill:

I served Edward as his second clerk faithfully, punctually, diligently. What was given to me to do, I had the power and the determination to do well. Mr. Crimsworth watched sharply for defects but found none; he set Timothy Steighton, his favourite and head-man, to watch also, Tim was baffled; I was as exact as himself, and quicker: Mr. Crimsworth made enquiries as to how I lived, whether I got into debt—no—my accounts with my landlady were always straight; I had hired small lodgings which I contrived to pay for out of a slender fund—the accumulated savings of my Eton pocket-money; for as it had ever been abhorrent to my nature to ask pecuniary assistance, I had early acquired habits of self-denying economy; husbanding my monthly allowance with anxious care.


All the values that define a bourgeois masculinity are operating here, “faithfully, punctually, diligently” present and correct—from “industry and perseverance,” in Heather Glen's taxonomy, to “self-reliance and independence, self-respect and self-control” (11). By internalizing these values, Crimsworth necessarily leaves Edward and his “head-man” “baffled”: in true Foucauldian fashion, he subjects himself to the strategies of surveillance deployed against him.6

With regard to his own language, however, Crimsworth's powers of self-surveillance prove less efficient. Running counter to the thrift on which he prides himself is a textual excess that disturbs the studied calculus of his self-representation, as the literal spills into the metaphorical. The “accumulated savings,” “habits of self-denying economy” and “husbanding” of his “monthly allowance” to which Crimsworth alludes literally refer to his talents of financial self-management. Yet at the same time, the terms he uses have a vital currency in contemporary medical discourses, where they circulate as figures for the ways in which male sexuality is ideally to be ordered. The locus classicus for such discourses is William Acton's The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs in Childhood, Youth, Adult Age and Advanced Life Considered in their Physiological, Social and Moral Relations, published in the same year as Brontë's novel. Despite the apparent comprehensiveness of its title, Acton's inquiry is, as Steven Marcus points out, almost exclusively concerned with the sexual economy of the male (13). Within this economy, Acton defines semen as a kind of inner resource that, to adopt Crimsworth's term, requires careful “husbanding” both prior to and during marriage. Sexual expenditure occurring outside marital intercourse—especially in the baleful shape of masturbation—is simply a waste. Summarizing Acton's linkage of the sexual and the financial, Marcus writes:

The fantasies that are at work here have to do with economics; the body is regarded as a productive system with only a limited amount of material at its disposal. And the model on which the notion of semen is formed is clearly that of money. Science, in the shape of Acton, is thus still expressing what had for long been a popular fantasy: up until the end of the nineteenth century the chief English colloquial expression for the orgasm was “to spend.”


Given this discursive construction of male sexuality, the “anxious care” with which Crimsworth disposes of his “Eton pocket-money” takes on a new significance. The latter phrase is a covertly sexual coinage: both metonymically and metaphorically, it unites the genital and the financial.

Crimsworth's investment in the kind of sexual self-control obliquely figured in his restrained monetary “habits” is not surprising. To lose such mastery—as Acton and other medical commentators repeatedly insist—is for the male subject to become increasingly implicated in a range of moral, psychic and bodily disorders, resulting, ultimately, in madness and/or death. For Crimsworth, though, such a loss also entails something else. If Pelet's description of Crimsworth, in chapter 11, as a “cold frigid Islander!” (96) makes the connection between sexual repression and English masculinity explicit, Crimsworth, for his part, establishes an equally emphatic and complementary link between sexual licence and Pelet's identity as Frenchman:

He was not married and I soon perceived he had all a Frenchman's, all a Parisian's notions about matrimony and women; I suspected a degree of laxity in his code of morals, there was something so cold and blasé in his tone whenever he alluded to, what he called, “le beau sexe”; but he was too gentleman-like to intrude topics I did not invite, and as he was really intelligent and really fond of intellectual subjects of discourse, he and I always found enough to talk about, without seeking themes in the mire—I hated his fashion of mentioning Love, I abhorred, from my soul, mere Licentiousness, he felt the difference of our notions and, by mutual consent, we kept off ground debateable.


