The Professor: A Tale [NOOK Book]

Overview

In The Professor, Charlotte Brontë defiantly created an externally unprepossessing protagonist in William Crimsworth, whose unglamorous appearance and station belie an internal power. He is conscious of banked energies and emotions that must find an outlet in a hostile world.

In this first novel, Brontë drew on her recent experiences as a student and teacher in a Belgian girls' school. She wrote it while struggling with the most emotionally harrowing event of her adult life, her...

See more details below
The Professor: A Tale

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook - Digitized from 1857 volume)
FREE
Marketplace
BN.com

All Available Formats & Editions

Overview

In The Professor, Charlotte Brontë defiantly created an externally unprepossessing protagonist in William Crimsworth, whose unglamorous appearance and station belie an internal power. He is conscious of banked energies and emotions that must find an outlet in a hostile world.

In this first novel, Brontë drew on her recent experiences as a student and teacher in a Belgian girls' school. She wrote it while struggling with the most emotionally harrowing event of her adult life, her unreciprocated romantic attraction to her married teacher in Brussels, Constantin Heger. This background lends the first-person narrative a quality that would become a hallmark of Brontë's style: a striking emotional intensity.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This first novel went unpublished during Bront 's lifetime, rejected by publishers each time it was submitted despite her growing fame for such works as Jane Eyre and Shirley. It was released only after her untimely passing, when there was a great hunger for anything from the pen of this now-famous author, but it was a poor addition to her work. A critic in 1857 wrote that it was "crude, unequal, and unnatural to a fault; it has all the unripe qualities of a bad first work ." And indeed it is dreary and confusing, uninvolving and filled with minutiae, and suffers from many awkward and improbable devices, not the least of which is the choice of a male protagonist to tell a tale with many autobiographical aspects. The reading by James Wilby is expert and probably as exciting and dramatic as is possible, given the material. Comprehensive literary collections will want to add this early work of a major author, but more popular collections can safely pass it by.--Harriet Edwards, East Meadow P.L., NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940026046058
  • Publisher: Harper & Brothers Publishers
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Digitized from 1857 volume
  • File size: 518 KB

Read an Excerpt

The other day, in looking over my papers, I found in my desk the following copy of a letter, sent by me a year since to an old school acquaintance:



"DEAR CHARLES,--

I think when you and I were at Eton together, we were neither of us what could be called popular characters: you were a sarcastic, observant, shrewd, cold-blooded creature: my own portrait I will not attempt to draw, but I cannot recollect that it was a strikingly attractive one--can you? 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. Still, out of school hours we walked and talked continually together; when the theme of conversation was our companions or our masters, we understood each other, and when I recurred to some sentiment of affection, some vague love of an excellent or beautiful object, whether in animate or inanimate nature, your sardonic coldness did not move me. I felt myself superior to that check then as I do now.

"It is a long time since I wrote to you, and a still longer time since I saw you. Chancing to take up a newspaper of your county the other day, my eye fell upon your name. I began to think of old times; to run over the events which have transpired since we separated; and I sat down and commenced this letter. What you have been doing I know not; but you shall hear, if you choose to listen, how the world has wagged with me.

"First, after leaving Eton, I had an interview with my maternal uncles, Lord Tynedale and the Hon. John Seacombe. They asked me if Iwould enter the Church, and my uncle the nobleman offered me the living of Seacombe, which is in his gift, if I would; then my other uncle, Mr. Seacombe, hinted that when I became rector of Seacombe-cum-Scaife, I might perhaps be allowed to take, as mistress of my house and head of my parish, one of my six cousins, his daughters, all of whom I greatly dislike.

"I declined both the Church and matrimony. A good clergyman is a good thing, but I should have made a very bad one. As to the wife--oh, how like a nightmare is the thought of being bound for life to one of my cousins! No doubt they are accomplished and pretty; but not an accomplishment, not a charm of theirs, touches a chord in my bosom. To think of passing the winter evenings by the parlour fireside of Seacombe Rectory alone with one of them--for instance, the large and well-modelled statue, Sarah--no; I should be a bad husband, under such circumstances, as well as a bad clergyman.

