"The Professor"

The Professor by Charlotte Bronte

 As I read through this book I was constantly reminded of Villette, another of Charlotte Bronte's less popular novels. Villette is the story of a single woman who finds employment at a girl's school in France; this one is about a single man who gets a job teaching at schools in Belgium. The schools, characters and stories are similar enough to make of these two books a good set of bookends, and leave the reader wondering why the author would choose to write two stories so alike.

I didn't enjoy this one as much as Villette because I didn't like the main character, the professor. Like the professor in Villette, he seems remote, stuffy and rather full of himself, while the female lead is all submission, humility and duty. The fact that she, Frances, consistently calls the professor "Master" doesn't help. The female lead in Villette, Lucy Snow, had more of a background story and was far more interesting.

When I read Villette I was surprised at the tendency to judge character by appearance, and again, I was surprised to find it in this book. Describing one student, the professor says: "Suspicion, sullen ill-temper were on her forehead, vicious propensities in her eye, envy and panther-like deceit about her mouth." About another student: "I wonder that any one, looking at the girl's head and countenance, would have received her under their roof." Later he admits that though the woman he loves is not beautiful and his first and chief attraction to her was her intellect, he could not have loved her without the "clearness of her brown eyes, the fairness of her fine skin, the purity of her well-set teeth, the proportion of her delicate form".

In spite of the things I didn't like, I found some good thoughts in the text. Here are a couple of my favourites:

"...he was too gentlemanlike 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 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."

As with all the Bronte books, I loved the language. Unfortunately my dislike of the professor, and the impression I got that I was meant to admire him for his lack of graciousness, ruined it for me and I was quite happy to get to the end of it.


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