Book Review: The Professor, by Charlotte Brontë

The masterful style of The Professor is reason enough to read it. Where it excels is in its unsentimental and unsparing treatment of human nature. Here is a withering description of students:

Most of them could lie with audacity when it appeared advantageous to do so. All understood the art of speaking fair when a point was to be gained and could with consummate skill and at a moment’s notice turn the cold shoulder the instant civility ceased to be profitable….Close friendships were forbidden by the rules of the school, and no one girl seemed to cultivate more regard for another than was just necessary to secure a companion when solitude would have been irksome. (p. 127)

And here is a blistering description of students or perhaps children in general:

Frances toiled for and with her pupils like a drudge, but it was long ere her conscientious exertions were rewarded by anything like docility on their part, because they saw that they had power over her, inasmuch as by resisting her painful attempts to convince, persuade, control – by forcing her to the employment of coercive measures – they could inflict upon her exquisite suffering. Human beings – human children especially – seldom deny themselves the pleasure of exercising a power which they are conscious of possessing, even though that power consist only in a capacity to make others wretched; a pupil whose sensations are duller than those of his instructor, while his nerves are tougher and his bodily strength perhaps greater, has an immense advantage over that instructor, and he will generally use it relentlessly, because the very young, very healthy, very thoughtless, know neither how to sympathize nor how to spare. (p. 160)

Maybe you should avoid The Professor if you’re a professor. On the one hand, it will serve as a prime example of excellent writing, one that you will want to impress upon your students; but on the other hand, it warns you that they will throw it back in your face.

The only other thing that occurs to me is that the prevailing rottenness conspires to paint the hero and heroine in an impossibly conscientious light. How can there be only two (or at most three or four) good people in the world?

 

Author: Harry Miller

I have traveled and lived in Taiwan, China, and Japan and am now a professor of Asian history and author of Southern Rain, a novel of seventeenth-century China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s