The Professor (novel)
The Professor was the first novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë was an English novelist and poet, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood, whose novels are English literature standards...

. It was originally written before Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre is a novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë. It was published in London, England, in 1847 by Smith, Elder & Co. with the title Jane Eyre. An Autobiography under the pen name "Currer Bell." The first American edition was released the following year by Harper & Brothers of New York...

and rejected by many publishing houses, but was eventually published posthumously in 1857
1857 in literature
The year 1857 in literature involved some significant new books.-Events:*Jules Verne marries Honorine de Viane Morel.*The illustrated weekly, Über Land and Meer, is founded by Friedrich Wilhelm Hackländer and Edmund von Zoller....

 by approval of Arthur Bell Nicholls, who accepted the task of reviewing and editing of the novel.

Plot introduction

The book is the story of a young man, William Crimsworth, and is a first-person narrative from his perspective. It describes his maturation, his loves and his eventual career as a professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 at an all-girl's school.

The story starts off with a letter William has sent to his friend Charles, detailing his refusal to his uncle's proposals to become a clergyman, as well as his first meeting with his rich brother Edward. Seeking work as a tradesman, William is offered the position of a clerk by Edward. However, Edward is jealous of William's education and intelligence and treats him terribly. By the actions of the sympathetic Mr. Hunsden, William is relieved of his position and gains a new job at an all-boys boarding school in Belgium.

The school is run by the friendly M. Pelet, who treats William kindly and politely. Soon, William's merits as a professor reach the ears of the headmistress of the neighboring girls school. Mlle. Reuter offers him a position at her school, which he accepts. Initially captivated by Mlle. Reuter, William begins to entertain ideas of falling in love with her, only to have them crushed when he overhears her and M. Pelet talk about their upcoming marriage.

Slightly heartbroken, he now treats Mlle. Reuter with a cold civility and begins to see the underlying nature of her character. Mlle. Reuter, however, continues to try to draw William back in, pretending to be benevolent and concerned. She goes so far as to plead him to teach one of her young teachers, Frances, who hopes to improve her skill in languages. William sees in this pupil promising intelligence and slowly begins to fall in love with her as he tutors her English.

Jealous of the attention Francis is receiving from William, Mlle. Reuter takes it upon herself to casually dismiss Frances from her school and hide her address from William. It is revealed that as she was trying to make herself amiable in William's eyes, Mlle. Reuter accidentally fell in love with him herself. Not wanting to cause a conflict with M. Pelet, Crimsworth leaves his establishment and moves out, in hopes of finding Frances.

Eventually bumping into his beloved pupil in a graveyard, the two reconcile . William gets a new position as a professor at a college, with an exceedingly high wage. The two eventually open a school together and have a child. After obtaining financial security, the family travels all around England and settle in the countryside next to Mr. Hunsden.


  • William Crimsworth: The protagonist, an orphaned child who is educated at Eton College
    Eton College
    Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

     after being taken in by his uncles. Rejecting their offering of a role as a clergyman - as he does not believe himself good enough for the role, he severs ties with them to walk in his late father's shoes and become a tradesman. His time in Yorkshire as a clerk for his cruel elder brother is short and he departs for Belgium, where he becomes a teacher/professor and meets his wife-to-be, who is a pupil of his. He is educated, religious and healthy, though not handsome.
  • Lord Tynedale / Hon. John Seacombe / Mr. Seacombe: William's maternal uncles who attempt to set William up as a rector of Seacombe-cum-Saife and attempt to marry him off to one of his own cousins who he 'greatly dislikes'. William severs all ties with these aristocrats and little is heard from them in the rest of the book.
  • Charles: Seemingly William's only friend at Eton. William writes a letter to him detailing of his activities since Eton and just after his first meeting with Edward at Crimsworth Hall. This letter serves as an introduction to the book. He does not reply to the letter as he has already set off for one of the colonies. He is an unseen character
    Unseen character
    In fiction, an unseen character is a character that is never directly observed by the audience but is only described by other characters. They are a common device in drama and have been called "triumphs of theatrical invention". They are continuing characters — characters who are currently in...

