April 9, 2013 by Victorian Body Parts Conference
Barts Pathology Museum has found a real-life (dead) example for us! Specimen N.192 is an example of how women could lace so tightly that they created an ‘accessory lobe’ – a part of a part, if you will. It’s the most gloriously gruesome thing, and we’d like to say a big thank you to the Barts blog!
While Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home (BBC Four, 3rd April) was full of riveting and revolting exhibits, what really captured the imagination of everyone I spoke to was the segment devoted to corsetry and all its perils.
See a video of the segment here.
So, today’s parts party is devoted to the misshapen liver of the tight-lacing devotee. In the programme we got a brief glimpse of a preserved liver which had been deformed by being forced up against the ribs, for all the world resembling an ‘E’ shaped out of discoloured clay. But can I find a record of this prodigal pickled part anywhere? No. If you know where this little beauty of a specimen is, do let me know!
But we soldier on, and in its place I’ve found an illustration of the phenomenon courtesy of Fernand Butin’s 1900 thesis Le Corset, which in turn was sourced from the 1899 Treatise on Anatomy, by Poirier and Charpy:
Butin uses the illustration to demonstrate the severity of what he calls the ‘furrows’ [‘sillons’] caused by the corset’s constriction of the torso. Here you’ll have to trust to my translation skills in reporting his findings:
‘In any case, since the corset’s direct consequence is the compression of the liver …. [and] general enteroptosis [abnormal alteration to the position of internal organs], the pathogenic impact of the corset is indubitable.’ (p.71)
Butin may have been writing at a point just before corsetry was about to be made obsolete by fashion, social change, and fabric technology, but generations of women would already have had to make choices about the social and medical ramifications of how they chose to ‘construct’ their bodies and organise their internal landscapes.