First published in 1854, Coventry Patmore's narrative poem, The Angel in the House, hit a Victorian nerve and the woman he described became, as supermodels in fashion magazines are for some of us today, the ideal woman, the woman men wanted for their own.
The Angel was based on Patmore's wife, Emily, who apparently was a very smart and possibly manipulative woman. She had him convinced she lived only for him and was almost abjectly self-sacrificing. Many Victorians, men especially, found this figure of the beautiful, serene, chaste wife irresistible.
Popular as The Angel was in the late 19th century, by the turn of the 20th century this ideal woman was no longer in favor with the literary world. Virginia Woolf: "She [the perfect wife] was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed daily. If there was a chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it ... Above all, she was pure."
It is only because Our Leader at the otherlit online reading group (off-shoot of the Trollope group) asked me to read it and comment that I ever bothered with the poem. Another member of the group knows the poem well and likes it very much, but nonetheless I didn't expect much. So I was surprised at how appealing the narrator is, how much I liked his chosen Angel, and how effective the poem was in making its point that a 19th century woman could be terrifically appealing by being passive. (And of course, knowingly or not, passive-aggressive.)
There is even some humor in Patmore's work. And since it is in the Tennyson manner, it's easy to read, the rhyme and rhythm making it much more approachable than modern poetry. It tells the story of the narrator re-visiting an old friend and falling in love with one of the man's daughters. He courts her and wins her and marries her and lives happily ever after. I actually toyed with giving it four stars, for its combination of enjoyable reading and importance to literary history.