The Professor is Charlotte Brontë's first novel but it was published posthumously. The hero of the story, William Crimsworth, is an orphaned young man who has just graduated from Eton College and is trying to build a suitable career of his own. He first worked as a clerk for his brother, Edward Crimsworth, who is a rich mill-owner. After a few months, he starts to feel that trading is not the right job for him. He is very much bored by his work and is not respected or appreciated by his boss. Then, with an introduction letter by Mr. Hunsden, a gentleman he met at a party in Crimsworth Hall, he went to Brussels to work as a professor of English. The story mainly centers around his relationship with Pelet and Zoraider Reuter, the principals of the two schools he teaches in, and Frances Henri, a teacher-student in the girl's school. It is basically about how William overcomes his obstacles and frustrations, and lead to a fulfilling and happy life of his own.
The story is not as elaborately developed and exciting as her later novels. Bronte intended to create a realistic character who can achieve moderate success by individual efforts, and a romance that is heartwarming but not extraordinary. It is a story that honors the individual spirit, hard work and honesty or sincerity. Charlotte Bronte understood why it was rejected by publishing agency: 'Men in business are usually thought to prefer the real; on trial, the idea will be often found fallacious: a passionate preference for the wild, wonderful and thrilling...- agitates diverse souls that show a calm and sober surface.' Charlotte Bronte did not just write to entertain the reader and to attract attention from publishers, but to try out her own ideas and to express herself through an art form. The novel is her first step to developing the originality of her writings.
In fact, I was at some point bored by the novel as the plot is unexciting and predictable. But I kept reading because the protagonist is quite relatable and I was curious to see how those mundane characters make a meaningful story. I was a fresh graduate last year and I am also very much frustrated by 'the real world' and not sure about the next step I have to take. Crimsworth is also quite disappointed about his first job and he is trying to make a difference to his life. The story does give me some sort of encouragement that everything will turn out fine if I dare to take a step forward. Having read so many personal essays and novels recently, I was quite surprised by how my experience and emotions resemble many described scenarios. Yet, I somehow feel that my life is too ordinary and sometimes meaningless. If I can write about my experience and other people's stories like those writers do, I might feel like this life is as meaningful and interesting as those character's.
In terms of the writing, it is much better than I thought it would be.The character's personalities and temperament are described vividly in the novel, especially through the way they speak. Mr. Hunsden, a supporting character, interests me quite a lot. He is outside of the story's central conflicts but does influence the actions of the protagonist and moves the plot forward. He appears as a mean and sarcastic person who is unagreeable and unlikable, but he does care about people and cherishes friendship. He is described as a 'man of originality' by Frances, and he holds on to his own beliefs and loves to challenge others. He is disinterested in many of the protagonist's concerns, and he seems to be providing some commentary to the situations and struggles of Crimsworth in a subtle way. For example, when Crimsworth starts to hate his job, Mr. Hunsden tells him how unsuitable it is for him and how his boss is a tyrant. While the main characters are attached to England more than Belgium. Hunsden tells them that he is a man of the world but not especially nationalistic about his home country. I wonder if this character is to create a more distant and critical point of view of the story.
The thing I don't like about the novel is that the relationship between men and women are always described as potential love interests. The girl students are described as 'blooming young creatures' and the description of them seems to focus too much on appearances. The novel can explore different possible kinds of relationships between men and woman, such as teacher and students, and friends. I also feel a bit uncomfortable about the kind of prejudice against non-protestant Europeans in the novel. The introduction says it is due to the general mindset of Victorian England.