Patmore’s wife Emily, the model for the Angel in the House, portrayed by John Everett Millais
I found it interesting that she described herself as an angel in the sixth letter and not just any ordinary angel, but in reference to “the angel in the house”. She did not use an exact quote, but italicized the word angel to refer to another work of literature. This analogy originated from Coventry Patmore’s narrative poem during the Victorian era describing the middle class women. Women of that time were taught to be house wives with skills that will not be beneficial outside of the house. They were to remain confined and sang, painted, and supported their husband in any affair. This was the European view of the perfect woman and Sophia being European herself and at the age of sixteen, we expect her to have been educated in this sense. Now in Calcutta, she is exposed to a whole new culture and a whole new view of a woman’s role in society. She was quick to call herself an angel so confidently, “I had bound myself a solemn promise, to be an angel on each succeeding evening,” because it was easy for her to do (44).
It was not a challenge at all for her to take a step down from her initial living style to that of a woman in India. If anything, she sounded relieved from no longer having to be self-conscious about her appearance. Although it sounded like she was admiring their culture, what she was really telling Arabella was that she had no problem living poorly or savagely and said “mirrors are almost useless things in Calcutta” as if the Indians did not care about the way they looked (36). Sophia showed an interest in the way men and women interacted at social gatherings and found pleasure after witnessing how men and women sat wherever they pleased and discussed whatever they wanted. European women were constrained in what they could do. Sophia may have been intrigued by the amount of freedom that women had in India and took full advantage of it. From afternoon naps to automatic free refills on their drinks, it is no wonder why she is loving her time there. To her, it was like a sort of getaway, a break, a vacation away from her life.
The angel is so much different there than from her hometown. She tells Arabella, “[Y]ou know me too well to suspect me of a departure from my established custom,” taking pride of her European life style but it is ironic how quick she was to drop these established custom (38). Upon learning that women took naps in the middle of the day, she did exactly just that. She learned people will still be attracted to her regardless of appearance and sophisticated social etiquette, but to call herself an angel in an Indian household is a bit egotistic especially knowing that she had been there only a short time. Sophia is stating how easy it is to her to live as an Indian woman but she is making a fool of herself. By the way she described their behaviors, it seemed there were no such thing as “angel in the house” in Calcutta but Sophia brought this European analogy into a different culture and attempted to make it universal. This to me kind of sounded like she was practicing colonialism through literature.