Charlotte Bronte

Fifty Shades of Brontë: A Review of The Professor

TheProfessor423x630

Creepsworth wants to play teacher. *shudder*

I finished my Classics Club spin book last night. I was sure I would finish by the 1st as I only had approximately 25 pages left. Ha! I was unprepared for the godawful slog of those final pages.
I’m getting ahead of myself. First let me provide you with a brief summary from GoodReads:
“The Professor is Charlotte Brontë’s first novel, in which she audaciously inhabits the voice and consciousness of a man, William Crimsworth. Like Jane Eyre he is parentless; like Lucy Snowe in Villette he leaves the certainties of England to forge a life in Brussels. But as a man, William has freedom of action, and as a writer Brontë is correspondingly liberated, exploring the relationship between power and sexual desire.

William’s first person narration reveals his attraction to the dominating directress of the girls’ school where he teaches, played out in the school’s ‘secret garden’. Balanced against this is his more temperate relationship with one of his pupils, Frances Henri, in which mastery and submission interplay. The Professor was published only after Charlotte Brontës death; today it gives us a fascinating insight into the first stirrings of her supreme creative imagination.”

Initially I was intrigued by the book. I thought it interesting how William Crimsworth is from a similar background as Jane Eyre (orphaned, wealthy relatives, decides to be independent) and takes the same path as Lucy Snowe in going to Brussels. It was intriguing the stark contrast between Eyre and Snowe’s need to guard their honor, act appropriately, and be above reproach to avoid utter ruin versus Crimsworth’s freedom of a man. He is cautious and close, but more from a personal wariness of trusting others than from societal decrees on decorum.

All is well and good while he teaches at the boys’ school. The entire book turns to tripe when he begins teaching part time at the adjacent girls’ school. Instantly Crimsworth turns to Creepsworth. His descriptions of the pupils focus a whole lot on their appearances. Their minds are so simple and coy! The most intelligent student is meek and ugly and destined to become a nun. Everyone else is of varying states of beauty and varying states of weak female-mindedness. Most disturbing are the long descriptions of the students. Each time he looks at a student he remarks something to the tune of “but she was fully-formed” or “womanly already.” For awhile he is in love with the seemingly most intelligent woman at the school, the directoress. She is reasonably smart and beautiful, so OF COURSE she is duplicitous and cunning. He learns of the directoress’s duplicity and distances himself from her and her evil feminine wiles.

The plot turns when the lace-making instructor, Frances, begins to take English lessons from Creepsworth. She is a diligent student and he is intrigued by this student with nebulous English connections who speaks little English. She is somewhat pretty and she likes to be subservient and gets all perky and flushed when she is intimidated and embarrassed. Oh yes, this novel is “begging” (pun intended) to be re-written as a Secretary-like piece of fanfic under the title 50 Shades of Brontë. Frances always (even in their subsequent marriage) calls Crimsworth “Monsieur” and loves to be dominated, toyed with, and embarrassed by him. The whole love-story is completely unbelievable as it is obvious that Crimsworth views Frances and all women as objects… inferior objects. Let’s look at some examples:

“I seldom spoke to them — they were nothing to me. I considered them only as something to be glanced at from a distance: their dresses and faces were often pleasing enough to the eye: but I could not understand their conversation, nor even read their countenances. When I caught snatches of what they said, I could never make much of it; and the play of their lips and eyes did not help me at all” (230)

“…[Y]ou spoke of grapes; I was thinking of a fruit I like better than your X– hot-house grapes — an unique fruit, growing wild, which I have marked as my own, and hop one day to gather and taste. It is of no use your offering me the draught of bitterness, or threatening me with death by thirst: I have the anticipation, of sweetness on my palate; the hope of freshness on my lips…” (232)

Frances speaking, “[a]n old maid’s life must doubtless be void and vapid — her heart strained and empty. Had I been an old maid I should have spent existence in efforts to fill the void and ease the aching. I should have probably failed, and died weary and disappointed, despised and of no account, like other single women. but I’m not an old maid [....] I should have been, though, if not for my master.” (279)

This doesn’t even include all the quotes about how Frances’ body rounded and became more fully-formed under his tutelage. She looked almost pretty when taunted and Creepsworth cannot resist her when she is flushed. Seriously, I cannot make this drivel up.

