What is "the Angel in the House" in "Professions for Women" by Virginia Woolf?

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mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Angel in the House, is a phantom of sorts. Virginia Woolf wrote about this so called phantom. She was extremely out spoken and wasn't afraid to say what was on her mind.

Virginia Woolf explained the phantom as the thing that represses her and attempts to force out imagination and creativity. The Angel in the House was the type of woman that most women were expected to be in the 19th century. She was suppose to be selfless and sacrificial whose sole purpose was to flatter, soothe and comfort the males of the world's population. That was extremely hard for a woman of this time that wanted to have a career, especially a career as a writer. Writers are known for being withdrawn and often most comfortable being by themselves. This was unheard of for women in the 19th century. 

"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 come 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."

Virginia Woolf tried to be this woman, but in the end it was too much for her. She was a woman destined to be a writer and she wasn't going to allow anyone or anything stop her from being just what she needed to be.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The phrase "The Angel in the House" was actually the title of a narrative poem by Coventry Patmore, later appropriated satirically by Virginia Woolf. Patmore's poem, written about his wife, represents an ideal of femininity as pure, self-sacrificing, and utterly devoted first to her parents and then to her husband; Patmore states:

Man must be pleased; but him to please

Is woman's pleasure; ...

Woolf argues that this ideal of self-sacrificing, innocent, and morally pure femininity was as much an obstacle to women's careers as artists, writers, and professionals as the more obvious forms of patriarchy and discrimination. Women who conform to this sort of ideal of self-sacrifice cannot devote the time and energy to their work necessary for creation of great art, because the angelic ideal always mandates that they put men and family ahead of their own projects. She expands this concept by suggesting "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction," something incompatible with the ideal of the angel in the house whose role is to nurture her family and serve as a moral exemplar. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this speech by Virginia Woolf, she talks about the need to kill the Angel in the House.  The Angel in the House is the ideal of womanhood at that time.  There are two important aspects to this -- the woman is an angel and she is in the house.

Because she is an angel, she has to act in certain ways.  She has, more or less, to be perfect.  She has to always care about other people rather than herself.  Her life is devoted to her husband and children, not to herself.

Importantly, all of what she does is in the house.  She must stay at home and care for her family, not go out and do any work outside the house.

Here is how Woolf puts it

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.

Woolf thought that this ideal stifled women and forced them to try to be the Angel in the House.