Coventry Patmore's poem "The Angel in the House" gives a depiction of the ideal Victorian woman. She is expected to be completely devoted to her husband and her children. In describing this ideal, Patmore attributes several specific characteristics to the woman.
Part of the poem describes the relationship between the woman and her husband. Patmore writes,
Man must be pleased; but him to please
Is woman’s pleasure
These lines indicate that the woman willingly devotes her life to the man. His "pleasure" is her first priority; she also gets her own pleasure from pleasing him. The poet goes on to describe how the woman sometimes uses all of her energy to please the man, despite his changing whims and needs and, it is implied, his lack of appreciation:
She casts her best, she flings herself.
How often flings for nought, and yokes
Her heart to an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes
Another, not from her, but him;
The word "flings" suggests that the woman exerts all of her energy to do what she thinks her husband wants or needs. The poet points out, though, that it its "often . . . for nought." She becomes completely set on fulfilling his wishes, though they may be no more than "an icicle or whim." The husband is described as being impatient with his wife, but despite his treatment of her, she thinks she is to blame and begs his forgiveness:
She leans and weeps against his breast,
And seems to think the sin was hers;
Here, the woman is depicted as sensitive and easily wounded. She also takes on all of the blame if her husband is unhappy, even if it is not her fault. This perfect wife knows it is her fault, because she is utterly devoted to her husband, and her only pleasure is his happiness.
She is also described as completely in love with the husband, even at times when he may not show his affection as strongly as she does:
She loves with love that cannot tire;
And when, ah woe, she loves alone,
Through passionate duty love springs higher,
As grass grows taller round a stone.
The woman has no flaws when it comes to her capacity for love. It doesn't matter if "she loves alone," which implies that her husband is not as caring toward her. His standoffish manner or his being upset with her only makes her "love spring higher." Again, the ideal wife is expected to put her husband first in all circumstances.
Later, when this wife has children, she will be expected to shower them with devotion and affection as well. This text implies that the woman herself is the least important figure—it is her job to serve others, out of the goodness of her perfect heart.