Ceux qui ne peuvent pas, enseignent
ISBN:978 1 85326 208 1
Whoa, but there is a lot of French in this book. Thank goodness for me this edition has translations in the back, because otherwise I’d run the risk of going my whole life thinking that the main character in this book was stirring his morning coffee with a small gun, rather than a bread roll. Pistolet was the word that tripped me up… I mean, I knew it was unlikely, given the setting, but he had just discovered that his lady-love was dating his boss. It really could have changed the whole flow of the story. Oh, and in case you didn’t realise from that little rant, I don’t speak French past the completely stupid phrase “Ou est la piscine?”, which is going to serve me exactly no good at all if I ever go to France, since I don’t swim. God only knows why I remember it at all.
But I digress. The Professor is Charlotte Bronte’s first novel – it’s pretty short though, more of a novella really, especially when you compare it to her later work. It was only published posthumously – Charlotte didn’t think it was up to much snuff herself, although she kept the manuscript in her desk, where it was discovered after her death. I can kind of see why Charlotte didn’t want it published – it’s pretty rough. She might have felt a bit weird about it because it’s written in first person, and the principle character is a man; but I don’t know, that’s just me putting thoughts out there. She was still writing under her male psudonym (Currier Bell) at this time, so it wouldn’t have been totally strange to the public, but still. I know that I’d hate it if some of my stuff saw the light of day after my death (not that I’d know about it, but you know… if I did, I’d be embarrassed, plus it’s sort of like someone thinking that they’re doing you a favour, when they’re actually doing something because they want to do it).
The story follows William Crimsworth, a young, well educated man with no acknowledged family. Well, okay, he has a brother and some uncles, but they’re all world-class jerks, especially his brother. Are we sensing a theme here? Oh yes, and he’s an orphan, thrown on the charitable mercies of said uncles. Young William, after refusing the offer of an intro into the clergy from his uncles and a confrontation with his dastardly brother, goes to Belgium and finds a position as an English teacher at a boys school. His teaching soon earns him the attentions of the headmistress of the girls’ school next door (that’s a bad idea, isn’t it? Girls school and boys school right next door to each other? I went to an all girls school; the erstwhile founders had saw fit to set up the boys counterpart school on the other side of the river… they knew what we’d get up to). Ahh, more innocent times, I guess.
Anyway, William finds himself falling in love a bit with the headmistress of this girls school, Zoraide Reuter. But! He finds out, through a bit of spywork that she’s kind of playing him off against the principal of the school that he works at, the jovial M.Pelet. He’s kind of my favourite character; he’s a bit cavalier with people, but I don’t know, he gives the impression of being essentially a good dude. Mlle. Reuter, however, seems a bit conniving and sneaky, the way that she’s described sitting in the back of William’s classes (of course, you had to have a chaperone in those days) sneaking a peek at him and carrying on like a little coquette is pretty irritating. Plus, she turns out to be a right backstabbing bitch. Thank goodness William finds out about her schemes pretty quickly. Good luck, M. Pelet, is what I say.
The Professor was apparently born of Charlotte’s deep affection for the principal of the school which she attended in Belgium. Now, I don’t know about that, but you can certainly tell that it’s the work of a writer who hasn’t found her ‘chops’ just yet. It’s interesting to read though, especially in context with Jane Eyre (oh, by the way, I found my copy… well, I didn’t find it, I lent it to my friend and she returned it. Thank God, as soon as I saw it I thought I was going to cry – yup, that’s me, emotionally invested in a book. I really need to start writing that shit down). A lot of the themes are similar; the whole orphan thing, the schools; plus, Edward Crimsworth seems like a meaner, less redeemable version of Edward Rochester. Would I recommend it? I would, but I guess only really to people that are into that sort of writing already – I like the Bronte sisters writing (well, Charlotte is my favourite), but I haven’t read any 19th Century stuff for a long time, and it takes a while to get back into the mindset where the language is approachable again.