Thursday, March 20, 2014

"The Angel in the House" Optional Reading Blog Post (Arica Roberts)

The poem “The Angel in the House” was written in the mid-nineteenth century and was popularized throughout the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, especially for the middle class. Written by Coventry Patmore, it was an account in which he idealized his courtship with his idea of the perfect woman, his first wife, Emily.

The first part of the poem is written in which a husband tells his wife he is writing a long poem about her. He tells of when he met a woman, Honoria Churchill who became his wife. He declares her ideal of femininity. The lyrics from Honoria’s point of view talk about when her cousin becomes the favorable suitor over Frederick, the husband-poet.

The next part, is written from the perspective of the husband-poet, Frederick, who marries Jane after Honoria’s marriage to her cousin. Each poem is written like a letter, between Frederick and his mother in which he tells her his dissatisfactions with his wife Jane, especially after seeing his first love, Honoria, with her husband. He struggles to have complete devotion to his wife and expresses doubt. Other characters in the letters also express their doubts, but Honoria helps Jane find the way to act with ideal femininity to help Frederick overcome his struggle of doubt.

In Patmore’s poem it is found that the ideal wife should show complete devotion and submission to her husband and that this should bring her pleasure found in the lines,

“Man must be pleased; but him to please, Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf, Of his condoled necessities, She casts her best, she flings herself.”

She must also be graceful, self-sacrificing, pious, and pure. This idea is exemplified in the following lines,

“While she, too gentle even to force His penitence by kind replies, Waits by, expecting his remorse, With pardon in her pitying eyes;

And if he once, by shame oppress'd, A comfortable word confers, She leans and weeps against his breast, And seems to think the sin was hers;

Or any eye to see her charms, At any time, she's still his wife, Dearly devoted to his arms; She loves with love that cannot tire;

And when, ah woe, she loves alone, Through passionate duty love springs higher, As grass grows taller round a stone.”

Patmore holds his diseased and beloved angel-wife, Emily, as a model for all women.

Feminist scholars have written much about “The Angel in the House” being used as a tool to show the ideal Victorian female expectation of domesticity and sexual purity. They criticize Queen Victoria for conforming and promoting these ideas, which is why it has been heavily associated with her name. They also bring up how other writers have shown the problems with this ideal and how it ultimately leads not only to chaos and destruction, such as Kate Chopin who wrote “The Awakening”, used the character, Adèle Ratignolle, as an angel in the house who boisterously reminds Edna, the main character, of her duties as a wife and mother. Edna, in the end, drowns herself in the ocean out of realizing her misery and inability to meet up the expectations of these ideals of femininity. ("An Extinct Angel." Kate Field's Washington 23 September 1891:199-200. "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Other Stories. Ed. Robert Shulman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. 48-50.)

Other female writers, such as Virginia Wolf, wrote in 1931, “Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.” (“Professions for Women” is an abbreviated version of the speech Virginia Woolf delivered before a branch of the National Society for Women’s Service on January 21, 1931.) These writers who commentated and rejected the notion that the selfless, sacrificial woman of the nineteenth century had the idea taught to them that their sole purpose in life was to flatter and comfort males created the change in dialogue about the Victorian ideals of femininity.


  1. I think it's interesting that these poems, on the surface, portray women as gentle and tender and attributes that aren't in and of themselves bad, but when that becomes the demand upon women by society they become negative. I like your comparison to "The Awakening," because it is a perfect example of a woman who cannot handle society's expectations. Women were confined and stifled by these ideals, and deconstructing them is important.

    “She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”
    ― Kate Chopin, The Awakening

  2. I find it interesting how this poem's ideals continue to live on. Today in class we learned how by the end of the 19th century, this domestic ideology was firmly cemented into the minds of many. (Although some did not always believe in the domestic concept, it was widely accepted as an ideology.) However, in so many cases, this domesticity is just an ideology. Kate Chopin's novel is a great example of how women struggled to accept their role and their status as mothers and housewives, yet nothing else. In Lynn Abrams article, "Women at Home in the Family," the family was defined by the "woman at the core," and the women's identity "in the mutual roles of wife, mother and domestic manager," was often an "intrinsic part of this new familial ideal." Yet the 19th century women lived at a time that was much more "complex and busy" than "a century earlier." Especially with the new modern world beginning to take place, women were often pushed into more public roles in society. However, we still the ideology pushing against these women in this public role. We still have these pressures today, which makes the poem so much more interesting when this concept and thought is applied to today. Do we still ask women to be what Fredrick wants? Is this bad? Or do we need to allow the women's role room to grow unlike the Victorian age?