The Professor by Charlotte Brontë, a story about domination and submission

Por Verónica de la Cruz, redactora de contenidos en Britania for you


“The Professor” by Charlotte Brontë is the first novel by the eldest of the Brontë sisters. It was rejected many times by the publishers as it did not fit in the trends of the time, yet the author did not gave up. She continued writing to give birth to her next novels, which were published and achieved success: the notorious “Jane Eyre”, “Vilette” or “Shirley”. The fact is that “The Professor” was not published until after her sad death due to tuberculosis in 1855. It is her posthumous novel, but the first one she wrote, completed in June 1846.

Charlotte Brontë incarnates the narrative voice of a man, William Crimsworth. The protagonist is a young man recently graduated on the prestigious Eton College who flees his native England to seek dignity and independence in the capital of Belgium, Brussels. It is thanks to Mr. Hunsden, a picturesque and influential character, who writes a letter of recommendation to help him get a teaching position at the male boarding school run by Monsieur Pelet.

Throughout the novel we are participants in William’s inner world and his particular way of feeling. We witness a kind of liberation from the chains that repressed his full potential after his devastating experience in England working in an office run by his antagonistic and cruel brother, Edward Crimsworth, a businessman who takes no opportunity to humiliate and award the most tedious jobs to his incomprehensibly hated brother. William stoically endures all kinds of scorn until he finally cannot take it anymore. He decides to move to Belgium in search of a better future.

However, William soon finds a new “mistress” in Brussels to submit to, albeit in a different way. She is Mademoiselle Reuter, manager of the adjoining female boarding school to which he is sent soon for his good work to give extra classes. William immediately surrenders to the charms of this cunning lady, which is no other than his boss. So much of the story focuses on the encounters and misunderstandings of both, in a kind of seduction game.

William soon gets tired of his tendency to fall into submission. So he ends up taking the reins during his classes in the female boarding school, switching to the dominant role in the context of teaching in order to be respected. Sometimes he treats many of the students with real disdain and we are direct testimonies of the unpleasant thoughts that they provoke in him. We see this dominant role culminate in his relationship with his promising new student, Frances Henri, an insecure and shy young woman who tacitly accepts William’s game.

Soon this relationship evolves into something unexpected and expected at the same time. Perhaps one of the many things that Charlotte Brontë wants to convey through William Crimsworth is the ideal of a man for a woman in the 19th century that already dared to ask for her rights. A man who is flexible, cooperative and respectful. A man who is balanced, dominant and submissive at the same time. Maybe William, because of his past experience, has realized how unbearable and depleting it can be to be captive, humiliated, despised and subdued by a “master”. So he decides to reveal himself as an understanding and balanced husband who knows how to give the place that his wife claims in marriage.

This is something that draws attention taking into account the society of the 19th century, where women were still considered a possession of the man. In the first place, a possession of the father (the head of the family) and once married, women became the possession of their husbands. They had neither financial nor personal independence and their place was reserved exclusively for housework and childcare.

This is why “The Professor” by Charlotte Brontë can be considered a feminist novel in a way, without feminism being even a relevant movement at that time. It gives us a fair view of the role that women should ideally play in a marriage. Even so, there is room for both roles of domination and submission interspersed, making the relationship more enriching, respectful and exciting for both parties.

In addition, “The Professor” by Charlotte Brontë deals with other topics such as religion, where a strong criticism of Catholicism can be perceived. It is well known that the writer and her family were fervent Protestants. You just have to note that the characters that repels William Crimsworth the most are precisely Catholic. Nor should we forget that this novel is imbued with the personal life of Charlotte Brontë, since she studied in Brussels for a while and secretly fell in love with her teacher, a married man much older than her.

I have to say that despite the fact that the novel contains extensive passages where the protagonist just digresses through his thoughts, it is an interesting reading . Charlotte Brontë wrote ingeniously to attract her reader without resorting to easy hooks, as long as her readers can appreciate the beauty of language. Do not expect a plot like Jane Eyre’s, where suspense and events unfold in a way that keep the reader in suspense, but a novel narrated in an exquisite way about a young man who seeks his place in the world. In “The Professor” by Charlotte Brontë you will find love stories, some surprising twists and a subtle game of domination and submission throughout the novel.


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