Alrighty, The Professor. Not exactly the most promising start to the Brontë readthrough, but fortunately it was very, very short, and after we get through this review we'll be setting sail for calmer, more female-narrator-y and less oddly-bigoted waters. Slight spoilers ahead, and goodness knows you don't want a single delightful moment of this novel spoiled for you!
Our hero (yeah..."hero"),William Crimsworth, is a speshull, sensitive snowflake decides to make his way in life by teaching English in Belgium. Hence, the title. So far so good. But, but:
The thing about William is that he's a horrible person. His characterization either aged terribly or was just a failure to begin with, because he is a sexist, racist, overbearing, uptight ass. For one thing, I don't know why he would think in a million years that his career choice would make him anything other than miserable, as he feels and expresses strongly from the get-go that Belgium is a vulgar place populated by vulgar hordes of vulgar Belgians. (Who knew Charlotte Brontë was anti-Belgium? I thought she was pretty much about introspective proto-feminism and tiny heroines. How very, very wrong I was.)
When not complaining about a situation he created for himself and could easily have avoided altogether, he spends the vast majority of his time observing the "figures" and "physiognomies" of his students. Who are young teenage girls, mind you. Although they're "well-formed," our impressionable friend William is repulsed by their Flemish vulgarity - which is of course made apparent by their inferior physiognomies. (This word is used far, far too often.) William spends the entire novel talking either like this:
"Dancing began; I should have liked well enough to be introduced to some pleasing and intelligent girl, and to have freedom and opportunity to show that I could both feel and communicate the pleasure of social intercourse."
or like this:
"[A student] is of middle size, stiffly made, body long, legs short, bust much developed but not compactly moulded (???)...her hair, so glossy with gum and grease, is not such as one feels tempted to pass the hand over, much less run the fingers through...age not above fifteen but as full-grown as a stout young Englishwoman of twenty... below her were seated a band of very vulgar, inferior-looking Flamandes, including two or three examples of that deformity of person and imbecility of intellect whose frequency in the Low Countries would seem to furnish proof that the climate is such as to induce degeneracy of the human mind and body."
All this nonsense somehow manages to be repulsive and boring at once. On the bright side, there is a bit of potential present - it is yet tiny and trembling and cowering in the shadows cast by the bloated, bigoted grossness of William's idiocy, but as we know it will soon flourish. And I really love this quote:
“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.”
Jane Eyre, here I come!