WTF?

Dear Charlotte, I don’t know if you just utterly fail at writing from a solely male perspective or if you earnestly need some “discipline.” The world will never know.

Readerly Rambles: 06/24/2013

readerlyrambles mary

Auguste Reading to Her Daughter by Mary Cassatt

 

What I read: Last week I finished The Game of Thrones. WOW! I think it would be silly to do a review seeing as social media is saturated with the television show and you’d have to live under a rock to be unfamiliar with the premise of this epic, high fantasy novel. I did want to note some elements of the novel that truly made me love every word.

  • World-Building: The novel reminded me of many of my favorite novels that are lengthy, complex, and embody its own created mythology, language, and culture. In the tradition of Lord of the Rings and The Mists of Avalon, George R R Martin has created a vast world with different cultures, religions, and values clashing. More than battles, death, and intrigue, this book also explores relationships in this culture (romantic, parental, etc…) and there are lengthy passages describing the geography, food, and dwellings. I was able to immerse myself in Westeros and fully appreciate the complexity of this vast world.
  • Historical Novel?: While the land and people of The Game of Thrones is fiction, the conflict very much reminded me of The Wars of the Roses or a similar medieval event of historic proportion. Some readers may be shocked by the violence and betrayal, but if you’re a fan of historical fiction this isn’t so much shocking as it adds to the realism of the work. I know the work is fantasy (duh) but because the dress, customs, and culture mimic the Middle Ages the violence simply underscores the historical fiction feel of the piece (please see the death of George Plantagenet if you need an example of a bizarre execution).
  • Complex Characters: I love the duality of the characters. While some characters are downright evil (Joffrey, anyone?) others are simply troubles (King Robert), too honorable for their own good (Ned), too insecure and ignorant (Lysa), etc… Every character — good or bad — makes mistake. I think it is most heartbreaking when mistakes are made by people trying to do the right thing, but with disastrous consequences (*waves to all of the Starks*).

I am eagerly anticipating the next book — A Clash of Kings — but I am doing my best to wait until July.

What I’m reading: I’m a little over half-way done with Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor. WOW. I don’t quit know what to say about this book. I’m enjoying it, but I cannot help but compare it to Jane Eyre and Villette. The novel follows a young Englishman, William Crimsworth, as he becomes a professor in Belgium. He is really sort of dick. I’ve had pages of him describing every girl and woman at a school he is teaching at and he sounds like a creeper. Oh yeah, hair color, build, brown, eye, their intellect is also sooooo clearly displayed on the feminine brow and of course their form. He’ll describe a fifteen year old and then follow up with the fact that she was a “fully formed woman.” Okay, dude. Checking out the ladies, viewing them as dumb cattle, and then remarking on which ones are or are not “full formed” is gross. I don’t care if you’re a fictional Victorian man, you’re creepy. For example check out this gem I posted on Instagram earlier this week:  

Professor Creepsworth

Professor Creepsworth

 

 

Happy Reading!

Classics Club Spin, #6

Classics Club Spin, #6

The random number selected for Classic’s Club Spin 6 was:

1

Looks like I’ll be reading The Professor by Charlotte Bronte. I’m excited to read this because Villette is one of my most favorite novels. Let’s hope I get this read by the deadline of July 7th. I need to catch up on my Trollope and make some headway with my TBR challenge. Ack! Too many books!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

First of all, I’d like to thank Allie over at A Literary Odyssey for hosting the Rebecca Readalong; I’ve wanted to reread this book for years and the readalong gave me the perfect opportunity to do so.  Second, I didn’t post my first update for the readalong in time.  We were suppose to post on chapters 1-15 by January 14th.  The 14th rolled around and I realized I had read to chapter 17 already and the plot was thickening.  I had to make a difficult decision:  set aside Rebecca and dutifully write a blog post or ignore the deadline and devour the second half of the book.

