The Victorian feminine ideal of angelic virtue, used originally by Coventry Patmore in his domestic epic The Angel in the House (1845–62), embodied sexual purity and a strong sense of Christian morality, placing women in a secondary role to men. Woman’s appropriate sphere of influence was seen as domestic, and with this a clear line was drawn between the ‘female’ values expressed in the well-run Victorian Christian middle-class home and the ‘male’ public values of a fast-expanding capitalist economy. Yet, while the angelic image remained a defining idea throughout the nineteenth century, Patmore’s angel — with its emphasis on women’s moral and spiritual superiority — was always a more complex figure than she at first seemed. While in many a Victorian household she undoubtedly was held up, in Virginia Woolf’s phrase, as ‘the woman that men wished women to be’, others found her image a challenging, even emancipating, one; it is this complexity which informs the discussion in this book.


Nineteenth Century Christian Morality Religious Woman Mission Field Popular Fiction 
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  1. 1.
    Virginia Woolf, ‘Professions for Women’, a Paper read to The Women’s Service League, in Harriet Scott Cheesman (ed.), Literary Angels (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994), pp. 136–7.Google Scholar

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© Anne Hogan and Andrew Bradstock 1998

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