The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Rejecting the Angel’s Influence
- 39 Downloads
The ideology of the Angel in the House is a part of the iconography of the nineteenth century. Coventry Patmore’s phrase provided a name for the ideal, all-encompassing image of Victorian womanhood which combined the perfection of purity, spirituality, love and beauty. The angel has, however, also come to represent submission, immobility and confinement: and, as Nina Auerbach has pointed out,1 contains within its phraseology a conflicting and problematic schism between the real and the ideal. The cult of the angel was constructed and fortified from many sources: artistic representations, pamphlets, articles, magazines, advice and conduct manuals, letters and autobiography. Fiction played a part in this process; the vast majority of fiction produced in the nineteenth century supported, to a greater or lesser extent, the myth of the angel. Charlotte Yonge, for example, has a clearly didactic purpose in her work, which is primarily to maintain the status quo (although Yonge’s work merits a deeper reading than this). However, other women novelists took a position, whether conscious or unconscious, with regard to the image of the angel: some in an elided or subterranean way, such as George Eliot; others, such as Elizabeth Gaskell and Anne Brontë, in a more directly confrontational and combative form.
KeywordsProblematic Schism Didactic Purpose High Moral Ground Sexual Purity Deep Reading
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- 1.Nina Auerbach, Woman & The Demon (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 69–70.Google Scholar
- 2.For an exploration of Anne Brontë’s religious beliefs, see, for example, Edward Chitham, A Life of Anne Brontë (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991)Google Scholar
- Winifred Gerin, Anne Brontë (Edinburgh and London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1959).Google Scholar
- 29.Michael Wheeler, Death & The Future Life In Victorian Literature & Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 32.Google Scholar