"When I had declined my uncles' offers they asked me 'what I intended to do?' I said I should reflect. They reminded me that I had no fortune, and no expectation of any, and, after a considerable pause, Lord Tynedale demanded sternly, 'Whether I had thoughts of following my father's steps and engaging in trade?' Now I had no thought of the sort. I do not think that my turn of mind qualifies me to make a good tradesman; my taste, my ambition does not lie in that way; but such was the scorn expressed in Lord Tynedale's countenance as he pronounced the word trade--such the contemptuous sarcasm of his tone--that I was instantly decided. My father was but a name to me, yet that name I did not like to hear mentioned with a sneer to my very face. I answered then, with haste and warmth, 'I cannot do better than follow in my father's steps; yes, I will be a tradesman.' My uncles did not remonstrate; they and I parted with mutual disgust. In reviewing this transaction, I find that I was quite right to shake off the burden of Tynedale's patronage, but a fool to offer my shoulders instantly for the reception of another burden--one which might be more intolerable, and which certainly was yet untried.

"I wrote instantly to Edward--you know Edward--my only brother, ten years my senior, married to a rich mill-owner's daughter, and now possessor of the mill and business which was my father's before he failed. You are aware that my father--once reckoned a Cr?sus of wealth--became bankrupt a short time previous to his death, and that my mother lived in destitution for some six months after him, unhelped by her aristocratical brothers, whom she had mortally offended by her union with Crimsworth, the ----shire manufacturer. At the end of the six months she brought me into the world, and then herself left it, without, I should think, much regret, as it contained little hope or comfort for her.

"My father's relations took charge of Edward, as they did of me, till I was nine years old. At that period it chanced that the representation of an important borough in our county fell vacant; Mr. Seacombe stood for it. My uncle Crimsworth, an astute mercantile man, took the opportunity of writing a fierce letter to the candidate, stating that if he and Lord Tynedale did not consent to do something towards the support of their sister's orphan children, he would expose their relentless and malignant conduct towards that sister, and do his best to turn the circumstances against Mr. Seacombe's election. That gentleman and Lord T. knew well enough that the Crimsworths were an unscrupulous and determined race; they knew also that they had influence in the borough of X----; and, making a virtue of necessity, they consented to defray the expenses of my education. I was sent to Eton, where I remained ten years, during which space of time Edward and I never met. He, when he grew up, entered into trade, and pursued his calling with such diligence, ability, and success, that now, in his thirtieth year, he was fast making a fortune. Of this I was apprised by the occasional short letters I received from him, some three or four times a year; which said letters never concluded without some expression of determined enmity against the house of Seacombe, and some reproach to me for living, as he said, on the bounty of that house. At first, while still in boyhood, I could not understand why, as I had no parents, I should not be indebted to my uncles Tynedale and Seacombe for my education; but as I grew up, and heard by degrees of the persevering hostility, the hatred till death evinced by them against my father--of the sufferings of my mother--of all the wrongs, in short, of our house--then did I conceive shame of the dependence in which I lived, and form a resolution no more to take bread from hands which had refused to minister to the necessities of my dying mother. It was by these feelings I was influenced when I refused the Rectory of Seacombe, and the union with one of my patrician cousins.

"An irreparable breach thus being effected between my uncles and myself, I wrote to Edward; told him what had occurred, and informed him of my intention to follow his steps and be a tradesman. I asked, moreover, if he could give me employment. His answer expressed no approbation of my conduct, but he said I might come down to ----shire, if I liked, and he would 'see what could be done in the way of furnishing me with work.' I repressed all--even mental comment on his note--packed my trunk and carpet-bag, and started for the North directly.

"After two days' travelling (railroads were not then in existence) I arrived, one wet October afternoon, in the town of X----. I had always understood that Edward lived in this town, but on inquiry I found that it was only Mr. Crimsworth's mill and warehouse which were situated in the smoky atmosphere of Bigben Close; his residence lay four miles out, in the country.

