Charlotte Brontë and Defensive Conduct: The Author and the Body at Risk

By Janet Gezari | Go to book overview
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2. The Master"s Hand: Vindictiveness and Vindication in The Professor

Self-vindication is immediately an issue in Brontë's first novel. She wrote the preface published with The Professor after the publication of Shirley, when she hoped Smith, Elder would agree to bring The Professor out. It begins with the author's hand and the pen that it wields, "worn down a good deal in a practice of some years.... I had not indeed published anything before I commenced 'The Professor'--but in many a crude effort destroyed almost as soon as composed I had got over any such taste as I might once have had for the ornamented and redundant in composition-- and had come to prefer what was plain and homely." The preface tells the story of The Professor's rejection because publishers "would have liked something more imaginative and poetical," and this vindication of Brontë's authority as novelist is related to Brontë's vindication of her hero:

I said to myself that my hero should work his way through life as I had seen real living men work theirs--that he should never get a shilling he had not earned--that no sudden turns should lift him in a moment to wealth and high station--that whatever small competency he might gain should be won by the sweat of his brow-that before he could find so much as an arbour to sit down in--he should master at least half the ascent of the hill of Difficulty--that he should not even marry a beautiful nor a rich wife, nor a lady of rank--As Adam's Son he should share Adam's doom--Labour throughout life and a mixed and moderate cup of enjoyment. (3-4.)

The preface is deceptively silent about the novel's central romance, the relation of master and pupil, and about Frances Henri, the pupil who becomes William Crimsworth's wife. She is not merely the object of her master's desire; her "ascent of the hill of Difficulty" mirrors his, and the desire that flashes between them is the sign of their shared ambition to rise in a hostile world.

In this chapter, I argue that The Professor's ample experience of rejection and what almost all readers have recognized as its unattractiveness have less to do with the mortification of romance and sensibility that

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