The “difference of […] notions” between these mutually consenting interlocutors resolves itself into a difference of nations, as Crimsworth scrupulously retreats from the lavish expenditures of a continental sexuality. Yet while Crimsworth is “willing,” at this point in their acquaintance at least, “to take Pelet for what he seemed” (70), he himself less frequently earns the same favours from the reader. As one whose monetary and sexual customs are marked alike by “habits of self-denying economy,” Crimsworth is necessarily a subject self-divided. The self-control that he arrogates to himself throughout the novel is simultaneously a mask for and symptom of an inner split. As Sally Shuttleworth argues:

The picture [Brontë] draws is not of an innate, assured masculinity, but rather of a social and gender identity created and sustained only through violence: the violence of self-repression and of repudiation of all who might threaten the carefully nurtured illusion of self-control.


Difference between is difference within. The oppositions by which Crimsworth recognizes and defines himself—between English and continental masculinities, sexual probity and “mere Licentiousness,” self and other—are the objectification of internal conflicts. These conflicts make of Crimsworth's own subjectivity a peculiarly vexed site, itself a “ground debateable.” What he claims to have “perceived” in the other is, more properly, the projection, or exportation, of what he represses in himself.

For Crimsworth, a deregulated sexuality is a national scandal, as the border, or “‘l'allée défendue’” (108), between English and continental masculinities is crossed and violated. Yet the self-protective stance he adopts toward Pelet is ultimately the sign of anxieties concerning racial as well as national contamination. These are manifested in the context of The Professor's treatment of miscegenation, no doubt one of the “themes” Crimsworth would want to consign firmly to his “mire.” Contemplating the physical charms of Caroline, Pelet treats himself to a fleeting fantasy of interracial desire in which she is Orientalized: “Ah there is beauty! beauty in perfection,” he exclaims, “what a cloud of sable curls about the face of a houri! What fascinating lips! What glorious black eyes!” (95-96). Despite his own previous figuration of Caroline in terms of a furious blackness, Crimsworth predictably recoils from these imaginings, debunking them merely as the product of an artificial “enthusiasm” and hearing “something in [Pelet's] tone which indicated got-up raptures” (96). This recoil parallels a gesture originally made in chapter 1, when the fantasy of miscegenation first articulates itself. In this version of the fantasy, gender-identities are transposed across the lines of race. Introduced to his brother's “handsome young wife,” Crimsworth “peruse[s] the fair page of [her] face” and finds it wanting:

I sought her eye, desirous to read there the intelligence which I could not discern in her face or hear in her conversation; it was merry, rather small; by turns I saw vivacity, vanity—coquetry, look out through its iris, but I watched in vain for a glimpse of soul. I am no Oriental, white necks—carmine lips and cheeks, clusters of bright curls do not suffice for me without that Promethean spark which will live after the roses and lilies are faded, the burnished hair grown grey.


Crimsworth's discriminatory assertion that “[he is] no Oriental” is one instance of what Glen calls the “insistent negativism” (13) of the novel's prose. But the negation operating here is not only stylistic but also psychic. It is suggestive of the kind of defensive strategy elaborated by Freud:

To negate something in a judgement is, at bottom, to say: “This is something which I should prefer to repress.” A negative judgement is the intellectual substitute for repression; its “no” is the hall-mark of repression, a certificate of origin—like, let us say, “Made in Germany”.


Crimsworth's revealingly fleshly claim that he has no desire for female bodies that withhold “a glimpse of soul” and are not supplemented by the classically enduring “Promethean spark,” is thus an admission of just such a desire, albeit in disguised or antithetical form. But what is particularly important about the self-cancelling logic in which Crimsworth is enmeshed is not so much the desires it discloses as where those desires are located. The sexuality he renounces is not of European origin—something “‘Made in Germany,’” Belgium or France, for example—but of more exotic provenance. Sexual desire thus poses a double problem for Crimsworth. On the one hand, it threatens to make him a male counterpart to those girls whom he teaches and classifies as “continental English.” These are “the daughters chiefly of broken adventures” (102), whose exilic exposure to European culture has imbued them with “an imbecile indifference to every sentiment that can elevate humanity” (103). On the other, it confronts him with the more alienating possibility of his own Orientalization.

