Victorian Book of the Month: “Angel in the House” Edition
March is Women’s History Month, so this month’s post looks at Victorian notions of women’s education and domesticity. The Women of England, their Social Duties and Domestic Habits was an influential conduct book for women published early in the Victorian period (1839). The author, Sarah Stickney Ellis, was the wife of a Congregationalist minister and the proprietor of a private school for girls.
Women’s education and influence, especially for middle class women, were subjects of ongoing debate during the Victorian period. Middle class women were not expected to work outside the home, so should women be trained only in domestic skills, or should they receive formal education in intellectual subjects? Ellis argued that because women’s place was in the domestic sphere, girls should cultivate the practical skills needed to run a household as well as the intellectual, religious, and moral precepts which would allow them to be a positive influence in the home as a wife and mother. Because men were tempted and corrupted as they went out into the world, women had a duty to exert their moral influence in the domestic sphere for the good of the family. This ideal of womanhood would be captured by later authors like Coventry Patmore, whose poem The Angel in the House has come to epitomize the Victorian view of the selfless, virtuous, and submissive mother and wife.
Ellis wrote a number of other popular conduct books for women in the same vein, including The Wives of England (1843), The Daughters of England (1842), as well as fiction and poetry. Special Collections owns many first and early editions of her works.