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Nobody's Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture

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Victoria's accession to the throne in 1837 coincided with the birth of a now notorious gender stereotype—the "Angel in the House." Comparing the position of real women—from the Queen of England to middle-class housewives—with their status as household angels, Elizabeth Langland explores a complex image of femininity in Victorian culture.

Langland offers provocative readings of nineteenth-century fiction as well as a rare glimpse into etiquette guides, home management manuals, and cookbooks. She traces the implications of a profound contradiction: although the home was popularly depicted as a private moral haven, running the middle-class household—which included at least one servant—was in fact an exercise in class management. Drawing on the work of Foucault, Benjamin, and Bourdieu, and of recent feminist theorists, Langland considers novels by Dickens, Gaskell, Oliphant. and Eliot, as well as the memoirs of Hannah Cullwick, a former domestic servant who married a middle-class man.

Langland discovers that the middle-class wife assumed a more complex and important function than has previously been recognized. With her substantial power veiled in myth, the Victorian angel mastered skills that enabled her to support a rigid class system; at the same time, however, her achievements unobtrusively set the stage for a feminist revolution. Nobody's Angels reconstructs a disturbing picture of social change that depended as much on protecting class inequity as on promoting gender equality.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Langland's account is deeply provocative, and it is elaborated with great intellectual integrity. . . . Her readings are astute, and her dexterity at balancing strong claims about gender and class against her theoretical fidelity to the demands of writing a discontinuous, non-traditional account of cultural politics is impressive and instructive. Nobody's Angels is, without doubt, essential reading for students of nineteenth-century culture, and it will significantly alter the ways we reconcile the ideologies of public and private spheres."—John Kucich, Novel: A Forum on Fiction (Spring 1996)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801482205
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/1995
  • Series: Reading Women Writing Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.97 (w) x 8.86 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1
2 Material Angels: Wings of Clay 24
Constructing the Middle Class 25
Policing the Social Borders 31
Dressing the Part 34
Putting on the Ritz 39
Be It Ever So Humble 41
Representing Difference 45
God Helps Those Who Help Themselves 49
God's in His Heaven - All's Right with the World! 54
Charity Begins at Home 56
Folk Festivals of Capitalism 60
3 England's Domestic Queen and Her Queenly Domestic Other 62
Her Majesty's a Pretty Nice Girl 62
The Bourgeois Aristocrat 65
The Queen Is in the Parlour 68
Nurture Will Out 77
4 Charles Dickens's Angels of Competence 80
David Copperfield's Second Chance 82
Esther Summerson's Bleak House II: The Sequel 88
Little Dorrit: From Bourgeois Prison to Bourgeois Palace 97
Our Mutual Friend: Willful Bella Wilfer's Reformation by Housekeeping 104
5 Elizabeth Gaskell's Angels with a Twist 113
The Sufficient Ladies of Cranford 117
Wives and Daughters in Social Circulation 132
6 Margaret Oliphant's Parliamentary Angels 148
Lucilla Marjoribanks's Social Campaigns 154
Phoebe Junior's Performance of Middle-Class Ladyhood 171
7 Inventing Reality: The Ideological Commitments of George Eliot's Middlemarch 183
Canon Fodder 184
Middlemarch: The Devil Is in the Details 188
8 Hannah Cullwick: Deity of Dirt 209
The Housemaid's Tale 210
Dirt and Distinction 214
A Fussy Fine Lady 217
9 New Women in Old Guises 222
Evelina: From Birth to Breeding 222
Emma: From Noblesse Oblige to La Bourgeoise Corrige 225
The Course of True Ideology Never Did Run Smooth 233
Gissing's Odd Women: Old Wine in New Bottles 240
By Way of Conclusion 246
Works Consulted 251
Index 263
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