Crimsworth's projection/exportation of his own desires onto the figures of Pelet and the imaginary “Oriental” is a process repeated in the context of his relations to the female other. The desires for the female body that Crimsworth represses return to him in the distorted form of a persecutory female sexuality. The central scene for this drama of repression and return is Zoraïde's “‘Pensionnat de demoiselles’” (61), where the erotic seems thoroughly to saturate the pedagogical. Its presence is immediately registered, in chapter 10, in the prurient comedy of the preparations Crimsworth makes before introducing himself to his class for their first lesson. Entering Zoraïde's “sanctum sanctorum” (83) and noting “a large tableau of wood painted black and varnished,” “a thick crayon of white chalk” and “a wet spunge,” Crimsworth comments:

having handled the crayon, looked back at the tableau, fingered the spunge in order to ascertain that it was in a right state of moisture—I found myself cool enough to admit of looking calmly up and gazing deliberately round me.


What Crimsworth sees, on raising his eyes, is an array of girls and young women, aged between “fourteen” and “twenty,” whose “forms [are] full even to solidity” (84). These superabundant figures are neither the prelapsarian “angels” (76), nor even “half-angels” (85), to whom he typically dedicates his “sentimental reflections” (66). Quickly “relieved” of such a “fond and oppressive fancy” (85), Crimsworth comes to view his female pupils, by chapter 12, as “a swinish tumult” (101). With the “isolated” exception of the “British English,” with their “grave and modest countenances” and “general air of native propriety and decency” (103), his class becomes the object of a violent disgust:

They were each and all supposed to have been reared in utter unconsciousness of vice—the precautions used to keep them ignorant, if not innocent, were innumerable; how was it then that scarcely one of those girls having attained the age of fourteen could look a man in the face with modesty and propriety? An air of bold, impudent flirtation or a loose, silly leer was sure to answer the most ordinary glance from a masculine eye. I know nothing of the arcana of the Roman-Catholic religion and I am not a bigot in matters of theology, but I suspect the root of this precocious impurity, so obvious, so general in popish Countries, is to be found in the discipline, if not the doctrines of the Church of Rome. I record what I have seen—these girls belonged to, what are called, the respectable ranks of society, they had all been carefully brought up, yet was the mass of them mentally depraved.


Here Crimsworth claims for himself a scientific or empirical objectivity—“I record what I have seen.” This enables him, with seeming authority, to trace the genealogy of the hypersexualized continental female back to its twisted “root” in “Romish wizard-craft” (102). Yet Crimsworth's narrative perspective is no more reliable at this point in the novel than elsewhere. On closer inspection, the “ordinary glance” cast by the “masculine eye” seems to bear witness less to the sexual truth of women who inhabit “popish Countries,” than to the “sexual paranoia” (Boumelha 41) of the Protestant subject from whom that glance first emanates. Despite his contempt for “the discipline […] of the Church of Rome,” Crimsworth, in this passage, is not unlike the confessor to Sylvie, “at once the ugliest and the most attentive” (87) of his students. Crimsworth hesitates to reward Sylvie's attentiveness by even the slightest physical gesture for fear that such a “token of approbation” will be subsequently “misinterpreted and poisoned” (121) by her confessor as a sign of sexual impropriety. Yet he himself engages in just such an erroneous and overcharged hermeneutics. The depravity Crimsworth claims to behold in the collective visage of the schoolgirls “under [his] eye” (97) is a reflex of the sexuality he refuses to confront in himself.

In relation to Zoraïde's schoolgirls, Crimsworth is, paradoxically, the very source of the contamination by which he feels himself to be endangered. Such a paradoxical position is similarly evident in the context of his relation to Zoraïde herself. Despite her imminent marriage to Pelet, and Crimsworth's own increasing love for Frances, Zoraïde continues in her efforts to seduce the “English Master.” Just before the marriage is “solemnized” (198), Crimsworth outlines the “singular effect” that Zoraïde produces upon him:

her presence and manner […] sealed up all that was good, elicited all that was noxious in my nature; sometimes they enervated my senses, but they always hardened my heart. I was aware of the detriment done, and quarrelled with myself for the change. I had ever hated a tyrant; and behold the possession of a slave, self-given, went near to transform me into what I abhorred! There was at once a sort of low gratification in receiving this luscious incense from an attractive and still young worshipper and an irritating sense of degradation in the very experience of the pleasure. When she stole about me with the soft step of a slave—I felt at once barbarous and sensual as a pasha—I endured her homage sometimes, sometimes I rebuked it—my indifference or harshness served equally to increase the evil I desired to check.