"It was late in the evening when I alighted at the gates of the habitation designated to me as my brother's. As I advanced up the avenue, I could see through the shades of twilight, and the dark gloomy mists which deepened those shades, that the house was large, and the grounds surrounding it sufficiently spacious. I paused a moment on the lawn in front, and leaning my back against a tall tree which rose in the centre, I gazed with interest on the exterior of Crimsworth Hall.
Read More Show Less

Introduction

INTRODUCTION

 

In 1846 Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, sisters living in obscurity in a Yorkshire parsonage, sought to launch themselves as novelists. Writing under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, they had succeeded that year in bringing a joint volume of their poetry into press at their own expense, and now they were attempting to break into the potentially more lucrative arena of fiction. Charlotte undertook the negotiations, suggesting to publishers that the three “tales” submitted by the “Bells” for consideration could be published either together or separately. In the event, Emily’s novel Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey were published together in 1847, while Charlotte’s contribution, The Professor, was not published until after her death. But it presages the success she would shortly achieve with Jane Eyre, for this first novel introduces themes and a tone that would echo throughout her work. Brontë defiantly created an externally unprepossessing protagonist in William Crimsworth, whose unglamorous appearance and station belie an internal power. Like the heroines who would follow him in Jane Eyre and Villette, he is conscious of banked energies and emotions that must find an outlet in a hostile world. In this first novel, Brontë drew on her recent experiences as a student and teacher in a Belgian girls’ school. She wrote it while struggling with the most emotionally harrowing event of her adult life, her unreciprocated romantic attraction to her married teacher in Brussels, Constantin Heger.  This background lends the first-person narrative a quality that would become a hallmark of Brontë’s style: a striking emotional intensity.

Charlotte Brontë was born in 1816 in Yorkshire to Patrick Brontë, a clergyman, and his wife Maria, who died when Charlotte was five. She was one of six children, two of whom died in childhood. Together with her surviving sisters Emily and Anne, she would turn the insular Brontës into one of the most famous families in English literary history. Their future careers were foreshadowed by the extraordinary juvenilia--elaborate chronicles about the imaginary kingdoms of Gondal and Angria—they composed along with their brother Branwell.  Charlotte spent a year of her early childhood at Cowan Head, a boarding school she would pillory through her depiction of Lowood in Jane Eyre, and two years in her teens studying at the more congenial school operated by the Miss Woolers at Roe Head. Otherwise she was educated by her father in their parsonage home at Haworth. Though the family was genteel by virtue of Patrick Brontë’s profession, its means were limited. Thus the sisters had to consider how best to make a living within the constraints Victorian England imposed on middle-class female vocation. The obvious choice was teaching. Charlotte returned to Roe Head as an instructor and was briefly a governess. The Belgian sojourn that provided the background for The Professor began when she and Emily traveled to Brussels in 1842 to study languages with  the intention of opening a boarding school of their own back in England. Charlotte also spent most of the following year there as an English teacher. But her true vocation was writing, and she achieved success and fame with the publication of Jane Eyre in 1847. Also published in her lifetime were Shirley (1849) and Villette (1853). She married her father’s curate Arthur Bell Nicholls in 1854 and died a year later of complications from pregnancy.

After Charlotte’s death her prominent fellow novelist Elizabeth Gaskell was assigned the task of writing her late friend’s biography. On a visit to the parsonage at Haworth, Gaskell came into the possession of various documents, including the manuscript of The Professor. She was not keen to see it published, fearing it might raise questions about Charlotte’s relationship with Heger. In her biography Gaskell obscured the romantic nature of Charlotte’s feelings for her teacher, claiming that religious differences were at the root of an estrangement between Charlotte and Madame Heger. But Brontë’s widower approved its publication and accepted the task of reviewing the proofs of The Professor, which finally appeared in 1857.

