With Coventry Patmore's reputation on the rise and a secure position at the British Museum, he met and began to court Emily Augusta Andrews (b. February 29, 1824), the fifth daughter and eighth child of Reverend Edward Andrews and Eliza Honoria. Her father, a well known preacher, was the Congregational minister of Beresford Chapel in Walworth, the same congregation to which the Ruskin family belonged. While courting Emily, he sent her books, such as the writings of Emerson. Asking her to mark her favorite passages, he was delighted to find hers were practically identical to his own. In 1847, Patmore married Emily, who became a kind of poetic icon in Patmore's growing literary circle. Not only was she the inspiration for The Angel in the House, but she had her portrait painted by Millais and was highly admired amongst Patmore's literary circle (including Brett, Browning, Ruskin, and Carlyle). Patmore's poem "Amelia" is also rooted in his relationship with Emily and is reminiscent of both his proposal to her and their honeymoon at Hastings.
Patmore was not the only poet to write for Emily, and Champneys includes Browning's poem to her in his biography of Patmore:
If one could have that little head of hers
Painted upon a background of pale gold
Such as the Tuscan's early art prefers!
No shade encroaching on the matchless mould
Of those two lips, that should be opening soft
In the pure profile — not as when she laughs,
For that spoils all — but rather as aloft
Some hyacinth she loves so leaned its staff's
Burthen of honey-colored studs to kiss
Or capture twixt the lips, apart for this.
Then her lithe neck, three fingers might surround,
How it should waver on the pale gold ground
Up to the fruit-shaped perfect chin it lifts!
I know Correggio loves to mass in rifts
Of heaven his angel-faces, orb on orb.
Breaking its outline burning shades absorb;
But these are only mustered, I should think,
Waiting to see some wonder momently
Grow out, stand full, fade off against the sky
(That's the pale ground you see the sweet face by),
All Heaven meanwhile condensed into one eye,
Which fears to lose a wonder should it wink.
Emily Augusta Andrews Patmore (1851) by John Everett Millais. Click on image for a larger picture.
Of all of Patmore's marriages, his to Emily had the most influence on his writing. The dedication of his famous poem The Angel in the House to Emily Augusta sums up the nature of their relationship: "To the Memory of her by whom and for whom I became a poet." It was only after Emily's death that Patmore finally completed this four-book, two-volume poem.
There has been an understandable tendency amongst critics to analyze "The Angel" in the poem purely in terms of Patmore's relationship to Emily, and Patmore criticism and biography often portray her as the ideal woman, who served as the poetic muse for a group of Victorian writers — an image that captures many of the stereotypes behind Victorian gender paradigms. Nonetheless, this vision of Emily Patmore has not only allowed critics and biographers to distort Patmore's verse but it also in a sense has cheapened the Patmores' relationship, avoiding the other facts behind Emily's unique character and often seemingly equal marriage with her husband. In fact, Emily did not just serve as Patmore's inspiration. She was a critic of his work as well as a fellow poet and writer. When Champneys discusses Patmore's poetic portrayals of his wife, he points out that "to idealize, in the sense of raising from a lower to a higher standard within the limits of humanity was impossible. He could do no more than generalize; avoiding in the main direct portraiture as well in personality as in circumstance."
Certainly we can make many clear connections between Emily and the Honoria of Patmore's The Angel in the House. In fact, Patmore even began to record in his diary passages which pointed to Emily, but then never used them. His choice not to transcribe fiction into fact, however, may have had something to do with the general rather than specific motivation behind the poem, which was not merely a form of autobiographical fiction, but like E.B. Browning's Aurora Leigh was designed to reach the spiritual or divine aspects of marital union. As Champneys' states, despite Emily and Coventry's slight religious differences, they both advocated a vision of marriage that conceived this earthly union as one which comes closer to the divine than any other human experience. For example, in a letter to Emily Patmore described the beauty of lovers communicating with each other:
The desire of mind to mind is never satiated but rather continually increased by inter-communion; when this desire of soul for soul is true, all other desire follows, and as far as possible keeps pace; and receives glory from its happy symbolization of the spiritual yearning . . . [Champneys, p.135]
After her marriage to Coventry Patmore in 1847, the Patmore's house became a salon for the literary and intellectual elite including Ruskin, Tennyson, Carlyle , and Browning. Apart from catering to the literary society of her time, Emily was a writer of children's stories which were often published in various Victorian youth journals. Emily's sister, who married Coventry Patmore's younger brother George, became a widow prior to Emily's illness during which Coventry and Emily's sister cared for her. Emily's disease progressed quickly and she died in 1860 at the age of 36. During her illness, Patmore wrote the final section of The Angel entitled "The Victories of Love" in which we see a distinct parallel between the character Jane's illness and that of Emily. Just as Jane permits Frederic at the end of her life to marry again, Emily left her wedding ring for Patmore's second wife stating in her will
If in a year or two you are able to marry again, do so happily, feeling that if my spirit can watch you, it will love her who makes you happy, and not envy her the reward of a part of your love, the best years of which I have had . . . You cannot be faithful to God and unfaithful to me.
Although this certainly inspired Jane's lines in "The Victories of Love," we must once again be wary of typecasting Jane as yet another Emily, since Emily was also deemed the inspiration for Honoria, Jane's opposite, in the first two books of The Angel in the House. Nonetheless, Emily died wishing her husband to marry again, and in true form he followed her suggestion and remarried four years after her death.
- Patmore's Youth, 1823-1847
- Patmore's Marriage to Marianne Caroline Byles, 1864-1880
- Patmore's Marriage to Harriet Robson, 1881-1896
- Patmore's Religious Background and Conversions
Champneys, Basil. Memoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore. 2 vols. London, G. Bell & Sons, 1900.
Last updated 29 June 2004