It seems fitting to be posting this review of a tale inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s underappreciated novel The Professor on her birthday. She was born on this day (21st April) in 1816 and went on to create memorable novels and stories that have ensured her literary legacy is alive and well in 2023. In September 2022, author Aviva Orr kindly stopped by the Brontë Buddies’ Book Club to chat about her novel The Mist on Brontë Moor. During this session she also discussed briefly her upcoming novel series, the first of which is Love and Literature. Needless to say we were eagerly anticipating its release but for me, I found it particularly interesting that Orr had selected The Professor as her basis.
The Professor is often overlooked by Brontë fans as being a somehow lesser work and it tends not to top lists of favourite Brontë novels. It really doesn’t get a lot of love. Despite that, I’m very fond of it, as is Aviva Orr. 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 in the following years, I began to come around to his way of thinking.
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.
In short, the novel is also dear to me because it was dear to Charlotte. There is evidence that she re-worked and re-submitted The Professor several times over the years. Despite cutting ties with Angria when she was twenty-three, I think a huge part of it lived on in her heart and in The Professor. Think about it: warring brothers, a male narrator/protagonist, the mention of Charles in the novel’s introduction – as Knies said, there is clearly a kinship between Angria and The Professor. The novel may well have been her final tie to a childhood world that grew alongside her and her siblings, even outliving them – something unusual for a childhood paracosm. It is tragic that Charlotte didn’t live to see the publication of her novel and it eventually appeared in print posthumously.
When reading Love and Literature, the author’s fondness for Charlotte’s underappreciated narrative is evident and this made it especially enjoyable for me. However, there is much to like about Love and Literature and although an homage it stands on its own two feet and is an excellent tale in its own right.
The only adventure Violet Greyson has ever known has come from books, but that all changes when her father dies, and she moves from remote Dartmoor to London. There, she finds her purpose amongst the pioneers of women’s education and begins a new life as a teacher’s assistant at one of England’s first academic ladies’ colleges. Love is the last thing on Violet’s mind as she embarks on her new venture, but the harder she works to prove her worth to her capricious classics master, the more attached she becomes to him.
Byron Thomas, schoolmaster at the prestigious St. James’s Independent School for Boys, set out in life determined to be different from his brutish father but became disillusioned and bitter after typhus took his beloved wife and infant daughter. Beset with pain, he sets his sights on a marriage of convenience to the headmaster’s stepdaughter. But his plans become muddled when he agrees to teach a course in the classics at a new ladies’ college. Drawn to his intelligent and fiery assistant, Byron struggles to maintain a proper master-student relationship as she begins to chip away at the shield that guards his heart.Publisher synopsis
As someone who adores Charlotte Brontë and has a soft spot for The Professor, this homage to the tale sounded like a fantastic read. And it was. The narrative splits between Violet Greyson, an orphaned and poor young woman, and Byron Thomas, a privileged and educated schoolmaster as they forge a connection against the unlikely background of a ladies’ college. Violet has a timid exterior which masks a passionate soul and, Byron has a loving nature which has been tarnished by tragedy. The two are remarkably similar but also strikingly different. Like Charlotte, Orr examines the female mind and heart and the obstacles faced by women seeking an education in Victorian society as well as the views of the obstacle-creators. The supporting characters are also an intriguing bunch and as well as feeling slightly Brontë-esque, there is also a Dickensian feel to some of them.
This is not a straight re-telling of The Professor, or any of Charlotte’s works; it’s very much Orr’s own story, and she tells it beautifully. The novel surprised me in many ways and the twists and turns in Violet’s life had me hooked from the opening page. It’s packed full of drama, romance, tragedy, and passion. Reader, I loved it.
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.
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