In her new book, "The Myths of Motherhood," Shari L. Thurer asserts that "life in the Gilded Age was life in a gilded cage" and corsets were a physical example of the emotional cage.
"During the Victorian times the doctrine of `separate spheres' - that is the blessed home versus the cruel outside - created a division of the world according to gender, not seen since the Italian Renaissance. Once again it behooved the bourgeois woman to appear as idle and decorative as possible as a measure of her husband's affluence. . . . The bouregois mother paid dearly for her beatified status. The standards to which she was held - moral superiority, passionlessness, selflessness, domesticity - turned her into such a wet blanket that nineteenth-century male authors were forever inventing characters fleeing from her clutches; Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are prime examples. Even her clothing was confining, her corsets exerting as much as twenty-one pounds of pressure on her inner organs, her crinolines and petticoats hampering normal movements. Fasting and vinegar potions were part of her regimen."