This passage looks back to an earlier point in the text, where Pelet speculates that Zoraïde will “leave the print of her stealing steps on [Crimsworth's] heart” (94). It also reintroduces the slave trope, while rerouting it from British colonial/American contexts into the realms of the Oriental. Zoraïde is figured here as a “slave” because she readily submits herself to her own desires, to which—as much as to Crimsworth—she is “self-given.” Far from being the paragon of “abstract reason” she appears to be at first, Zoraïde is ultimately subject to the euphemistic rule of “strong propensities” (90). Yet her self-Orientalization is a means to gain mastery over Crimsworth, precisely by subjugating him to the role of “tyrant” over her. What is so “singular” about Zoraïde's “effect” is that it brings to light Crimsworth's own doubleness, as he struggles between the repression of and the yielding to desire. By the same token, it underlines the ways in which the contradictory elements of Crimsworth's “nature” are organized in terms of racial categories. If Crimsworth is “transform[ed] […] into what [he] abhor[s],” the reversal in question involves not only the dissolution into “gratification” and “pleasure” of his customary “Scipio-like self-control” (119). It is also figured as the assumption of a “noxious” Oriental identity, as he becomes “at once barbarous and sensual as a pasha.”

Against the sexual menace of Zoraïde—her “body depraved by the infectious influence of the vice-polluted soul”—Frances functions, for Crimsworth, as antitype or perhaps even “antidote” (187). At the same time, she elicits from her teacher/lover and eventual spouse a desire that is distinctly narcissistic. In this way, she confirms Crimsworth's belief that nothing “pleases egotistical human beings so much as a softened and refined likeness of themselves” (24). In the first of a series of doublings, Frances, like Crimsworth, subscribes openly to the bourgeois ideology of self-improvement, initially attending his lessons “in order to perfect her knowledge of English” and so “qualify herself for a higher department of education” than that of the “lace-mending” and “ornamental needle-work” (116) by which she earns her living. In the course of her “instruction in English” (which, in rapid turn, is co-opted by Crimsworth as “a channel for instruction in literature” [146]), Frances proves herself to possess “Perseverance and a Sense of duty” to “a somewhat remarkable degree” (131). In this respect, indeed, she succeeds where her teacher, during his apprenticeship as “tradesman,” had failed: Frances's approach to her studies is genuinely resolute, while Crimsworth soon recognizes he is unable to “set up” even the simulacra of resolution—“the image of Duty [and] the fetish of Perseverance”—as his “household gods” (30). Her ambitions are finally rewarded when, like Crimsworth again, she becomes a successful teacher. The most significant of the doublings between the two figures occurs, finally, in terms of sexual taste. What makes Frances “for a sensualist—charmless,” is what defines her, for Crimsworth, as “a treasure” (168). As “the personification […] of self-denial and self-control” (169), Crimsworth's “best object” (168) reflects back to him the qualities that are the “guardians” and “trusty keepers” of his own sexuality and integral—for a middle-class Victorian ideology—to “the sanctuary of home” (169).

As Crimsworth's double, however, Frances necessarily also reproduces, rather than resolves, the sexual contradictions by which he is beset. In her culturally hybrid status as the daughter of an English mother and a French-speaking Swiss father, she is a living embodiment of the conflict between the sexual restraint and sexual excess associated, in this text, with English and French/continental identities, respectively. Crimsworth's repeated demands, at the beginning of the first of their “conferences” (138), that Frances “Speak English […]. English. […] keep to English” (139), instead of lapsing into the French that is her penchant, are thus not simply the sign of a certain linguistic colonization. At the same time, they connote a drive not only to quarantine Frances from the rabidly libidinized bodies of her classmates but also rid “that Genevese girl,” as she is at one point called (176), of the sexuality Crimsworth strives to exile from himself. The prosecution of such sexually repressive policies under the guise of linguistic instruction is at its clearest in the moment of Crimsworth's marriage proposal. Even as he acknowledges that French is “the language of [Frances's] own heart” (216), he nonetheless insists, once again, that his “pupil […]. Speak English” when replying to the offer of his hand. By the same token, in agreeing to “pass her life” (224) with Crimsworth, Frances, in the same breath, also consents to a different kind of passing: as wife and mother, she will continue to play the role of the “well-educated lady in Essex or Middlesex” (126) for whom Crimsworth, on first hearing her voice, had (mis)taken her—even to the point, it seems, of learning “how to make a cup of tea in rational English style” (246).

