Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

This was a read for the Brontë Reading Group here in Brussels, which met yesterday evening at the restaurant "Carpe Diem". This is Charlotte Brontë's first book and it was not printed until after her death. The publisher, and other persons as well, thought it was not good or appropriate as it was and wanted to change it. However, Charlotte refused. It might be that some editing took place then, before printing it.

As usual we had a lively discussion. This is always the case when we have different views. Some loved the book, others didn't, some said it was ok. Some thought the characterisation was not good enough, others thought it was. If you have read Jane Eyre and Villette you recognise things from this book that she used later on. I found a lot of the descriptions of the city was rather clear here, not mistaken it for anything but Brussels. In Villette she has written around it a little bit more. More discretely in a way.

Here is a short resume of the story and I am afraid it is a SPOILER. So,  for those of you who want to read the book, skip the next paragraph.

The story is about William Crimsworth, whose mother died when he was born. His brother was around 10-12 years older than him. William therefore grew up with some uncles and were sent to boarding school as soon as possible. Once finished with school, he was thrown out by the uncles because he didn't want to go into priesthood or marry one of the cousins. He comes to work for his brother who is a tyrant and soon resigns. With the help of a man from the village, Hunsdon, he gets an introduction letter for looking for work in Brussels. He travels there, gets a job as teacher in a boys' school. Next to it is a girl's school. He has an infatuation with the directress, Ms Reuter, until he discovers her ways. Furthermore, he learns that she is engaged to be married to Mr Pelet who is his boss. One of his pupil's in English (he got a job to teach English also in the girl's school!) is another teacher, Frances.  Her mother is English and her father is Swiss. They are both dead and she lives now in rather poor circumstances with her aunt. He fancies her and Ms Reuter gets jealous and tells her she does not need to come back. Her aunt dies and she is alone. William is looking for her all over the city, since Ms Reuter pretends that she does not know Frances' address. Finally one day, he stumbles upon her in a cemetery outside the city. They fall in love, she gets a job, he (who had resigned since Mr Pelet, his boss, is going to marry Ms Reuter) gets another job. They start a school, they get a son, they sell the school and retire to a beautiful country house in England. Pff

Well, what can I say? The writing is good in Charlotte's usual style. Far too many boring descriptions of everything around. You never get to really know the characters. They are all behaving a little bit peculiar. What is a little bit astounding though is the the 'love scenes' are quite explicit. Please misunderstand me right, not like it would be today. But, she sits in his knee, they kiss and so on and so forth. She also has a lot of social thinking in the book, especially concerning equality for women. Frances is very upset when she hears that William gets 8000 FR per year and she only gets 1200. Also Frances wants to continue working after they have married. Here Charlotte is really ahead of her time. As you might understand, I was not one of those who loved the book. However, since she has not written that many books, I think that if you are a Charlotte Brontë fan you just have to read it. The book is rather short as well.

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