The Autobiography of a Corset.
The history of my birth and the first days of my life possess but little interest. At an early age I was carried off from my birthplace with several of my companions and placed in a large store on a street which I soon learned was called Broadway. While my fellows remained packed away in boxes, I, on account of my superior beauty, I suppose, was hung up in full view of the public. At first I felt proud of the honor and made much over myself, but I soon perceived that my fancied elevation was in fact the greatest obstacle to my success in life, for while my companions rapidly followed one another out into the world, to fulfill their destiny, I remained solitary and unsought for. It was not because I was not admired. When any one asked for a corset, I was invariably taken down, my beauty and sterling qualities lauded and everything done to tickle my vanity, but somehow or other when I pleased, which was generally the case, I was always hung up again, and one of my companions handed out in my stead. It was useless to protest against this gross injustice, and, moreover, I soon learned my true nature—I was a sample. My lofty position cut me off from all companionship with my fellows, and very soon I heartily wished that I, too, had remained humbly packed away in a box—a warning, let me tell you, to those people who fancy that elevated rank always brings happiness.
Gradually I became morose and melancholy and I know not what dark crime I might have committed had I not been timely rescued.
One bleak December morning—ah, how well I remember it!—while I was brooding over my present miseries and looking forward gloomily to the future, the door opened and there entered, gentle reader, the most entrancing vision of petite black-eyed female loveliness I had ever seen, and I assure you I had seen many pretty women. I fell in love with her at first sight, if a corset may be properly said to fall in love, and awaited with breathless interest to hear what she would ask for.
A corset! O joy of joys! And number 16! My number! Oh my ribs keep still!
I was at once handed down, and O the joy, the complete ecstasy of being fondled by those soft white fingers! It was but for a moment, alas! For although I pleased her, I was as usual put up again by the heartless clerk, who went to seek out one of my companions. I was in the darkest despair when he returned and told the lady that he had no more of that number.
“Great heavens! Haven’t you got me?” I tried to shout, but, being mouthless, failed.
Imagine the thrill of delight which vibrated through every part of me when the sweet creature said she would like to have me if the clerk would part with his sample.
The wretch softened, wrapped me up, and in another moment I reposed on the breast of my loved one, and we were whirling up Fifth avenue.
We soon arrived at a handsome brown-stone mansion and, still clasped in her arms, we ascended to the prettiest little boudoir imaginable. Shall I confess that I blushed when I saw the preparations for my embrace?
Yes, gentle reader, I blushed—I, a dignified, modest corset, blushed. My modesty was soon to be even more sorely tried, for she took me up and—O, gentle reader, may such a moment of ecstasy one day fall to your lot—clasped me tightly around her waist.
Terrified and trembling, I first made a faint show of resistance, but she pulled me only the closer, and, to prevent my escape, tied me. Yielding at last, I gave myself up entirely to the delights of my situation, and clasping her in a long, close embrace, swooned away with joy.
Yes, gentle reader, I swooned, and when I returned to consciousness and found all things changed, I was in a brilliantly lighted ball room, sweet music was floating through the air, and—yes—some villain was waltzing with my lady and had his arm around her waist.
How I longed to spurn the wretch from me and from that waist which had been placed under my protection. I had the inside track on him, however, and I longed to tell him so too. My indignation had reached a high pitch, and I was panting for revenge when the waltz ended, and my lady and her companion went to the conservatory.
They took seats in a secluded spot, but what they said shall never be known to the world through me. A corset is nothing if not honorable. In a few minutes his arm stole around her waist, and the pressure soon became so great that I thought I would surely expire. I could do nothing to defend myself, but I had one consolation, which was, as I said before, that he could not cut me out.
Lest I become tiresome, I will only say that my unmarried life, or rather the unmarried life of my lady, was to him a crystal streamlet of bliss, but alas, flowing, as I was soon to discover, into the dark pool of misery! One day I heard that my lady was to be married.
At the time I was glad, for I will confess that I was beginning to become surfeited with my delights and longed for novelty. What that novelty was to be, I soon discovered. Ah, that I had remained forever in solitary misery at my old store home, or perished before that fatal wedding day!
What! Is this really myself—the happy, petted corset who experienced the joys recorded in the above chapter? How is it that I am away up here in the garret, amidst old rags and papers—my ribs broken, all soiled and covered with dust, my life fast ebbing away? Why am I thus pitched aside and forsaken?
My lady has now been wedded nearly a year.
I have grown too small for her!
P.S. Since writing the above, I have been consoled by a visit from one of my companions who had fallen to the lot of a dude. The relation of the horrors he went through will give me strength to bear up during the few remaining days of my life.
P.P.S. Horrors! I have fallen into a terrible place, and am being torn limb from limb. Surely, this must be the end of all things—the paper millennium.
Truth [New York, NY] 20 May 1883: p. 4
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Who would have thought that an inanimate object was such a maelstrom of emotions? One blushes for the almost erotic frankness of the garment’s recollections! One might almost call the narrative “50 Shades of Stay.” From the 1850s onward whimsical “autobiographies” of the normally insentient were a popular literary genre. One finds autobiographies of hackney coaches, cats, pigs, rubber bands, oranges, sheep, shin-plasters, race horses, flies, dolls, bureaus, &c, &c, &c Mrs Daffodil has previously printed a “Reminiscence of an old Needlebook” and the “Diary of a Young Dog,” in a similar vein.
The sad fate of the once-beloved corset was common to many house-hold articles: sold to the “old-clothes man” and sent to the rag factory to be pulped for paper. As a corset was often made of sturdy linen and cotton, found in the best papers, it might expect to be resurrected as wedding invitations.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.