William Crimsworth is a young Englishman just out of school and ready to begin a career. With his sense of self-pride and strong moral views, however, he finds the options available to him are far from pleasant. Unwilling to follow the dictates of the moneyed members of his family, he resolves to earn his living as a factory worker. Caught up in a humiliating clerkship in a Yorkshire mill, he escapes—by a strange twist of events—and gets a chance at an unexpected career in Belgium. There, he has a close view of the Flemish character, especially of certain of the women, including the cleverly intelligent Zoraïde Reuter, directoress of a school for girls. By a strict analysis of his own peculiarities and inclinations and by supporting his ethical standards through hard work and diligence, he avoids disaster and achieves for himself love, romance, and a happy and prosperous life.
Told from the point of view of the only male narrator that Charlotte Brontë used, The Professor formulated a new aesthetic that questioned many of the presuppositions of Victorian society. Based on the author's experiences in Belgium in 1842, it endures today as a harbinger of Brontë's later novels and a compelling story in its own right.