The Angel out of the House

The Angel out of the House: Philanthropy and Gender in Nineteenth-Century England

Dorice Williams Elliott
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 270
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Angel out of the House
    Book Description:

    Was nineteenth-century British philanthropy the "truest and noblest woman's work" and praiseworthy for having raised the nation's moral tone, or was it a dangerous mission likely to cause the defeminization of its practitioners as they became "public persons"? In Victorian England, women's participation in volunteer work seemed to be a natural extension of their domestic role, but like many other assumptions about gender roles, the connection between charitable and domestic work is the result of specific historical factors and cultural representations. Proponents of women as charitable workers encouraged philanthropy as being ideal work for a woman, while opponents feared the practice was destined to lead to overly ambitious and manly behavior.

    In The Angel out of the House Dorice Williams Elliott examines the ways in which novels and other texts that portrayed women performing charitable acts helped to make the inclusion of philanthropic work in the domestic sphere seem natural and obvious. And although many scholars have dismissed women's volunteer endeavors as merely patriarchal collusion, Elliott argues that the conjunction of novelistic and philanthropic discourse in the works of women writers-among them George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell, Hannah More and Anna Jameson-was crucial to the redefinition of gender roles and class relations.

    In a fascinating study of how literary works contribute to cultural and historical change, Elliott's exploration of philanthropic discourse in nineteenth-century literature demonstrates just how essential that forum was in changing accepted definitions of women and social relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2201-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    The 1893 international exhibition, held in Chicago and dedicated to showcasing the achievements of the nineteenth century, featured a new and unique section devoted to “women’s work.” The contribution of Great Britain to this new department of the exhibition focused on women’s philanthropy and was organized, at the invitation of a Royal Commission, by the well-known philanthropist Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. The exhibit included a published report, a collection of “Congress Papers” by “Eminent Writers” entitledWoman’s Mission.In her preface to the report, the baroness writes: “It is fitting that the close of the nineteenth century should focus and illustrate...

  5. 1 “An Assured Asylum against Every Evil” Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall and Mid-Eighteenth-Century Philanthropic Institutions for Women
    (pp. 33-53)

    In 1766 Newton Ogle, deputy clerk of the closet to His Majesty George III, summarized the achievements of mid-eighteenth-century English philanthropists in a charity sermon delivered before the assembled governors of the Magdalen Charity: “Houses of Charity have been opened for every Malady incident to Man. The Aged, the Maimed, the Sick, the Foundling, the Woman Labouring of Child, even those polluted by the foul Effects of their own Vices, have justly been admitted to a Share of our Bounty.”¹ The “Houses of charity” that Ogle lauds were charitable subscription societies modeled after joint stock corporations.² Although in previous centuries...

  6. 2 “The Care of the Poor Is Her Profession” Hannah More and Naturalizing Women’s Philanthropic Work
    (pp. 54-80)

    In an 1841 letter to William Ellery Channing, the critic and historian Lucy Aikin noted that the practice of visiting the poor had now become “a fashion and a rage” among Englishwomen, thanks in large part to a novel published in 1808 by Hannah More, the famous Evangelical writer, philanthropist, and educator.¹ The novel was entitledCoelebs in Search of a Wife.² Aikin credits More and her fellow Evangelicals with originating a shift both in the moral tone of nineteenth-century society and in the role of women: “This philanthropic impulse acted at first chiefly within the Evangelical party; but that...

  7. 3 Hannah More’s Heirs Women Philanthropists and the Challenge of Political Economy
    (pp. 81-110)

    In one of Harriet Martineau’s tales in herIllustrations of Political Economy(1832), a reform-minded surgeon remarks on “the failure of British benevolence.” What Mr. Burke characterizes as a “failure” of benevolence does not come from a lack of sympathy, devoted service, or substantial financial contributions; rather, the “failure” comes from too much of these things: despite “funds raised for the relief of pauperism in this country [that] exceed threefold the total revenues of Sweden and Denmark” and “exceed the whole revenue of Spain,” “distress is more prevalent than ever and goes on to increase every year.”¹

    While Hannah More...

  8. 4 “The Communion of Labor” and Lectures to Ladies A Midcentury Contest between Male Professionals and Female Philanthropists
    (pp. 111-134)

    “Would you make charity a profession?” asks an imaginary antagonist of Anna Jameson in her second lecture on women’s philanthropy, “The Communion of Labor,” in 1856. “Why not?” answers the author. “Why should not charity be a profession in our sex, just in so far (and no farther) as religion is a profession in yours!”¹ When Hannah More, writing in the first decade of the nineteenth century, claimed philanthropy as a lady’s “profession,” she had in mind that charitable works would become a natural and necessary part of domestic women’s calling as wives, mothers, and daughters.² While More used the...

  9. 5 The Female Visitor and the Marriage of Classes in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South
    (pp. 135-158)

    A January 1856 review of F. D. Maurice’sLectures to Ladies on Practical Subjectsaddressed a topic that was by now familiar to its audience:

    It is plain that this whole matter of visiting among the poor, whether isolated or organized visiting be in question, is the subject of much anxiety to many of the lecturers. . . . It is no wonder it should be so. All see how dangerous a thing it would be to check these intercourses; often the sole means by which the rich obtain an insight into the struggles of the poor. Yet we are...

  10. 6 Educating Women’s Desires The Philanthropic Heroine in the 1860s
    (pp. 159-188)

    In 1859 Bessie Rayner Parkes, the editor ofThe English Woman’s Journal,contributed an article entitled “Charity as a Portion of the Public Vocation of Women.” Parkes’s title challenges the tenets of domestic ideology that limited women to the private sphere of the home and boldly claims for women a “public vocation” that includes, but is not limited to, philanthropic work. Parkes presumes that her readers will accept as normal women’s participation in the social sphere that writers such as Anna Jameson and Elizabeth Gaskell helped to carve and define. Parkes challenges any “unprejudiced” observer to deny “that there is...

  11. 7 George Eliot’s Middlemarch The Failure of the Philanthropic Heroine
    (pp. 189-215)

    In a frequently quoted 1873 review of George Eliot’sMiddlemarch(1872), Florence Nightingale took the author to task for creating a noble, idealistic heroine but giving her nothing to do: “Indeed it is past telling the mischief that is done in thus putting down youthful ideals. There are not too many to begin with. There are few indeed to end with—even without such a gratuitous impulse as this to end them.”¹ Nightingale’s comments call attention toMiddlemarch’s participation in the mid-nineteenth-century debate over what middle- and upper-class women properly could and should do with their time and energies. While...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 216-222)

    As I was finishing the manuscript for this book, our university’s theater department staged a production of the English playwright Sarah Daniels’sThe Gut Girls(1989).¹ This play, which is set in turn-of-the-century Deptford, indicates the continuing relevance of my investigation of representations of women philanthropists. The protagonists are four working-class girls employed in the gutting sheds of a large meat-processing operation who are “rescued” by a woman philanthropist who finds them jobs as domestic servants when the sheds are shut down. Literally mired in blood and guts, the “gut girls” work in the worst imaginable conditions and fulfill all...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 223-246)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-260)
  15. Index
    (pp. 261-270)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-272)