Virginia Woolf was considered as a precursor of contemporary feminism. Killing the Angel in the House: Seven Essays is not only an insight to the intriguing mind of Virginia Woolf, but also an insight into the society of her time and of times gone by, of how women writers, how she, has struggled to get to where they did. The titles of her essays – Professions for Women, The Feminine Note in Fiction, Women Novelists, The Intellectual Status of Women, Two Women, Memories of a Working Women’s Guild and Ellen Terry – display to us the breadth not only in her subject matter but of the writing styles among this collection.
I discovered 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. ” Coventry Patmore’s excessively Victorian poem The Angel in the House extols the virtues of the woman who is subservient goddess of home and hearth. Her contest is not directly with Coventry Patmore’s Angel in the House but with the matrilineal precursor socialized to reinscribe on her descendants the patriarchal norms of womanhood.
For Virginia Woolf, the repressive ideal of women represented by the Angel in the House was still so potent that she wrote, “Killing the Angel of the House was part of the occupation of t he woman writer. ” “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 anyone guess that you have a mind of your own. ” Woolf’s Oedipal narrative ends in liberating violence: “I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her…
Had I not killed her she would have killed me. ” Torn between the desire to insert herself into the male-defined literary tradition and the need to repress that tradition because of its devaluation of women’s writing, Woolf responds pragmatically, recognizing in the constraints of her time and place the need to encounter the patriarchs in their own terms, if not quite on their own terms. Woolf’s essay depicting the Killing of the Angel in the House is more than just for the woman writer but it is about the necessity for the emancipation of women from the shackles of the kitchen.
Woolf offers women in general some very important truths, and challenged women for generations to come with her honesty, frankness and courage. The Angel in the House is a spiritual being that resides in every woman. Whether she obeys it or not is up to her, but that does not change the fact that the spirit is there, admonishing them to act in a way that pleases not only the Angel, but also the people around her. The Angel represents all that the woman is expected by society – or men – to be. In Woolf’s generation, the Angel symbolises what the Victorian epitome of womanhood is.
But does Woolf succeed in killing her? Does she truly disappear when Woolf thinks she is finally dead? Maybe, and maybe not, because if she is really gone, then Woolf would be free to write or say whatever she wants. Let us decide whether Woolf succeeded in Killing the Angel in the House, or if she simply appears again by taking on a new form. Although the Angel in the House is primarily associated with negative experiences and with the suppression of self, some of the attributes that Woolf’s Angel in the House symbolises are not to be completely discarded.
Woolf says that, “She was intensely sympathetic… she sacrificed herself daily… she was pure. ” Though sacrificing oneself on a daily basis denotes self-neglect, there is something to be said for putting others above oneself, for showing respect to others, for being pure. These are virtues that humanity seems to shun today. I think that though the Angel in the house definitely must be gotten rid of, she is still a part of people, and there are aspects of her that should not be killed when the rest of her is.
Women today are faced with new, possibly even more strict Angel in the House’s to model themselves simple surface worth. But why do women do this to themselves? Why do they persistently try to fit themselves into this narrow mold? Whoever is responsible, regardless of who women are trying to please by succumbing to this aesthetic ideal, the fact remains that women are nevertheless listening to the voice of the Angel in the House; her opinions and appearance may have changed, but she is still stifling the human self.
She is alive and well today as she was seventy years ago. In society today, women face all sorts of obstacles to their freedom and voices. All women — and men — have an Angel in the House hovering in their subconscious, telling what they should and should not say, think, or do. The Angel comes in many forms. She represents different things to different people. Woolf’s Angel symbolized self-sacrifice without choice; she wanted women to be mere shadows, using their entire existence for the glory of others.
The Angel that plagued Woolf was despised by her because it wanted her to become like the rest of women in her day, and Woolf wanted to break out of the conventional role that had been assigned to her, both on the inside and outside of her being. In modern times, women still assume the societal duties that they have for generations, but there are also new parts to play. It is those very positions that the next generation of women will be struggling against and eventually breaking out of, a newborn butterfly fighting its way out of a winter cocoon.