Bound To Please / Edition 2

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Corsets, and the corseted body, have been fetishized, mythologized, romanticized. This Victorian icon has inspired more passionate debate than any other article of clothing. As a means of body modification, perhaps only foot binding and female genital mutilation have aroused more controversy.

Summers’ provocative book dismantles many of the commonly held misconceptions about the corset. In examining the role of corsetry in the minds and lives of Victorian women, it focuses on how corsetry punished, regulated and sculpted the female form from childhood and adolescence through to pregnancy and even old age. The author reveals how the ‘steels and bones’, which damaged bodies and undermined mental health, were a crucial element in constructing middle-class women as psychologically submissive subjects. Underlying this compelling discussion are issues surrounding the development and expression of juvenile and adult sexuality. While maintaining that the corset was the perfect vehicle through which to police femininity, the author unpacks the myriad ways in which women consciously resisted its restrictions and reveals the hidden, macabre romance of this potent Victorian symbol.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this engaging latest book in the Dress, Body, Culture series, Summers carefully exposes the corset's dual role in Victorian culture."—Publishers Weekly

"Bound to Please is an absorbing and illuminating book, and will be of great interest not just to fashion historians but to all readers interested in the everyday lives of women in Victorian Britain and North America."—Feminist Review

"It's a thrilling story and Summers tells it well."—London Review of Books

"Summers delivers the classic feminist denunciation of the corset - that instrument of over-bearing patriarchy. [This book is] a concentrated piece of independent scholarship."—Dress

Publishers Weekly
How odd that a single article of clothing could be experienced as a sign of middle-class superiority, an emblem of eroticism, a medically necessary support garment and a device for stemming childhood masturbation. In this engaging latest book in the Dress, Body, Culture series, Summers carefully exposes the corset's dual role in Victorian culture: it kept women physically subdued, while at the same time presenting them as sexually alluring, exaggeratedly feminine objects of display. Summers, senior education officer at Australia's New England Regional Art Museum, argues that corsetry was undeniably sexy, since its physical effects mimicked the signs of sexual arousal (shortness of breath, blushing, overheating); at the same time, it was a leading cause of fainting fits, uterine failure and severe abdominal damage. By far the most original aspects of this study appear in the early chapters on corsetry for children (some as young as two years old) and expectant mothers, who were told by fashion magazines and medical experts alike that "tight-lacing" might damage fetuses or, alternately, contribute to a healthy pregnancy. Everywhere, critics decried corset-wearing for pregnant women, accusing them of causing birth defects, "race degeneration," etc. Summers also traces feminist battles against the corset's hegemony. Her arguments on the role of the female body in advertising and connections between dress reform and the struggle for women's suffrage, will already be familiar to readers interested in women's history and Victorian studies. 107 b & w photos and illus. (Oct.) Forecast: While the book's likely readership will be academic, its gorgeous cover and clever title should draw browsers'eyes. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781859735107
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
  • Publication date: 10/18/2001
  • Series: Dress, Body, Culture Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Leigh Summers is University of New England and Senior Education Officer, at the New England Regional Art Museum, Armidale, Australia .

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 'Elegance Comfort Durability!' Class, Contours, and Corsetry 9
2 Corsetry and the Invisibility of the Maternal Body 37
3 The Child, the Corset, and the Construction of Female Sexuality 63
4 Corsetry and the Reality of 'Female Complaints' 87
5 Breathless with Anticipation: Romance, Morbidity and the Corset 121
6 Not in That Corset: Gender, Gymnastics, and the Cultivation of the Late Nineteenth-Century Female Body 143
7 Corsetry, Advertising, and Multiple Readings of the Nineteenth-Century Female Body 173
Conclusion 209
Notes 215
Bibliography 257
Index 297
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