By means of the disciplinary techniques of a pedagogy and courtship often indistinguishable from one another, Crimsworth would appear to have refined his “young Genevese” (252) into an ideally desexualized partner. Yet the prospect of marriage to the “serviceable” (217) Frances works, paradoxically, only to uncover the sexual degradation he both fears in himself and projects onto others. Following their betrothal, Crimsworth uncharacteristically confesses that he appreciates Frances not only because of her “mental points”—her intellectual and moral virtues—but also for “the graces of her person,” even endowing her with the “well-set teeth” previously seen, in the “Maroon”-like Caroline, to be the mark of a racialized sexuality. Recognizing that he derives “a pleasure purely material” from Frances's “delicate form,” he is forced into belated acknowledgement of the similarities between himself and those he otherwise detests—Pelet, his schoolgirls, Zoraïde: “It appeared then, that I too was a sensualist, in my temperate and fastidious way.”

The signs of Crimsworth's sensuality are subsequently manifested in the erotic fantasies precipitated by thoughts of carnal union with Frances in marriage. Although these fantasies are textually censored, they are deducible from the nocturnal restlessness that takes hold of Crimsworth as the immediate result of securing Frances as wife. As he returns to his rooms and tries to sleep, Crimsworth discovers that the “sweet delirium” of “the last few hours” (227) will not “subside” and continues, indeed, “till long after midnight” to break his “rest” with “troubled ecstacy.” What he also discovers, however, is that sleep itself is the means by which his troubles only ramify:

At last I dozed, but not for long; it was yet quite dark when I awoke and my waking was like that of Job when a spirit passed before his face, and like him, “The hair of my flesh stood up.” I might continue the parallel, for in truth, though I saw nothing yet “A thing was secretly brought unto me, and mine ear received a little thereof; there was silence and I heard a voice,” saying:

“In the midst of Life, we are in Death.”


While Crimsworth's sudden “waking” propels him into identification with the Biblical Job, the terms in which he couches his return to consciousness bring it into “parallel” with a different kind of arousal. The implication—crude but coded—is that it is not just “‘The hair of [his] flesh’” but the “flesh” itself that “st[ands] up” here. The language spoken by the hallucinatory “voice” is similarly risqué in its combination of climactic pleasure with extinction. Its death-in-life ejaculation is a double entendre, hinting at the discharge in the “midst” of whose occurrence Crimsworth, on stirring, is alarmed to find himself located.

Crimsworth's elided dream of Frances is thus adulterated by the vagaries of the masturbatory body. This is a reading confirmed by the manner in which his nocturnal ordeals develop, as the sexual intimacies he both anticipates and prematurely enjoys effect a disruptive return of the past upon the present. In one of The Professor's strangest and most haunting sequences, Crimsworth describes how, in the aftermath to his solitary blisses, he feels his “chamber invaded by one [he] had known formerly, but had thought for ever departed.” Identifying this revenant as the feminized figure of “Hypochondria,” he goes on to detail their first encounters:

She had been my acquaintance, nay my guest, once before in boyhood; I had entertained her at bed and board for a year; for that space of time I had her to myself in secret; she lay with me, she eat with me, she walked out with me, shewing me nooks in woods, hollows in hills, where we could sit together, and where she could drop her drear veil over me, and so hide sky and sun, grass and green tree; taking me entirely to her death-cold bosom, and holding me with arms of bone. What tales she would tell me, at such hours! What songs she would recite in my ears! How she would discourse to me of her own Country—The Grave—and again and again promise to conduct me there erelong; and drawing me to the very brink of a black, sullen river, shew me on the other side, shores unequal with mound, monument and tablet, standing up in a glimmer more hoary than moonlight. “Necropolis!” she would whisper, pointing to the pale piles, and add “It contains a mansion, prepared for you.”


