“In sunshine, in prosperity, the flowers are very well; but how many wet days are there in life—November seasons of disaster, when a man's hearth and home would be cold indeed, without the clear, cheering gleam of intellect.”
Charlotte, the last of the Bronte children, died in 1855 at the age of 38. In 1857, her husband took on the task of editing her first novel which had been rejected over and over by publishers. In many ways, it embodies much of Charlotte's life experiences and serves as a synopsis of the major themes found in her other works.
The novel is a letter written by William Crimsworth to an old schoolfellow detailing life after his education. Though his wealthy relatives want him to become a clergyman, William decides to pursue his own course. His half-brother, Edward, offers him a position as clerk in his mill. But Edward is extremely jealous of William's eduction and treats him with contempt and and meanness. It isn't long before their relationship comes to blows and William strikes out on his own.
He decides to travel to Belgium and accepts a position as an English professor at an all-boys boarding school run by M. Pelet. His abilities soon catch the attention of Mlle. Reuter who runs the all-girls boarding school next door. While working double duty at both schools, William becomes involved on a personal level, both with Mlle. Reuter and Frances, one of the teachers to whom he is teaching English. As his situation becomes more complicated, it begins to look like his career itself may be jeopardized.
My Review (Caution - Spoilers):
Reading The Professor was pretty bittersweet for me. I am a huge fan of the Brontes and this was my last novel to read. I know, of course, that I can re-read them all over again, but this was my last chance to experience one of their novels for the first time.
Though it was the last novel to be published, it was the first one that Charlotte wrote. I think what I loved about it the most was that you could see the early workings of her later novels. The portrayal of modern mill towns and mill owners is given a broader telling in Shirley. Her experiences as a governess in Belgium gain more detail in Villette. And in William and Frances' relationship, we see the early workings of what would become Jane and Rochester in Jane Eyre. In many ways, reading The Professor was like visiting old friends. It was fascinating to see the early details that would later become the foundation for some of my favorite stories.
Now this is not to say that this is a perfect novel. It lacks the polish of her later works. It also has a bit of a self-satisfied and preachy tone that is kind of off putting (similar to the tone her sister Anne used in Agnes Grey). I wouldn't recommend it as an introduction to the works of the Brontes, it is mainly for die-hard fans.
Though it certainly wasn't the best Bronte novel I've read, I still enjoyed it. It is a relatively short read, and it serves as a bit of a crash course in the many themes and ideas that Charlotte wrote about. I recommend this to any fan, and do suggest that you make it one of your later Bronte reads. It was a great way to cap off my reading of the works of these great literary siblings. Time to start all over!