Charlotte's first novel draws on her own great love

The hero of Charlotte's first novel, William Crimsworth, is an orphan, educated by a cold, indifferent family. Escaping them, he goes to work in the industrial north for his sadistic brother Edward, then decides to try his fortunes on the Continent...


With the aid of an introduction from Hunsden he finds work as a teacher in a local boys' school run by M Pelet, with additional work at a neighbouring establishment for girls whose head is the exotically named Zoraide Reuter. He soon finds himself embroiled in a triangle which is partly a manoeuvring for power. Crimsworth's instincts are generally towards observation and disengagement rather than involvement, and he coolly takes steps to extricate himself. He is helped by his growing interest in a pupil-teacher at Mme Reuter's school, Frances Henri, of Anglo-Swiss parentage. Gradually a love relationship develops, as teacher-pupil relationships often do in Charlotte's novels, in this case seen from the point of view of the male.

Intervention by Zoraide Reuter threatens the burgeoning love of William and Frances, but this forces him to engage himself emotionally, bring his love out in the open, and act decisively. The pair marry, but Frances insists on maintaining her independence by running a school. They return to England, and the novel ends with calm domestic happiness, marred only by worries about the unduly tender-hearted nature of their son, whom William fears to be unfit for the hardness of the world.

The novel is low-key and, like Agnes Grey, rather out-of-step with the generality of Brontë novels. The traditional complaint that Crimsworth is a man as imagined by a woman sounds rather dated now, and he can be seen as an over-cool, repressed, but morally sophisticated product of his upbringing. The theme of antagonistic brother comes from the juvenile writings and finds its way into many Brontë novels. The apparently unsensational story-line and the even tenor of its narration have prevented the novel gaining wide popularity, though there are signs that this estimation is changing.

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