A Classics Challenge – January: Charlotte Brontë

This year I am taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read seven classics in 2012 and on the 4th day of every month, Katherine will be posting a prompt to help us discuss the book we are reading.

The first book I’ve chosen to read for the challenge is The Professor by Charlotte Brontë. I’m almost halfway through the book and have been enjoying it so far. I’ll be posting my thoughts about the book itself after I’ve finished reading it, but for this month’s prompt, Katherine is asking us to focus on the author – in this case, Charlotte Brontë.

There are three different levels of participation this month depending on how far into the book we are, and I feel I’ve read enough of The Professor to answer the questions for all three levels.

Level 1
Who is the author? What do they look like? When were they born? Where did they live? What does their handwriting look like? What are some of the other novels they’ve written? What is an interesting and random fact about their life?

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire on April 21, 1816, the third of the six children of Reverend Patrick Brontë and his wife Maria Branwell Brontë.

The Brontë Parsonage Museum

The Brontë family lived at Haworth Parsonage, now the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

Charlotte Brontë is the author of four novels: Jane Eyre, one of my favourite classics, Villette, which I read last year, The Professor, and Shirley. I am reading The Professor now and will hopefully have time for Shirley too before the end of the year.

Charlotte Brontë's signature

Here’s an interesting piece of trivia about Charlotte: A tiny manuscript of an unpublished Charlotte Brontë story was sold at auction in 2011 to a French museum. The story was written in 1830 when she was fourteen years old and each page measures only 1.4 x 2.4 inches.

Level 2
What do you think of their writing style? What do you like about it? or what would have made you more inclined to like it? Is there a particular quote that has stood out to you?

I find it hard to explain exactly what I like about Charlotte Brontë’s writing style, but I obviously like it enough to want to read all four of her books! I love the way she expresses the feelings and emotions of her characters; she chooses exactly the right words and phrases to convey their sadness, loneliness and suffering as well as their moments of happiness and love.

However, there are a few aspects of her writing that I don’t like so much. Two problems I’m having with The Professor are the overwhelming number of references to physiognomy (judging a person’s character from their appearance) and also a tendency to include a lot of French dialogue which is not translated, making it difficult for a non-French speaker to follow what’s being said. Overall, though, I do like the way she writes and am looking forward to reading the rest of this book.

Level 3
Why do you think they wrote this novel? How did their contemporaries view both the author and their novel?

The Professor was Charlotte Brontë’s first novel, although it remained unpublished until after her death. The main character, William Crimsworth, is a teacher at a school in Belgium. As Charlotte herself (like her sister Emily) had spent some time studying and teaching in Brussels, she was able to draw on her own experiences when writing this novel. It seems that The Professor wasn’t very highly regarded during Charlotte’s lifetime and she was unable to find a publisher for it, even after she began to have success with her other novels.

Have you read any of Charlotte Brontë’s novels? What do you think of her work?

Don’t forget to visit Katherine’s blog post where you can find links to other participants’ responses. We are all reading different books so a variety of different authors are being highlighted this month.

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23 thoughts on “A Classics Challenge – January: Charlotte Brontë

  1. Sam (Tiny Library) January 5, 2012 / 8:44 pm

    I love Charlotte Bronte too, and you’ve summed it up perfectly – she conveys the emotions of her characters so well. I’ve read Jane Eyre and Villette, I’ll have to read the other two soon.

    • Helen January 6, 2012 / 9:35 pm

      Yes she does, doesn’t she – particularly the feelings of loneliness and isolation.

  2. Jo January 5, 2012 / 9:13 pm

    An really interesting post. I am nearly at the end of Jane Eyre and I have loved it, although not read it in one go, have interrupted it for other books. I agree about the French dialogue, I was none the wiser when I came across short passages and I have wondered if I have missed out on an important part of the story?

    I have Villette on my kindle so that could be my next foray into Bronte.

    • Jillian ♣ January 6, 2012 / 4:19 am

      Villette contains A LOT of French. :-)

    • Helen January 6, 2012 / 9:38 pm

      Yes, as Jillian has said, there’s a lot of French in Villette! I could still understand what was happening, but I kept feeling I was missing something.