As both Azim (155-56) and Shuttleworth (141-44) suggest, the “Hypochondria” that “accost[s]” Crimsworth “now” and “then” (229) is a symptom whose aetiology, in contemporary medical discourse, is frequently linked, precisely, to the practice of masturbation. Just as it is the protocol of the symptom—according to psychoanalysis—both to disguise and disclose its cause, so Crimsworth's prose might be said to operate in terms of a symptomatic logic. This is evidenced by the way that the specifically sexual nature of the hidden origin from which his condition first arises and then recurs is flagrantly exhibited by the language in which the condition itself is articulated. In both past and present incarnations, “Hypochondria” figures as mistress. As the “acquaintance, nay […] guest” of Crimsworth's pubescence, she is pursued and possessed in “secret” across a range of erogenous zones. These stretch from domestic locations (“bed and board”) to the wilder scenes of “nooks in woods” and “hollows in hills” that themselves map out, in Shuttleworth's phrase, “the symbolic terrain of the female body” (141). Similarly, on her subsequent advent, “Hypochondria” takes the form of “a dreaded and ghastly concubine coming to embitter a husband's heart towards his young bride.” As if to underwrite the continuity between past and present, her second coming is stimulated by the anonymous “caress of a soft hand” (229). Is this the “hand” of marriage or masturbation, belonging to Frances or Crimsworth?

The Professor's own “discourse” on “Hypochondria” is consistent with contemporary medical assumptions about the deleterious effects of masturbation upon the male subject. Even as Crimsworth remembers himself as initially enjoying his symptom, “Hypochondria” is soon revealed to be an agent of destruction rather than jouissance, or rather destruction through jouissance. She is less mistress than femme fatale and, ultimately, grave-tender. The “Necropolis” to which she threatens finally to “conduct” her young charge is a concrete symbol for the terrifying dead end for which, according to Victorian sexual ideology, the self-abusive male is destined. At the same time, it functions as another site in which the novel's association of sexuality with forms of foreignness is dramatized. By describing “The Grave” over which “Hypochondria” presides as “her own Country,” Crimsworth implies that the prospective burial-ground of a misspent youth is located in an alien space or terra incognita. His psychic geography is further exoticized by “Hypochondria”'s second visit, in which she takes the form of “concubine.” In this latter guise, she seems much like one of the “oriental odalisques” (26) with whom Hunsden associates aristocratic women in chapter 3. More disturbingly, she seems, also, to resemble the Zoraïde whom Crimsworth has renounced for Frances and whose “soft step” leads out toward an Oriental space.

After some nine days of struggle against his “evil spirit,” Crimsworth begins slowly to regain his equilibrium and, within a “fortnight,” declares himself fit to “seek Frances and sit at her side” once more. Yet even as he resists the “sway” of his foreign cum Oriental “demon” (229), Crimsworth's married life with Frances is not quite patterned according to the symmetry of mutual restraint for which he might have hoped. Much to his chagrin, it bears a somewhat closer resemblance to the adulterous geometry of the “Modern French novel” (187) in which he suspects Zoraïde will entangle him after her marriage to Pelet. For in Frances, Crimsworth seems, as he puts it, “to possess two wives” (250). Moving from English to French, Frances simultaneously translates herself across the fragile border between sexual self-control and sexual excess. Her mimicry of Crimsworth, that “man of regular life and rational mind” (159), is also a mockery:

