My aim when setting up Brontë Babe Blog several years ago was to bring the childhood writings of the Brontë siblings to light. The Brontë juvenilia canon as I will call it, is a fascinating insight into the Brontës’ literary apprenticeship, but it can also teach us so much more about their lives, interests, hobbies, and culture. The history surrounding the origins of the works is just as fascinating as the writings themselves. In June 1826, Branwell Brontë (1817-1848) was famously given a set of wooden toy soldiers by his father and it was this event which saw the birth of The Young Men’s Play.
Each surviving Brontë sibling picked a soldier, naming them, and creating the characters that would become an integral part of their childhood stories and the later expansion of this world over the next decade (or two decades in Branwell’s case). Charlotte chose her political hero, the Duke of Wellington; Branwell chose a character who was the antagonist of Charlotte’s hero both on and off the page, Naopoleon Bonaparte; Emily and Anne chose Gravey and Waiting Boy, who would eventually evolve into the famous explorers, Parry and Ross. These soldiers, known as The Twelves, made their way into the Brontës’ earliest writings and eventually became the centre of their imaginary world of Glass Town. Anne and Emily broke away to create their own narratives set in the world of Gondal in 1831 whilst Charlotte and Branwell continued to develop their world with the introduction of Angria.
That’s all very nice and interesting, but what has all this to do with Charlotte’s later mature novel, The Professor? FYI, I’m going to use the term mature novel rather than adult novel just in case anyone gets the wrong idea. There are no toy soldiers in the novel, nor is there any mention of Glass Town, Angria, or Gondal; none of the characters from their fantasy world feature in it; it was published in 1857, long after Charlotte said goodbye to her beloved world with “Farewell to Angria” (1839). Reader, let’s explore the possibility that The Professor is indeed part of the Brontë juvenilia canon.
I first discovered this theory four years ago when researching for my MA dissertation of Charlotte’s juvenilia and I stumbled upon a copy of The Art of Charlotte Brontë by Earl A. Knies (Ohio University Press, 1969). In the book, Knies suggests that, “The Professor, even though written for publication, belongs with the juvenilia, for it retains enough of the juvenile mannerisms to make it worth considering as part of Charlotte’s apprenticeship”. My reaction to this bold statement was very strong, and I absolutely rejected it, but still found the need to note Knies’ argument for later use/study. The main reason was initially because I had read The Professor and it had bored me a little (sorry Charlotte – maybe reading it after Villette doesn’t help). I had read some of the Brontë juvenilia and discovered it could never bore me. Perhaps I just didn’t want to associate the two. The definition of juvenilia is, according to experts on the subject and founders of The Juvenilia Press, Juliet McMaster and Christine Alexander, “works written by known authors when they were under twenty” (The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf, Cambridge University Press, 2005). On this basis, how can The Professor be juvenilia when it was published in 1857? Well, it was actually written much earlier and submitted for publication in 1847 alongside Anne’s Agnes Grey and Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and before Jane Eyre came along.
Even so, Charlotte was 31 when she submitted The Professor. If it had originated as juvenilia, then she would not have simply left it alone for so long and then submitted it as it was. Charlotte was a hardworking writer and she wanted to perfect things. I believe she was also embarrassed by her youthful writings due to their somewhat free nature compared to her adult works (political scandal, extra marital affairs, sexual passion and jealousy). In short, I believe she would have adapted and censored the text first, so it could not be strictly juvenilia if an adult hand had been involved. However, juvenilia is notoriously tricky to pin down and define. McMaster and Alexander also write, “There is no firm answer, since youth and age are necessarily relative concepts; and some writers graduate to ‘maturity’ before others. Likewise ‘childhood’ has no firm limits: seen from the point of view of a parent, a child may never reach adulthood. Jane Austen in Catherine refers to work done in the early teens as ‘infant labours’, and Branwell Brontë’s massive body of early writings, even those he wrote when he was thirty-one are commonly referred to as ‘juvenilia'”
Clearly there are no fixed rules. Just because a person writes when they are under the age of 20, it doesn’t make it an immature piece, nor does it necessarily mean that it will be classed as juvenilia. Is the novel Frankenstein (1818) juvenilia? We would probably laugh at the idea and yet Mary Shelley was just 18 when she started to write it and was just 20 when it was published. What makes things more difficult is when adolescents cross the biological threshold into adulthood but continue to write about their childhood worlds. The Brontës fall into this category, with Charlotte writing explicitly about Angria until she was 23. Still, that doesn’t make The Professor juvenilia as it is not set in Angria and does not feature of the characters from the juvenilia. Or does it?
Let’s go back to Knies again who comments that The Professor is “a transitional piece” and that Charlotte “still retained enough of the Angrian mannerisms to give the work as much kinship with the juvenile stories as with the novels. The Professor is really part of her literary apprenticeship”. At first glance its Belgian setting and stuffy characters are very different to the juvenilia and later, unfinished works which still strongly recall Angria such as Ashworth. What is this kinship that Knies speaks of? There are certainly no toy soldiers or exotic African settings in the novel, no political or romantic scandal. But there is a male voice and narrator, a feature exclusive to The Professor if considering it a mature novel. This is a throwback to or continuation of the male voices Charlotte had developed when writing her juvenilia. For so long Charlotte had written as Lord Charles Wellesley/Charles Townshend, and later as Sir William Percy. Although Charlotte does explore female perspectives in the likes of Henry Hastings (1839) and Caroline Vernon (1839), her juvenilia is a male world and male voices. Perhaps it is why these two Angrian texts, coming at the very end of the canon, are particularly interesting to me; alongside Passing Events (1836) and Mina Laury (1838), they explore what it is like to be a woman in a male dominated and controlled society.