  3. Jillian ♣ January 6, 2012 / 4:18 am

    Awesome post. I haven’t read The Professor yet, but I own it and honestly can’t wait. So far I’ve read Jane Eyre and Villette. I adore both, but I have to say I favor Villette.

    • Helen January 6, 2012 / 9:37 pm

      If you loved Villette then I think you’ll probably enjoy The Professor too, as it’s very similar. I’ll be interested to see what you think of it when you get round to reading it.

  4. Debbie January 6, 2012 / 9:58 am

    I’ve not read this book, but have read Jane Eyre. I will be rereading this in the challenge as it’s one of my favourite books. A visit to the Bronte Parsonage is a must.

    • Helen January 6, 2012 / 9:41 pm

      It’s been years since I last read Jane Eyre. I really need to re-read it soon – maybe after I finish this one and Shirley. I’m glad to hear it’s one of your favourites too!

  5. Charlie January 6, 2012 / 4:16 pm

    Jane Eyre is my current favourite book, and it’s been that since mid-2010. But I wasn’t too keen on Villette – despite the fact I know you have to read things in view of how people felt at the time, I still found her utter hatred of the Catholicism of her colleagues was over done and it was difficult to keep going with it.

    Hoping to read The Professor soon, as I’ve heard it’s of the same origins as Villette.

    • Helen January 6, 2012 / 9:45 pm

      There’s some anti-Catholicism and racism in this book too, so you might have the same problem that you had with Villette. I agree that it does make her writing difficult to read at times.

  6. Cat January 6, 2012 / 6:18 pm

    Enjoyed your post very much. I’ve read Jane Eyre and Villette but not The Professor – it sounds as if it has a similar setting to Villette.

    • Helen January 6, 2012 / 9:47 pm

      The setting and plot are both very similar. The big difference is that this book has a male narrator and Villette has a female one. I’m glad you enjoyed my post!

  7. Elisa January 6, 2012 / 7:53 pm

    I’ve always wanted to read The Professor, I guess it’s calling to me. Jane Eyre is the only Charlotte novel I have read.

    • Helen January 6, 2012 / 9:48 pm

      I hope you like The Professor, Elisa. It’s not as good as Jane Eyre but I’m still enjoying it so far.

  8. Heather Day Gilbert January 7, 2012 / 3:12 pm

    Wow, this was very interesting. I don’t know if I knew she’d written anything OTHER than Jane Eyre! Also interesting about how something she wrote at 14 sold!

    Keep us updated on The Professor. I suppose she does have a tendency to focus on how people look!

    • Helen January 8, 2012 / 8:22 pm

      I’m sure a lot of people don’t know she wrote three other books – they’re definitely not as well known as Jane Eyre! I finished reading The Professor today so will hopefully be posting my review soon.

  9. Anbolyn January 7, 2012 / 9:37 pm

    I always say Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, but I honestly have not read it in 15 years or so. I am going to reread it in 2012 to see if I can still count it as one of my favorites. I read 1/4 of Villette last year and did not like it. I thought it was boring!

    • Helen January 8, 2012 / 8:24 pm

      It’s been a long time since I read it too. I would like to reread it, but I want to read Shirley first. And I can understand why you didn’t like Villette – I struggled with it too, though I thought it improved in the second half.

  10. Shelley January 8, 2012 / 6:48 pm

    I read The Professor about 25 years ago, and so don’t remember much other than that I liked it. Not as much as Jane Eyre, though, but Jane Eyre is hard to beat! I also hate it when there are frequent bits of untranslated French in novels. I at least need footnotes!

    • Helen January 8, 2012 / 8:31 pm

      I enjoyed parts of The Professor, but it certainly doesn’t compare with Jane Eyre! I’m looking forward to reading Shirley, to see what I think of that one.

  11. Katherine C. January 10, 2012 / 4:07 am

    I love Anne Bronte and Charlotte (although I too have difficulty with her anti-Catholic sentiments etc.). Haven’t read Emily yet. I saw a picture of the tiny manuscript you mentioned. It’s amazing that she was able to fit a story into it!

    Thank you for your post, Helen! :)

    • Helen January 10, 2012 / 8:46 pm

      I’d be interested to know what you think of Wuthering Heights if you get around to reading it, Katherine. Emily’s writing is quite different to Anne’s and Charlotte’s but she’s actually my favourite of the three!

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