Talk French to me she would, and many a punishment she has had for her wilfulness—I fear the choice of chastisement must have been injudicious, for instead of correcting the fault, it seemed to encourage its renewal. […] In those moments […] she would shew me what she had of vivacity, of mirth, of originality in her well-dowered nature. She would shew too some stores of raillery, of “malice”, and would vex, tease, pique me sometimes about what she called my “bizarreries anglaises”, my “caprices insulaires”, with a wild and witty wickedness that made a perfect white demon of her while it lasted. This was rare, however, and the elfish freak was always short: sometimes when driven a little hard in the war of words, for her tongue did ample justice to the pith, the point, the delicacy of her native French, in which language she always attacked me—I used to turn upon her with my old decision, and arrest bodily the sprite that teased me. Vain idea! no sooner had I grasped hand or arm, than the elf was gone; the provocative smile quenched in the expressive brown eyes, and a ray of gentle homage shone under the lids in its place: I had seized a mere vexing fairy and found a submissive and supplicating little mortal woman in my arms. Then I made her get a book, and read English to me for an hour by way of penance. I frequently dosed her with Wordsworth in this way and Wordsworth steadied her soon.


In this long passage, language is the sado-masochistic medium in which questions of sexuality, nation and race are fused. When Frances “Talk[s] French” to her husband, she disrupts the “illusion” Crimsworth has carefully built around her. On these occasions, she behaves less like the “fair-complexioned, English-looking girl” (174) of his repressive fantasies than the “arrant coquettes” (95) of the daymares suffered at Zoraïde's school. Such linguistic lapses are also implicitly sexual ones, as Frances unnervingly changes from angel in the house to “perfect white demon.”

In the “war of words” between husband and wife, Crimsworth will always be the loser, not least because the language in which he recounts their struggle is—as much as Frances and her aggressively capable “tongue”—beyond his control. This loss of linguistic mastery is marked in two ways, the first of which relates to the glaring contradiction underpinning Crimsworth's marital pedagogy. By being forced to “read English […] for an hour” and “frequently dosed […] with Wordsworth,” Frances, Crimsworth claims, is “steadied […] soon.” Yet this itself is surely an extravagant assertion, since it has already been conceded that “the choice of chastisement” is “injudicious” and “correcting the fault” of Frances's linguistic and sexual orientations merely “encourage[s] its renewal.” The authority of Frances's embattled “English professor” (252) is challenged, secondly, by the silent misdemeanours of allusion. While Frances earlier consciously rewrites Othello with “parts […] reversed,” Crimsworth here rehearses Shakespeare's play with the main roles more conventionally—if unconsciously—distributed, as the striking disciplinary failures of his marriage parallel those of Othello's relation to Desdemona (whose own name is half-echoed in the figuring of Frances as “demon”). According to Stephen J. Greenblatt, “rather than confirming male authority, [Desdemona's] submission eroticizes everything to which it responds,” including even the “mistreatment” she receives from her husband (80). As she herself muses, confiding to Emilia: “my love doth so approve [Othello], / That even his stubbornness, his checks and frowns,— / Prithee, unpin me,—have grace and favour in them” (4. 3. 19-21). In the same way, the “punishment”—in the shape of Wordsworth—to which Crimsworth resorts simply results in further wrongdoing, making him the victim of an irony that is, in fact, Shakespearean.

In the novel's closing scenes, Crimsworth, now permanently resident with his family in England, turns his attentions—and the reader's—toward the question of his son. Victor—“soon [to] go to Eton” (265), like his father before him—is a figure stranger even than the child of a “strange hybrid race” who, as Hunsden speculates, is the potential “progeny” (203) of Zoraïde's marriage to Pelet. There is, his father complains:

a something in Victor's temper, a kind of electrical ardour and power, which emits, now and then, ominous sparks—Hunsden calls it his spirit and says it should not be curbed—I call it the leaven of the offending Adam and consider that it should be if not whipped out of him, at least soundly disciplined, and that he will be cheap of any amount of either bodily or mental suffering which will ground him radically in the art of self-control.


In figuring the “something in Victor's temper” as “the leaven of the offending Adam,” Crimsworth diagnoses in his son a condition that covers a multitude of sins, ranging from the vices of a generalized carnality to the more personal falls of his own “boyhood.” From this perspective, the “sparks” periodically emitted by Victor are “ominous” indeed: they are the first signs of an implicit sexual impurity that is the mark, in turn, of national and racial infections. Victor must be “soundly disciplined,” body and mind, in order that his Englishness, already compromised by the line of a double-speaking mother, be insulated against further violation.


