This chapter by Catherine Hall examines one particular factor she identifies as being crucial to the creation of the Victorian middle-class ideal of womanhood. Since the angel in the house was already established as a precept by the 1830s and '40s, the author seeks farther back in time for the origins of this cultural ideal. In doing so, her exploration focuses on evangelical thought regarding the role of women as it was espoused during the transformative years spanning approximately 1780 to 1820.
Hall's thesis is that the Evangelical ideology of domesticity was not merely an ideal constructed for others, but an attempt to reconstruct family life and the relations between the sexes on the basis of real' Christianity.
[...] in response to this the Clapham Sect helped to marshal anti- slavery forces into a wide-spread movement, ultimately engineering a sea change in social consciousness on the issue. The other subject that drew their attention was the “moral depravity” and licentious behavior they saw all about them. Convinced of the need for a national reform of manners, the Evangelicals wanted to attack the aristocracy's laxness and “impose a new rule of life.” They felt urgency in this because the growing middle class seemed in danger of behaving as the upper class did, nor was commercial society naturally inclined to maintaining religious principles. [...]
[...] Hall does an excellent job of illustrating the ideological and social influence of the Clapham Sect, convincingly arguing that this one group of Evangelicals had a significant impact on the creation of the ideal of the “domestic angel” and the “separate spheres” that so informed Victorian morality and domestic life. She supports this with more arguments that are touched on in this brief summary of her position. However, a few omissions do stand out. Hall notes early on that “Evangelicalism provided one crucial influence on this definition of home and family.” This begs the question, then, of what else provided “crucial” influence. [...]
[...] The reader, alas, remains in ignorance on this point because Hall goes nowhere near it, not even in passing summary or reference. There is likewise no way to gauge how large the Clapham Sect loomed in the landscape of the time, in contrast to other Evangelical groups. Were they one of several important “moral entrepreneurial” groups? Or were they the 800-pound gorilla of the lot? One wonders. Further, she mentions the Clapham Sect choosing to use politics and law to achieve their ends, but this is not really elaborated upon in any manner. [...]
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