The "Angel in the House" is the typical Victorian middle-class woman (and can also be a woman of any era) who has internalized and restricted herself by adopting male desires about what a woman should be and say. In "Professions For Women," Woolf defines the angel in the house, "in short," as
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.
Woolf does not define "purity" in the speech "Professions for Women," but her thoughts on the subject of woman were clear and consistent throughout her entire career. In her novel Orlando, the figure of Purity appears as Orlando is changing gender from male to female. She states,
I cover vice and poverty. On all things
frail or dark or doubtful, my veil descends. Wherefore, speak not, reveal
Purity is that which lies to cover up sin and poverty.
Purity and the Angel of the House are the same in that they both lie to uphold the truths men would like woman to repeat. For example, Woolf says the angel of the house reared its head as she began to write book reviews for a living:
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.
The angel of the house is rewarded by men for perpetrating and enabling untruths. Such "angels"
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.
Woolf condemns this way women are expected to think, write, and behave for perpetrating patriarchal lies and for making it difficult for women to even discover the truth of who they are and what they think. The kind of woman's writing that Woolf was creating, with very few role models to guide her, was later called "l'ecriture femme" and aimed at ripping away the veils that hid a woman's experience of life, of her sexuality, and of her attitudes toward men.
The angel in the house is presented as a very attractive figure—and one that brings approval and rewards from men—so it is very difficult to kill. But kill it one must, Woolf says.