Though Brontë’s attempts to bring the novel to press in her lifetime were unsuccessful, one Victorian publisher had recognized its power. When after several rejections Brontë sent the manuscript to Smith, Elder & Co, the firm’s reader sent an encouraging reply. Though he believed The Professor was not commercially viable, he recognized that he was dealing with a talented writer and invited submission of another, longer manuscript. He was rewarded for his insight.  Thanks to this letter, it was to Smith, Elder that Brontë sent Jane Eyre, which became a huge commercial and critical success.Still, The Professor is engaging novel that has remained the least familiar of Brontë’s works. It has suffered from living in the shade of Villette, which is also set in a Belgian pensionnat. As Winfred Gérin notes in her biography of the author, however, The Professor is no mere “rough draft” for Villette. Gérin argues that because she was still in the throes of her feelings for Heger when she wrote her first novel, she could not yet fictionalize her relationship with him as directly as she would in her last. While recording the surface facts of Brussels with “topographical precision,” she substantially alters the emotional facts of her experience there. This transmutation entails the creation of a male first-person narrator, a choice Brontë would not make again. Nevertheless, in William Crimsworth’s narration we can hear echoes of Brontë’s own desires.

            Brontë was not able to acknowledge fully, even to herself, the nature of her attachment to a married man--one who, moreover, did not reciprocate her feelings. But it is not coincidental that in her novel a pedagogic relationship becomes the vehicle for a romantic one. There is likely an element of wish-fulfillment in her account of a plain student grown suddenly attractive under the discerning gaze of her teacher. In molding Frances’s intellect, William remolds her physical contours; he notes that under his tuition “[her ] look of wan emaciation. . .vanished. . .; a clearness of skin almost bloom, and a plumpness almost embonpoint, softened the decided lines of her features.” There are many Victorian novels in which the central couple has a mentoring relationship, for example Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. But in this case, scenes of instruction are the sole forum for the development and expression of the couple’s mutual desire. William’s accounts of their tutorials make their passion palpable, as when he explains why he likes to be strict with his best pupil: “[My] reproofs suited her best of all. . .,and when I interdicted even the monosyllabic defence, for the purpose of working up the subdued excitement a little higher, she would at last raise her eyes and give me a certain glance. . .which. . .thrilled me as nothing had ever done, and made me, in a fashion. . .her subject, if not her slave.”

The educational framework serves to channel and regulate William and Frances’ desire as well as to foster it. Even as the novel recognizes the value of passion it preaches the virtue of self-control. William sees in Frances’ character a careful balance between the two, an idea expressed through the fire imagery Brontë so often employs: “I knew how the more dangerous flame burned safely under the eye of reason; I had seen when the fire shot up a moment high and vivid. . .I had seen reason reduce the rebel, and humble its blaze to embers.” The constant adjudication of passion and reason can exact a toll, however. In an extraordinarily moving passage, William describes how the attempt to subdue outsized emotions can produce psychological torment: “I pent [my feelings]. . . in one strait and secret nook. In the daytime. . .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. . . [T]hen, in revenge, they. . .haunted my bed, and kept me awake with their long, midnight cry.”

We cannot help but suspect that this poignant imagery describes Brontë’s own suffering as she grappled with her feelings for Heger while carrying on her duties at the parsonage. Throughout her fiction she would be concerned with the psychology of characters whose unobtrusive persons mask turbulent emotions. 

William’s sufferings are compounded by his condition of relative isolation, a condition he shares with Jane Eyre and Villette’s Lucy Snowe. The plot is set in motion when his relatives, his maternal uncles and his brother, fail to act as his kin. (This scenario will be repeated in Jane Eyre, where the Reed family treats their niece and cousin as an alien among them.) In William’s brother’s house “[n]o fibre of sympathy” exists between him and anyone else, so he seeks out the portrait of his mother, who, he observes, “had bequeathed to [him] much of her features and countenance.” Cut off from her by her death, he will find his female counterpart in Frances, “the female of [his] kind.” It is an essential part of Brontë’s credo that one must find kinship with one’s romantic partner. Thus Frances is William’s counterpart, one who, he says, “think[s] such thoughts as I thought, feel[s] such feelings as I felt.”

