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.