Nobody's Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture

Nobody's Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture

Nobody's Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture

Nobody's Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture

Synopsis

"Langland's account is deeply provocative, and it is elaborated with great intellectual integrity.... Her readings are astute, and her dexterity at balancing strong claims about gender and class against her theoretical fidelity to the demands of writing a discontinuous, non-traditional account of cultural politics is impressive and instructive. Nobody's Angels is, without doubt, essential reading for students of nineteenth-century culture, and it will significantly alter the ways we reconcile the ideologies of public and private spheres."-John Kucich, University of Michigan. Novel. Spring, 1996.

Excerpt

Mid-nineteenth-century tracts collaborated in the construction of a new image of woman: the middle-class "angel" or moral salvator, summarized famously in Coventry Patmore's verse sequence The Angel in the House. Yet that representation of middle-class Victorian womanhood was, in fact, riven by contradiction from its inception. In this chapter I not only examine the Angel in the House as a tendentious construction of bourgeois ideology but also explore how that construction could not be stabilized within contesting class and gender discourses. The image of the passive domestic angel, which complemented that of the active, public man, was contradicted by the bourgeois wife's pivotal supervisory role within the class system. These contradictions could not be fully bridged in the tracts, and the resulting representational gap became an opening for change.

This chapter looks at works that are intermediary between the household management manuals and the novels: the homilies, tracts, and essays of the period. These texts found a way to finesse the tensions between woman as angel and woman as manager by ascribing queenliness to the bourgeois woman.

Her Majesty's a Pretty Nice Girl

The emergence of this powerful icon, the Angel in the House, coincides with Victoria's accession to the throne of England and her embodiment of the contradictory roles of self-reliant monarch and dependent wife. She took the highest position as queen of her country in 1837; in 1840 she became both wife and mother. Popular accounts of and responses to her are riddled by this paradox of the . . .

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