The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Rejecting the Angel’s Influence



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.


Problematic Schism Didactic Purpose High Moral Ground Sexual Purity Deep Reading 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Nina Auerbach, Woman & The Demon (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 69–70.Google Scholar
  2. 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
  3. Elizabeth Langland, Anne Brontë: The Other One (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Winifred Gerin, Anne Brontë (Edinburgh and London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1959).Google Scholar
  5. 29.
    Michael Wheeler, Death & The Future Life In Victorian Literature & Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 32.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations