The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

Back in April, I took part in The Classics Club’s 23rd Spin event, for which my result was to read the lesser known classic, The Professor by Charlotte Brontë. Having previously enjoyed Jane Eyre and Shirley, albeit not as much as Emily’s Wuthering Heights or Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I was looking forward to reading more by Charlotte.

The Professor is the story of a young man, William Crimsworth, who on reaching his maturity neither wishes to follow his wealthy guardians’ plans for him to join the clergy or to be the whipping boy of his estranged older brother in business. So instead, with a little kick up the backside by the sympathetic Mr Hunsden, William sets off for Belgium, where he quickly gains employment teaching English. First at the fawning Monsieur Pelet’s boy’s school and subsequently, a similar position at the fascinating Mademoiselle Reuter’s neighbouring girl’s school.

Charlotte manages to bring alive the bustle, noise and atmosphere of a school of this period really well, and that is not surprising as she based the story on her own experiences of studying languages in Brussels in 1842. She could almost have been one of William’s pupils at Mademoiselle Reuter’s. As you can imagine, while not handsome, the young William causes quite a stir at the all-girl’s school. With his youth, English exoticism, aloof nature and noble bearing he has many of the girls a titter and even attracts the interest of the headmistress.

We then observe William’s proceeding maturation, his loves, his wounds and his eventual successful career as a professor. Unfortunately, while I sympathised with William’s situation, I did find it hard to particularly like him! As I said above he is aloof, as well as proud and rather rude: particularly with the scathing critiques he makes of his female pupils. Thankfully though as he matures, gains more experience and falls in love we do see a softer, more pleasant side to him, so it is good I hung on there to the end with this one.

In conclusion, I found The Professor a little hard going at first, but I persevered as it is a relatively short book and it did get easier towards the end. This was Charlotte’s first novel which, having been rejected by many publishing houses, wasn’t published until after her death in 1857, and I think that shows a little to be honest. However if you’re a huge Charlotte fan, you’ll probably like to read this to see where her writing began. Okay read.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: Have you read this? Or have you read any of Charlotte Brontë’s other, lesser known works? Which is your favourite Brontë sister?


This is book #19 off my Classics Club II list.

19 thoughts on “The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

  1. I have read all of Charlotte’s books and this is my least favourite of the four. The way William described his female pupils bothered me too. Overall I think I prefer Emily and Anne’s books to Charlotte’s.

  2. I’m pretty certain I’ve read everything by the Brontes and yet I have no recollection of this at all – so perhaps I really didn’t enjoy it!
    Lynn 😀

  3. It sounds as though this contains much of the raw material for what eventually became Villette, though with a male protagonist. I actually find it hard to think of Charlotte writing from a male perspective, so from that point of view, I am curious to see whether it worked.

    1. Alyson, I think Charlotte did well writing from a male perspective, I just didn’t particularly like the male in question! But then I didn’t particular like Jane in Jane Eyre either (controversial, I know)! However thinking of this as the raw material, makes me more eager to read the (hopefully) better and polished Villette. 🙂

  4. I’ve only ever read Jane Eyre which I loved. Must read more of her stuff sometime. I often think posthumously published books aren’t a great idea – obviously it means the author didn’t get to okay the final edit and so on, or sort out any issues. But I suppose we’d still rather have them even if they’re imperfect…

    1. That is a very good point, FF: being published posthumously does mean Charlotte didn’t have sat in the final piece published. While I enjoyed Jane Eyre and Shirley, so far, Charlotte is proving the least favourite of the sisters for me. I still have Villette by her to read on my Classics Club list. 🙂

  5. I know it was based on her time in Brussels and her platonic love for her host if I remember correctly. I read The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James and at the time I read more to see what was possibly true. Here’s a link to that book if you like:

    1. Hopewells, there wasn’t anything about platonic love in this, perhaps that is in Villette instead? Villette is also based on Charlotte’s time in Brussels – I have it on my Classics Club list too, so hopefully will be able to read it and find out soon. 🙂

  6. It’s always interesting to hear thoughts on some of the lesser known works like this. I’m glad you stuck with it, even if it wasn’t great.

    I read Jane Eyre years ago (and enjoyed it), but I can’t remember if I ever read Wuthering Heights. I do have vivid memories of a film adaption of it that I loved, though I think it was panned critically. (1970 version with Timothy Dalton) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is somewhere on my shelf, unread. All to say…. I can’t answer your question as to my favorite!

    1. Kelly, I also enjoyed Jane Eyre, but I don’t think it is as good as either Wuthering Heights or The Tenant of Wildfel Hall, so I highly recommend you read them! 😃

  7. Such a long time since I read this one. It has some similarities with Villette I think which I re-read a few years ago . I think that Villette is very good.

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