Although no Angrian characters explicitly make the crossing from Charlotte’s fantasy world to mature work, I believe they can be found if one cares to look. Firstly let’s look at the theme of warring brothers which was present in the juvenilia with characters such as Charles and Zamorna and again with Sir William and Edward Percy. Let’s look more closely at the latter pairing. William and Edward do feature in The Professor as warring brothers only this time their surname is Crimsworth. The Edward Percy of Angria is an unsympathetic and hardened character who has a frosty relationship with his father and siblings, particularly William. The brothers work in a sweat shop before starting a wool combing business. Edward is depicted as a ruthless tradesman and industrialist who eventually becomes the Angrian minister of trade, and treats William harshly after appointing him as a clerk in his counting house. Sound familiar? Clearly this is an example of the kinship Knies discussed.
Let’s go back to the idea of a male voice and narrator, something very unusual to those only familiar with Charlotte’s mature published novels. It is also interesting that Charlotte’s later Angrian text, Henry Hastings, features not one, but two male narrators, both of whom I believe appear in The Professor. First we have her favourite pseudonym, Charles Townshend who co-narrates this tale with his former friend Sir William Percy. This is very much a relegation for Charles. I’ve already explained the William connection, but what about Charles? Where does he appear in The Professor? Well, technically, he doesn’t but the novel opens with William writing to his friend Charles in order to communicate his rejection of his uncle’s proposal that he become a clergyman and his meeting with his cold and rich brother Edward. It is interesting that Charles has no voice here as he does not reply to this letter, suggesting to me that Charlotte was attempting to distance herself from at least one aspect of her juvenilia, her most used and favourite mouthpiece, in order to progress her writing. The development of Sir William as a narrator happened very late in the Angrian works so I feel she would have been more comfortable developing this aspect of a long standing character and giving him a new role as not only narrator but protagonist in The Professor.
Finally, let’s briefly look at the female characters in Angria and The Professor. Frances Henri is the love interest of William Crimsworth. Charlotte presents the male protagonist’s response to his female love interest in the novel, something we never really get in the juvenilia with Zamorna and Percy’s romantic conquests. Perhaps Lord Hartford’s attachment to Mina touches on this in Mina Laury, however, it is not until Henry Hastings that Charlotte really attempts to develop this male response to a lover with the relationship between Sir William Percy and Elizabeth Hastings. Frances is a character who divides opinion; some see her as too meek, mild, and passive, and in many respects like Zamorna’s apparently passive lovers in the juvenilia, whereas some, like myself, can see her hidden strength and determination. Whilst there is never any real doubt that Frances and her professor will live happily ever after, she is an interesting character who echoes some of Charlotte’s Angrian women.
Frances is meek but she is also hard-working, driven, and has a sense of morality that Angrian heroines such as Mina Laury and Caroline Vernon lack. Notwithstanding her questionable morality, although Mina is often criticised for her dependence on Zamorna and statements such as “‘I’ve nothing else to exist for, I’ve no other interest in life’” (Passing Events), and “‘I will die or be with him [Zamorna]’” (Passing Events), like Frances, she is fully able to occupy herself when her lover is not around. Frances attempts to earn an honest living through lace mending or teaching, and although Mina is a kept woman, she is described by Angria’s principal narrator Charles Townshend as “Always active, always employed, it was not her custom to waste many hours dreaming” (Mina Laury). He also comments that “she displayed a most business-like sharpness & strictness” (Mina Laury), demonstrating that Mina’s mind is not always occupied by thoughts of Zamorna and that she, like Frances can function independently when she has to.
Let’s return to Elizabeth Hastings. Although Elizabeth is often viewed as a prototype of Jane Eyre due to her position as a companion and teacher, and her rejection of Sir William Percy’s proposal to become his mistress, I feel she has much in common with Frances. Both women are plain, mild mannered, focused, and intelligent, and both long to serve their masters despite their intelligence and sense of independence. Elizabeth’s master however is not her potential lover Sir William, but actually her disgraced brother Henry, to whom she is eternally devoted. Frances is arguably a more fleshed out version of Elizabeth (minus the troubled brother) just like William Crimsworth is also arguably a more fully developed Sir William Percy. However, there is one crucial difference between the Williams. It is clear that Crimsworth both loves and respects Frances, whereas Sir William, single, wealthy, and free of the constraints of a Mr. Rochester, cannot give Elizabeth an honourable proposal of marriage despite his love for her. As Elizabeth slips away and leaves Sir William for the final time, the reader is left with a sense of what could have been between these two compatible but wildly different characters. Perhaps The Professor is Charlotte’s attempts to reunite two characters she felt belonged together.
Although I initially rejected the idea of The Professor as juvenilia, the more I read of both, the more I agree with Knies that it is a transitional piece which retains some aspects of Angria. My appreciation of it has increased ever since I embraced the connection between the two. For those who find it a little dull, I think it’s important to see it as a bridge between two worlds, and two Charlottes, a remnant of all that was dear to her and a foundation for her future works.
Reader, thanks for stopping by. I’d love to know your thoughts on The Professor.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)
A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
Thanks for reading. Find me on twitter @BronteBabeBlog where I tweet about books, the Brontës, and animal rights, or on my Brontë Babe Blog Facebook page. Look me up on Goodreads too. I also have a side project where I blog about my love of Classic Crime Fiction over at The Classic Crime Chonicle. I’d love it if you joined me there.
I’d also love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first.
Passing Events quote is from Winifred Gérin’s edition of Five Novelettes by Charlotte Brontë (The Folio Press, 1971).
Mina Laury quotes taken from Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal edited by Christine Alexander. (Oxford World’s Classics, 2010).