#tuesdayuseitinasentence: Life outside the corset

Victorian corset

Image: Pixabay


Mother was seated on the bed, fingers knitted on her lap, back straight as a stair rod. ‘Tighter,’ she called. ‘Your waist must be narrow enough to reach ones fingers round. No gentleman will marry you with a body as heavy and thick as a parlour maid’s.’

I gripped the bedpost anew, hands growing numb with the strain, my muscles burning as Natty tugged at the corset lacings. Already, my breath came in short puffs, my stomach compressed until it seemed to rest against my spine. No room for hunger, no room for thirst, hardly room – or so it felt – for my heart to beat in my chest.

‘How shall I breathe?’ I gasped.

The light was failing. Shadows formed about my mother, deep in the folds of her skirt, sunk in the hollow of her throat, caught in her hands like scraps of mink.

‘Are you a labourer digging the road?’ she said, her voice high, trilling as a caged canary. ‘You do not need lungfuls of air, Phoebe. You are a lady. Keep tightening, Natty.’

I believe that last was for spite, for I’m sure the thing was as tight as it could be, though Natty gave another tug, dug her knee in my back, revenge for Mother’s thoughtless words.

I see what an empty headed poppet my mother is, the creature who fills her life with needlework and being pleasingly quiet when my father is home and visiting similarly empty headed dolls to discuss how many yards of lace is fitting for a baby’s cot and how inconsiderate servants are to have relatives who die before Christmas, leaving the household short of staff when exquisite dinners are planned for influential people.

I have listened to these women speak, my head bowed modestly, smiling and nodding when required, saying more in my silence than they do in a thousand words.

Mother’s world is as narrow and suffocating as a corset, but there are other ways to live.

There are people outside our tight circle who do not smile politely and say the correct things and leave visiting cards perfumed with Parisian scent. There are lands with warm seas and spice scented winds and plants that grow without being clipped and pruned and bent to respectable shapes.

I shall have a life. And it will not be my mother’s.


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Today the word to base a post on is NARROW. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

20 thoughts on “#tuesdayuseitinasentence: Life outside the corset

  1. Very reminiscent of Jane Austen’s world and heroin in a weird way (not sure I recall corset in her stories 😛 ). A fantastic tale, so evocative of the constraint and narrow path women walked. Thank you for offering such a beautiful piece 😀 .

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I believe they did have corsets in Jane’s day, but weren’t as heavily boned as the Victorian ones were. I’m glad you saw the relation between underwear and a constricted lifestyle! Thanks for reading and always a pleasure to take part 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Oo, loved where you went with “narrow”! Great analogy of the narrowness of the corset and the narrowness of mother’s life. And good for her, dreaming for something more!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Joy. Not sure if she’ll get the life she craves, but she’ll try. I’m always astonished at the (few) women explorers / academics / bohemians from that period. They had to risk public censure (and usually had a private fortune to support them) but a different way of life was possible.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I imagine there are many of them who tried and failed — or gave up because the social and familial costs were just too great — and we never hear about them.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Yay! I totally love your interpretation of ‘narrow’ and the analogy you made between corsetry and the constriction of freedom women experienced back then. I see a blossoming suffragette here and she brings great hope! Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you sweet. Yes, inspired by that smattering of females adventurers, explorers, scientists, artists. They were few and far between but they showed women were capable of more than simpering behind our menfolk. Thanks so much for reading 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. 🙂 It is. There’s the very first biography of her life out now, she’s in the air and on the airwaves. No problem , always great.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Oh, the best thing to do is read ‘The Bloody Chamber’ online on PDF. Brilliant erotic reworking of a few fairy-tales and tropes. She’s very textured, lots of detail, very erotic, very dark but NEVER sloppy.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I’ve read mixed reviews of The Bloody Chamber, one appalled by what she saw as the mysogyny of the stories. It rather put me off reading it. Good to hear another view of her work – I’d be intrigued to read it. Thanks 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Well I would argue that the majority of erotica written by women and featuring hyper masculine men is purely a mixture of women not wanting to do all the work (and feel all the guilt) about pleasure and also, the sheer enjoyment of the hunt. If you can conquer an “Alpha Male”, in effect it makes you an “Alpha Female.” And everyone likes to feel they’re on top. I would say, enjoy it on a technical and also sensual level. It’s kind of like dark chocolate, hence probably why there was a difference of opinion.

        Liked by 2 people

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