  1. As Harlow and Carter observe, Macaulay's “Minute” is “a critical […] contribution to the debate on the respective roles of Indian and English traditions in the issues of government and instruction” (62). For a detailed analysis of this debate and, in particular, the role of English literature as an instrument of colonial domination, see Viswanathan.

  2. For further theoretical analyses of the relations between race and metaphor see Lloyd passim and Meyer 1-28.

  3. See, for example, Marx's comment, in Capital, that “Liverpool waxed fat on the slavetrade. This was its method of primitive accumulation. […] The veiled slavery of the wage-workers in Europe needed, for its pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the new world” (qtd. in Fryer 12). See also Fanon 81. The intricate relations between slavery and economic wealth in Brontë's Yorkshire—together with her own and Emily Brontë's meticulous fictional reworkings of these relations—are minutely excavated in Heywood.

  4. In his Jamaican diary entry for 9 April 1818, Matthew Lewis provides a graphically non-fictional version of the kind of colonial domination to which Juanna looks forward, while at the same time making the female the object rather than agent of abuse. Refuting the opinion “that conduct so savage occurs rarely in any country,” Lewis writes: “I have not passed six months in Jamaica, and I have already found on one of my estates a woman who had been kicked in the womb by a white book-keeper, by which she was crippled herself, and on another of my estates another woman who had been kicked in the womb by another white book-keeper, by which he had crippled the child. […] and thus, as my two estates are at the two extremities of the island, I am entitled to say, from my own knowledge (i.e. speaking literally, observe), that ‘white book-keepers kick black women in the belly from one end of Jamaica to the other’” (241).

  5. The politically charged nature of the figure of the “Maroon” is noted, in a brief discussion of this passage, by Meyer 61 n.5.

  6. A similar point is made by Shuttleworth 127. For a useful overview of the Foucauldian elements running through The Professor as a whole, see Glen 18-19.

Works Cited

Acton, William. The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs in Childhood, Youth, Adult Age and Advanced Life Considered in their Physiological, Social and Moral Relations. London, 1857.

Azim, Firdous. The Colonial Rise of the Novel. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Blackburn, Robin. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848. London and New York: Verso, 1988.

Boumelha, Penny. Charlotte Brontë. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990.

Brontë, Charlotte. Juvenilia 1829-1835. Ed. Juliet Barker. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.

———. The Professor. Ed. Margaret Smith and Herbert Rosengarten. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987.

Cheyfitz, Eric. The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarzan. Expanded ed. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997.

Douglass, Frederick. The Frederick Douglass Papers: Vol. 1: Speeches, Debates and Interviews. Ed. John W. Blassingame. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1979.

———. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself. Ed. William L. Andrews and William S. McFeely. New York and London: Norton, 1997.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Constance Farrington. Preface by Jean-Paul Sartre. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.

Freud, Sigmund. “Negation.” On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis. Trans. James Strachey. Ed. Angela Richards. Pelican Freud Library. Vol. 11. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984. 437-42.

Fryer, Peter. Aspects of Black British History. London: Index Books, 1993.

Glen, Heather. “Introduction.” The Professor. By Charlotte Brontë. Ed. Heather Glen. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1989. 7-31.

Greenblatt, Stephen J. “Improvisation and Power.” Literature and Society. Ed. Edward W. Said. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. 57-99.

Harlow, Barbara and Mia Carter, ed. Imperialism & Orientalism: A Documentary Source-book. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.

Heywood, Christopher. “Yorkshire Slavery in Wuthering Heights.Review of English Studies: A Quarterly Review of English Literature and English Language. 38 (1987): 184-98.

Lewis, Matthew. Journal of a West India Proprietor, Kept during a Residence in the Island of Jamaica. Ed. Judith Terry. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

Lloyd, David. “Race under Representation.” Oxford Literary Review. 13. 1-2 (1991): 62-94.

Marcus, Steven. The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth Century England. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966.

Meyer, Susan. Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women's Fiction. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1996.

Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage, 1994.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. M. R. Ridley. London and New York: Routledge, 1987.

Shuttleworth, Sally. Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Viswanathan, Gauri, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. New York: Columbia UP, 1989.

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