lthough Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House had many Victorian admirers, most twentieth-century commentators criticize the poem for its supposedly tame subject, marriage, or treat it solely as an influentual text that idealized women as domestic goddesses — and hence, in some way, represents (or even caused) Victorian England's limitation of women to the domestic sphere. Whatever the role of The Angel in the House in supposedly confining middle-class wives to the home, it nonetheless represents a surprisingly daring choice of subject — marriage.
Poetry about the relations between men and women fall into a relatively small number of categories, perhaps the most famous of which is the seduction poem, a subgenre that goes back to classical times. Catullus's "Vivamus mea Lesbia," for example, produced many English translations, imitations, and tributes, of which those by Marlowe, Donne, and Marvell stand out as the finest, and all proceed by the speaker's offering falacious arguments why the woman to whom the poem is addressed should succumb to the poet's desire. Probably the largest number of love poems, however, take the form of the speaker's mourning either his (occasionally her) (1) inability to gain the love of the beloved or (2) the end of the love relationship because of death or rejection. A far smaller body of work celebrates the joys of physical love.
Marriage has never inspired much poetry at all. True, there is Spenser's famous "Epithalaium," celebrating his own marriage, and Tennyson's writing about his sister's marriage at the close of In Memoriam, but neither concern life after the marriage ceremony. Thus, although Patmore may have struck a characteristically Victorian note in writing about his own marriage, he was exploring new territory.
Last updated 14 June 2004