I chose to consume the remainder of Rebecca.  This was a reread for me (I read Rebecca at least five years or more ago) and I could remember bits of the plot and the outcome, but I had difficulty recalling how everything “went down.”  Early yesterday morning I finished the reread and I have to say that Rebecca is even better the second time around.

First, a few things before I begin discussing my thoughts on the novel.  1). I’m skipping a plot summary, because I think most people are generally familiar with the premise of the book.  2).  Do not read ANY FURTHER if you have yet to read Rebecca.  This is one huge plot spoiler.  So I guess what I’m saying is that this post is for Rebecca readers only.  ;)

Several things stood out to me when rereading this book:

  1. Having an unnamed narrator/heroine is a most brilliant idea and really made the novel.
  2. This is Jane Eyre all over again.

The Unnamed Narrator:

Maxim de Winter’s new wife is young, inexperienced, poor, unglamorous and the exact opposite of Rebecca.  The reader never learns her name and this truly helps establish this new wife as less than Rebecca.  Rebecca is able to own things:  this is Rebecca’s husband, house, dog, pen, brush.  The nameless heroine can claim nothing of  her own as her namelessness leaves her with out identity.   Rebecca’s presence is heavy in the book:  the summer heat is oppressive and thick, flowers droop, doors thud and Rebecca’s very name conjures anxiety and fear.  If the heroine had a name (for example, Sally) Rebecca’s power would be diminished; Sally would have the husband, house, dog, pen, and brush.  The most the nameless heroine can do is share the title of Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca crowds her out of that title.

A significant scene occurs in chapter 20; after Maxim tells his current wife that Rebecca’s body has been discovered he is begging forgiveness and kissing his wife hungrily.  Then the heroine states, “This is what I have wanted him to say every day and every night, I thought, and now he is saying is at last…. He is saying it now…. He went on kissing me, hungry, desperate, murmuring my name (p.252).”  Maxim is saying his new wife’s name thereby diminishing Rebecca’s power.  However, the reader is still left in Rebecca’s thrall because the reader still does not know the new wife’s name.  The balance of power has tipped for the characters, but the reader still waits.

Shades of Jane Eyre:

The shades of Jane Eyre one can find in Rebecca are pretty obvious:  a wealthy man with a home full of secrets who marries a young, innocent girl.   Mr. Rochester attempts to marry Jane before disclosing his past (or the fact that he is still married) and Maxim de Winter makes a selfish decision to marry the heroine of Rebecca without disclosing his past (or even telling her anything about his life).  Jane cares for Mr. Rochester in his blindness and the nameless heroine of Rebecca cares for Maxim when there is a chance others may discover he murdered Rebecca.  Heck, we even have burning mansions in both books.

I’m not so much interested in the similarities between the two novels as I am interested in my reaction to rereading the books.  When I read Jane Eyre and Rebecca for the first time I was captivated by the romance.  Maxim and his new wife desperately love each other!  Jane and Mr. Rochester desperately love each other!  On my second readings, I had different reaction.  I found Maxim de Winter and Mr. Rochester pretty much selfish douchebags.  Sorry, but that’s my take on it.  Neither man thinks of the impact his past actions will have on marriage and love.  I thought Mr. Rochester especially egregious; attempting to marry Jane while marrying Bertha could have totally destroyed Jane; and he knew this.  Maxim is counting on his new wife to be innocent and young and bring about a freshness to his life.  Neither man views his wife/wife-to-be as an equal and both men underestimate the understanding of the women they love.

Of course, I still absolutely adore Jane Eyre and Rebecca.  In fact, I think I’ve been inspired to reread Jane Eyre in the next few months.  I’m also certain that Rebecca is a true classic that I’ll be rereading for many years to come.