The Bronte Project: THE PROFESSOR

Internets, what is up?

What is up with me is that I finished The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte, which is the first Project Bronte book that I actively hated.

Oh my god. Okay, I expected the Brontes to be racist, even if I choke at it every time. I mean, I read Wide Sargasso Sea like a billion (eight) years ago, and the way that book takes down Mr Rochester’s filthy and shameless treatment of his first wife is both awesome and guaranteed that I would never ever ever like Mr Rochester ever. Reader, I would have strangled him.

So, racism, I knew, would turn up. Sexism, I also expected, because hey also Rochester. But I wasn’t anticipating religious intolerance, nor a nationalism so virulent and horrible that almost anyone not English or part-English – even if they are white and European – is constantly derided as immoral on the basis of their non-Englishness.

I could take it in Villette, because in that story the narrator is clearly marked as unreliable in a number of ways. Lucy constantly lies to the reader; she has what we might now call untreated depression and social anxiety disorder which may skew her perceptions; and her distaste for Catholicism and Belgium/France is marked with a hint of strong fascination.

When Lucy says “God is not with Rome” and goes on and on about how awful Catholicism is, it is easy to read that as her shrinking away from her very real attraction to the beautiful pageantry of the High Mass. When she denounces the horrible Frenchness of her fellow teachers, it’s easy to see that as jealousy and oversensitivity. After all, Lucy falls in love with and becomes engaged to a French man so staunchly Catholic that he is constantly described as a lay Jesuit, so it’s hard to take her distaste at face value.

But in The Professor, which was an earlier work than Villette, and sort of functions as a practice for it, the narrator is supposed to be both reliable and virtuous, when actually he is a smug bigot.

William Crimsworth goes on and on about how awful the girls in the Belgian school he teaches at are. Sure, they might be pretty, but they are so slutty! They keep making eyes at him! And if they are not pretty, then they are sooooooo fat and stupid. They are lazy! Super lazy! The only decent scholar in the class is a tiny ugly girl who has – this is the best bit – been poisoned by Catholicism. She is bound for the convent, poor thing, and must be pitied in a particularly patronizing manner because of it.

The director of the boys’ school is a filthy liar, the directress of the girls’ school is a shameless harlot who keeps coming on to him even when she is engaged to the boys’ school director. These Europeans! They are such disgusting, immoral devils of deception!

Enter a Protestant half-Swiss, half-English girl, who is thin and sort of pretty but not in a whoreish showy way! He falls in love with her, he reads the poetry she writes even when she tells him not to, he’s happy that she’s so demure and subservient she constantly calls him “master”, even when they are married, and his favourite thing to do when she argues with him is to hold her captive on his knee until she becomes sweet and pliant again.

I HATE WILLIAM CRIMSWORTH. And I hate The Professor.

But I love Hunsden. He’s gay, right? That picture of the opera singer is totally the Victorian equivalent of a girlfriend in Canada.

Then I started Wuthering Heights, and I hate everyone in it so much (except for Nelly!) that I began reading Daniel Deronda in self defence, and I like that muuuuuch better. Gwendolen is my kinda gal.

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