Reading Diary: The Professor (Part 1)

Welcome to the first part of The Professor reading diary through which I will include highlights from my readings of the book and, briefly, reflect upon them or react to them.

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First, we’re introduced to the narrator and main character, William Crimsworth (whom I’ll refer to as Will from now on), who is orphaned and living with one of his uncles since childhood. He doesn’t seem to know what he wants but he knows what he doesn’t want: he doesn’t want to become a clergyman and marry one of his cousins. Therefore he sets out to become a tradesman, like his father was, and his brother is. He would first have to go through an apprenticeship under Lord Tynedale (Lord T.), brought to him through the help of his brother Edward.

Traveling to Edward’s house, seeing how wealthy he is, and how beautiful and rich his wife is, Will feels awkward around that atmosphere. He chooses to stay at an inn rather than at his brother’s house, besides it was closer to his workplace anyway. When he meets Lord T., he discovers how cold and impersonal his new boss is. Will meets a string of new people, who appear strange in his eyes, and is thrown into a world he has no idea how to navigate. Sometimes he ponders upon his choice:

Thoughts, not varied but strong, occupied my mind; two voices spoke within me; again and again they uttered the same monotonous phrases. One said: “William, your life is intolerable.” The other: “What can you do to alter it?” (chapter IV)

Such “thoughts” capture both the degrees of optimism in Will’s life – a balance between both, which eventually becomes “monotonous”; you see, Will is not coming up with any solutions, he’s just philosophizing within himself. He’s both stuck and looking to move forward, yet how can he achieve that? One of the characters, Mr. Hunsden (Mr. H.) comments on Will’s static position:

“William! what a fool you are to live in those dismal lodgings of Mrs. King’s, when you might take rooms here in Grove Street, and have a garden like me!”
“I should be too far from the mill.”
“What of that? It would do you good to walk there and back two or three times a day; besides, you are such a fossil that you never wish to see a flower or a green leaf?”
“I am no fossil.”
“What are you then? You sit at that desk in Crimsworth counting-house day by day and week by week, scraping with a pen on paper, just like an automaton; you never get up; you never say you are tired; you never ask for a holiday; you never take change or relaxation; you give way to no excess of an evening; you neither keep wild company, nor indulge in strong drink.” 
(chapter IV)

Mr. H. externally voices Will’s thoughts. We can see that his thoughts and worries are not necessarily confined within him but, at least to Mr. H., he wears them upon his sleeve. Oh, and can I just say how much I appreciate the use of the word “fossil” here…? It’s definitely more exciting than calling someone a “workaholic” or a stick-in-the-mud; we should all definitely bring back the use of the word fossil for these scenarios.

We notice that Mr. H.’s lecturing wasn’t all in vain; as Will leaves he starts pondering all these overwhelming things and surrenders to his rushing thoughts once again:

I found out that I was walking very fast, and breathing very hard, and that my nails were almost stuck into the palms of my clenched hands, and that my teeth were set fast; on making this discovery, I relaxed both my pace, fists, and jaws, but I could not so soon cause the regrets rushing rapidly through my mind to slacken their tide. Why did I make myself a tradesman? Why did I enter Hunsden’s house this evening? Why, at dawn tomorrow, must I repair to Crimsworth’s mill? All that night did I ask myself these questions, and all that night fiercely demanded of my soul an answer. (chapter IV)

Is Will starting to seriously doubt his decision? Is he going to quit the mill and go find a more exciting career that he’s actually passionate about? It’s too early to tell at this point because that night:

I got no sleep; my head burned, my feet froze; at last the factory bells rang, and I sprang from my bed with other slaves. (chapter IV)

I really do hope Will finds something else to do with his life, because look at how capitalism has enslaved him!

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