In the Nineteenth century, especially during the Victorian age, women had to wear a corset underneath their wide dresses. All women from all social backgrounds had to wear it because it was fashionable, but also because it helped them maintain a good posture. There was also a moral reason though- as a matter of fact, a woman who didn’t wear a corset was considered untidy, lazy and lost. Corsets were difficult to tie and they could be worn tight or loose, according to one’s needs. Despite that, however, a corset was always an obstacle to movements and breathing because it restrained the abdomen, and eating while wearing it wasn’t easy.
Just like all women from that time, the Brontë sisters had to follow Victorian social rules. In their novels we can withstand examples of female characters – like Agnes Grey, Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe- who might not be considered conventional beauties, but they are never untidy, and they would wear a corset for sure; but there are also other protagonists like Catherine Earnshaw and Shirley, who are real beauties even though they disregard their charm and don’t take much care of their physical aspect.
The sisters themselves had different attitudes towards fashion and the use of the corset. We can easily imagine that Emily had a real aversion to it and possibly, being very often at home and not seen by others, she would prefer not to wear it whenever she could. Anne and Charlotte, on the contrary, could not fight the precepts of the fashion of the time. Charlotte in particular, was the only one who showed some interest in clothes– take for instance the dresses she bought before getting married, which were plain but perfect to suit her tiny figure.
One thing is sure though: if they hadn’t been forced to wear a corset, it wouldn’t have affected their already poor health, and they would surely have lived a few years more.
Maddalena De Leo
Did you know that Maddalena de Leo is the Italian representative of the Brontë Society? If you enjoyed reading her article and you want to learn more about the habits of the three Brontë sisters you can’t miss How Did The Brontë Sisters Eat?- by Maddalena De Leo.