  • Edward Crimsworth: William's tyrannical elder brother. He is an accomplished tradesman, owner of a Yorkshire
    Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

     mill, married and more handsome than his brother. Jealous of his sibling's education, he treats William cruelly. He later loses his wealth and wife, only to become rich again by the end of the book.
  • Hunsden Yorke Hunsden: The man who frees William from his brother's clutches. He sets him up with contacts in Brussels and the two become good friends. He is a unique but not unattractive man who has a similar taste in women as William, though he remains a lifelong bachelor.
  • Monsieur Francois Pelet: The French headmaster of a boy's school in Belgium who employs William and becomes a good friend. He later betrays him in order to ensure the affection of Zoraïde Reuter, who he later marries.
  • Mademoiselle Zoraïde Reuter: The Catholic headmistress of the school in Belgium. William is initially attracted to Reuter, though she is destined to marry Monsieur Pelet.
  • Frances Evans Henri: A pupil-teacher at the school in Belgium where William Crimsworth finds himself. After the two fall in love they get married and eventually move to England. She is a Swiss orphan of half English extraction who was raised by her aunt.
  • Madame Reuter: Zoraïde's mother
  • Madame Pelet: Monsieur Pelet's mother
  • Eulalie, Hortense and *Caroline: Three coquettish students at Mademoiselle Reuter's school
  • Sylvie: Another student
  • Jules Vanderkelkov: A student at Monsieur Pelet's school
  • Victor Crimsworth: Son of William and Frances Evans Henri.


Throughout the novel, William looks down upon Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

s and “Romish wizardcraft”. Brontë pictures the two main Catholic characters as treacherous and untrustworthy persons. William believes the Catholic upbringing has a negative influence on the young girls at his school.


The charming Hunsden character has little patriotism and finds himself in contrast to the national pride Frances holds in her native Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 and the England where her mother's family came from and which she longs to see.

William has a certain snobbery against the Flemish
Flemish people
The Flemings or Flemish are the Dutch-speaking inhabitants of Belgium, where they are mostly found in the northern region of Flanders. They are one of two principal cultural-linguistic groups in Belgium, the other being the French-speaking Walloons...

 and is disgusted by the way they butcher the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 as he attempts to teach them.


The story is based upon Charlotte Brontë's experiences in Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

, where she studied as a language student and was a teacher in 1842. Much of the same subject matter of The Professor would be reworked from the perspective of a female student into Brontë's later novel Villette
Villette (novel)
Villette is a novel by Charlotte Brontë, published in 1853. After an unspecified family disaster, protagonist Lucy Snowe travels to the fictional city of Villette to teach at an all-girls school where she is unwillingly pulled into both adventure and romance...

, which met—and continues to attract—much higher critical acclaim.

Further reading

  • Butterworth, Robert. "The Professor and the Contemporary Working Milieu." Bronte Studies, 35.3 (2010): 215-221.

  • Butterworth, RD. "The Professor and the Modern Experience of Work." Bronte Studies, 2011 SEP, Vol.36, P.255-262, 36 (2011): 255-262.

  • Longmuir, A. "'Reader, Perhaps You Were Never in Belgium?': Negotiating British Identity in Charlotte Bronte's the Professor and Villette." Nineteenth-Century Literature, 64.2 (2009): 163-188.

  • Lonoff, Sue. "The Three Faces of Constantin Heger." Bronte Studies, 36.1 (2011): 28-37.

  • Peterson, Linda. "Triangulation, Desire, and Discontent in the Life of Charlotte Bronte." SEL: Studies in English Literature (Johns Hopkins), 47.4 (2007): 901-920.

  • "Playing with the Professor. (Charlotte Bronte's Novel)." CLA Journal, March, 1994, Vol.37(3), P.348(10), 37.3 (1994): 348.

External links

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