Virginia Woolf–“Professions for Women”

A Question of Identity

Woolf and her fresh opinions about the role of women in society are quite well known.  Regarded as an ardent advocate for females’ rights, it is no surprise to find these same undertones in her essay “Professions for Women”.  Woolf tackles Coventry Patmore’s ideas behind his poem “The Angel in the House” and addresses a dichotomy between herself and this Angel in the House.

Though we know her so well, let us not take this essay too lightly.

Woolf opens up her essay by faithfully telling her readers that “it is true I am a woman” (2152).  However, as she continues her essay into a discussion of Patmore’s poem, her language shifts, and she creates this separation between the woman in Patmore’s poem and herself.

She admits that, if she were to continue her job writing reviews, she needed 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” (2153).  Why does Woolf feel so separated from this other woman?  Shouldn’t she feel somewhat connected to her, being a woman herself?

“I did my best to kill her…Had I not killed her she would have killed me.”

Obviously, Woolf and the Angel hardly had an amiable relationship—but what a threat to one’s identity!  This lack of connection between Woolf and the Angel stems from oppressive nature of the Angel .  Perhaps Woolf feels so separated from the Angel because the Angel isn’t truly female.  Woolf uses fantastical imagery to describe the Angel, as stated previously, so one could question the humanly qualities of such a phantom.  Does the Angel encompass legitimate ideals for women, or is it even possible for a woman to be an Angel of the House?  Did Woolf overreact to the Angel, or was Woolf correct in thinking that the Angel is so incredibly idealistic that she strips other females of an identity?

One thought on “Virginia Woolf–“Professions for Women”

  1. There’s no question in my mind that Virginia Woolf recognized The Angel in the House for what it was: a male invention, an idealized female whose only purpose was to see to the needs of others, to sacrifice herself for her husband and children. If you can get women to buy into that idealized notion then they give up their independence and become totally subservient. In Victorian times women paid tuition to “finishing schools,” some of which only taught female subservience. What else could they aspire to except to be a good homemaker? Woolf recognizes that, to one degree or another, women have bought into that philosophy and that the only way for her (or any woman) to succeed as a literary critic was to kill that mindset. And the second phantom to be killed was the notion that men can’t handle certain topics when discussed by women. She was telling women that ideas keep them shackled, including ones they held about themselves.

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