Episode 22: “Killing the Angel in the House” by Virginia Woolf

“Man must be pleased; but him to please / Is woman’s pleasure”

– Coventry Patmore, “The Angel in the House”

The Essays

This collection of essays responds to the Victorian concept known as
‘the Angel in the House’ (borrowed from Coventry Patmore’s poem
celebrating domestic bliss)—referring to a selfless, sacrificial woman in the
nineteenth century whose sole purpose in life was to soothe, to flatter, and
to comfort the male half of the world’s population. “Killing the Angel in
the House,” wrote Virginia Woolf, “was part of the occupation of a
woman writer.”

The Author

Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882 – March 28, 1941) was an English writer, considered one of the most important modernist 20th century authors and also a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.

“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…in short she was 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… she was pure.”

– Virginia Woolf, Professions for Women

Our Guest

Rachelle Burnside

Rachelle Burnside has spent over 20 years working in education. During that time, she has taught all levels of high school English, from English Learners to both AP English Literature and AP Language and Composition. She currently works as the Secondary English, History, and AVID Teacher on Special Assignment for Santa Clara Unified School District. In her role, she is part of a network of TOSAs who work to improve equitable learning outcomes for students by developing and supporting sustainable systems for collaboration, communication, and cohesion, helping teachers improve instructional practice, and expanding content/curriculum expertise for the purpose of increased student engagement, learning, and achievement. Rachelle is currently enrolled in the Masters of Liberal Arts program at Stanford and is writing her thesis on William Blake’s illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy. She is also the owner of Blue Gardens Beauty, a small business which makes handmade, artisan bath and beauty products.

You can find her work at www.etsy.com/shop/BlueGardensBeauty or BlueGardensBeauty.com.

Amy’s Takeaways

A few times during my master’s program I made discoveries that took my breath away, and the day I found “Separate Spheres Ideology” on Wikipedia, which led to the poem “The Angel in the House” was such a discovery. Suddenly I had language and frameworks for phenomena I had witnessed my whole life, and when the rabbit hole led me to Virginia Woolf’s “Killing the Angel in the House” (the title of a song I had loved for decades but which I had only partly understood), I felt I had discovered something almost cosmically important. Woolf’s descriptions felt so powerfully validating and familiar, and her advice so current and urgent.

Virginia Woolf’s writing desk in the Writing Lodge at Monk’s House, East Sussex. Monk’s House was the writer Virginia Woolf’s country home and retreat.

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