Just as he read his mother’s portrait William will read Frances’s person. When he gets his first unobstructed view of her he sees that “. . .her complexion, her countenance, her lineaments, her figure, were all distinct from [the Belgians’], and evidently, the type of another race—of a race less gifted with fullness of flesh and plenitude of blood; less jocund, material, unthinking.” We see here how the novel’s equation of physiognomy and character can easily slip into xenophobia. The Flemish are viewed in harshly negative terms. Brontë was scathing on the subject of her Flemish students, and so is Crimsworth: “Their intellectual faculties were generally weak, their animal propensities strong. . . [T]hey were dull, but they were also singularly stubborn, heavy as lead. . . Such being the case, it would have been truly absurd to exact from them much in the way of exertion.” Thus we can see the importance of Frances’ background.  Her mother was English, her father Swiss. Critically, she is Protestant, sharing Crimsworth’s--and Brontë’s--exaggerated suspicion of Catholicism.

The equation of subterfuge with Catholic mores is made several times in the novel, most notably by Frances, who says that “a Romish school is a building with porous walls, a hollow floor, [and] a false ceiling. . . .” The novel pits its British Protestant hero against the continental and Catholic intriguers Pelet and Mdlle Reuter. The character of Mdlle Reuter is partly modeled on the wife of Constantin Heger. Charlotte Brontë’s feelings for her husband were obvious to Madame Heger, who managed the situation with a discreet finesse that Charlotte perceived as deviousness.  She ascribes that quality to the cunning Zoraïde, whose name echoes Madame Heger’s Christian name Zoë. William’s susceptibility to Zoraïde Reuter’s charms is temporary and delusional; he is able to recognize Frances as the true embodiment of womanly virtue.

The issue of female character is raised well before Frances appears. When he meets his sister-in-law, William notes her “good animal spirits” but finds something “infantine” in her appearance and voice. He comments that while this might appeal to most men, it does not to him: “I sought her eye, desirous to read there the intelligence which I could not discern in her face or hear in her conversation. . . .  [B]y turns I saw vivacity, vanity, coquetry,. . .but I watched in vain for a glimpse of soul.”  Later he comments: “I know that a pretty doll, a fair fool, might do well enough for the honeymoon; 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. . . .”

Frances is no wax doll. Despite her surface demureness, she is one of the more revolutionary heroines of Victorian fiction, her creation is one of the novel’s most impressive achievements.  Frances does display the domestic nature lauded in Victorian conduct books; William notes approvingly that her modest quarters are a model of cleanliness and cheer. But in another respect she departs radically from the conduct book norm. She insists on working after she is married, despite the fact that William will be earning enough to support them both. She vehemently asserts the importance of paid work and vocation:

‘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. . .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. . .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. . .’

She keeps her school going even after the birth of their child, becoming that rarest of Victorian heroines: a working, middle-class wife and mother.

Their shared vocation as teachers is, however, a means to an end. Prudent saving and investment allow them to realize their dream of buying property in England, Frances’s “Promised Land.” Critics have complained that the novels’ final chapter describing their life in England is anti-climactic. Typical is Gérin’s assessment: “The last parts of The Professor, where the happy ending is assured, are. . .particularly uninteresting. For the author the essential truth of the tale went out of it when the anguish was appeased.” It is true that happiness is not Brontë’s natural subject, but what is striking about the ending is that it lacks the idyll the concluding scenario at first seems to promise. The Crimsworths are able to settle near their friend and erstwhile benefactor Hunsden, but then we learn they fear his influence upon their child. William and Frances’ struggles to make a living and find a way to be together are over, but their beloved son, despite his more propitious family life, seems doomed to emotional suffering. Before signing off, William writes:

[We] see. . .something in Victor’s temper. . .which omits, now and then, ominous sparks. . . .  Frances gives this something in her son’s marked character no name; but when it appears in the grinding of his teeth, in the glittering of his eye, in the fierce revolt of feeling against disappointment, mischance, sudden sorrow, or supposed injustice, she folds him to her breast. . . .  [B]y love Victor can be infallibly subjugated; but will reason or love be the weapons with which in future the world will meet his violence? Oh no! For that flash in his black eye. . .the lad will some day gets blows instead of blandishments. . . .

Thus, Brontë chooses to end the novel on a note of unease; the struggle is always to be

fought anew.

 

Tess O’Toole received a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard University and was a member of the English faculty at McGill University. She currently lives in the Boston area.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 1 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)