To Kill the Angel in the House

Some of us still struggle against her.  Yes, even in “this Day and Age,” no longer Victorian times,

there is still a feminine ideal — she is giving. She is caring, she is understanding.  She doesn’t take up too much space; she is small, thin, dainty, always feminine.  She smells lovely. She is soft in voice and in body – she never loses her temper or raises her voice; she hardly speaks at all, really, unless it is in a charming and enchanting way.  She is The Angel in the House.

I’d like to kill her; I’d like to finally be rid of her.  She hangs weights on my tongue and silences my voice.  She makes me wish I were a size 0, yes, that’s Zero, the perfect size – ZERO! Take up absolutely NO room in the world, ladies, you will offend no one! Zero! the perfect size to curve enchantingly around your man, to drape winsomely in the spaces that he doesn’t need to fill!

women_3_victorian_reading_by_ocean_lake

On paper, it’s ludicrous. We shake our heads: No, impossible. Women are not like this today – they are empowered, they are strong, they are unapologetic…

it’s more subtle, perhaps, than a corset, but trust me, the Angel in the House is still present among us.

Inspired by a walk with a friend today, and coming home to see a drag queen performance by another friend- I am musing about The Angel in the House;
I should like to throttle her completely. One day, I will.  She is why I box – when I am boxing, she leaves the room in despair, no doubt to sink frailly onto a couch in a near-faint, fanning herself and calling weakly for water…

This is a passage on the Angel in the House in an article called “Professions for Women” by Virginia Woolf.  It is a bit long by modern Internet Attention Span standards, but it really is worth the read:

“What could be easier than to write articles and to buy Persian cats with the profits? But wait a moment. Articles have to be about something. Mine, I seem to remember, was about a novel by a famous man. And while I was writing this review, I discovered that if I were going to review books I should need to do battle with a certain phantom. And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, The Angel in the House.

It was she who used to angelinthehousecome between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her–you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House.

I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it–in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all–I need not say it—she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty–her blushes, her great grace. In those days–the last of Queen Victoria–every house had its Angel.

And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered:

“My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.”

And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit rightly belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money–shall we say five hundred pounds a year?–so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living.

I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must–to put it bluntly–tell lies if they are to succeed.

Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her. Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures. But it was a real experience; it was an experience that was bound to befall all women writers at that time. Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.”

– Virginia Woolf

Mrs Edwards and Fraulein Kussin met in the boxing ring on 7 March 1912 (1)

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