Excerpt from a 17th Century Young Woman’s Diary

I cannot tolerate my life! My intellect, dismissed at every turn. My fingers bleed as I mind my needle. Young men cross the seas on great ships. They find adventure while I sit here. They hunt great whales; something I can only dream of. Oh yes, I carry a part of those great creatures within my bodice every day. Their great bones defiled to stays, crushing my ribcage, attempting to confine my will. Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy upon my soul.

Born female in this world, the great bane of my life. But my plans are made. My brother’s breeches hid beneath my bed, with scissors to cut my hair. Next week, I too shall set out to sea. Breasts bound by rags, but spirit freed. I shall become young Phinneas, and taste the adventures too long denied me.

Written for Prosery Monday at dVerse, the vitual pub for poets around the globe. Today Linda provides the line “Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy” from May Oliver’s poem “Azures” published in the book Wild Geese.

In prosery, we must use a specified line from a poem, exactly as written, in a piece of prose that is no more than 144 words long, sans title. It is similar to flash fiction — but must include the specified poetic line. We may change the punctuation of the line, but the wording must be exactly as it appeared in the original poem.

Image: Woman’s stays c. 1730–1740. Silkplain weave with supplementary weft-float patterning, stiffened with whaleboneLos Angeles County Museum of Art, M.63.24.5.[1]

54 thoughts on “Excerpt from a 17th Century Young Woman’s Diary

  1. Nancy Jahnke January 18, 2021 / 1:51 pm

    Sounds like the intro to a new Hallberg novel! Wow!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 18, 2021 / 3:12 pm

      So good to see you here, Nancy. Sending love your way from Boston!


  2. sanaarizvi January 18, 2021 / 3:04 pm

    I so enjoyed this one, Lillian! 💝💝 It certainly does have the makings of a great adventurous tale 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Linda Lee Lyberg January 18, 2021 / 3:07 pm

    Bravo- what a creative story Lillian! Imagine what it must have been like to wear one of those contraptions- a bra is quite enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 18, 2021 / 3:13 pm

      HAH! Must have sucked the breath right out of you! Who can blame anyone in those days for wanting to trade one in for breeches and some type of loose fitting shirt!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. msjadeli January 18, 2021 / 3:16 pm

    Confinement and liberation are noble themes, Lillian. Nicely done.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ingrid January 18, 2021 / 3:25 pm

    Hooray for this pioneering woman and her brave resolve! I still feel those implied constraints from certain extended family members who think ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ – unless that means at a desk writing, I beg to differ…

    Liked by 2 people

    • lillian January 18, 2021 / 3:27 pm

      “unless that means at a desk writing, I beg to differ…” Ah you made me smile, Ingrid! So glad you liked the write.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ingrid January 18, 2021 / 3:35 pm

        It’s just a shame some expectations haven’t changed in 400 years!

        Liked by 2 people

  6. kim881 January 18, 2021 / 3:26 pm

    I love this, Lill! Historical fiction, with lots of detail and a first-person narrator, just my cup of tea at the moment, the perfect kind of escapism. I love the link between young men who are hunting whales and the whalebones in the bodice that keep the young women confined to the home. I’m dying to know if she does become young Phinneas and has an adventure or two.

    Liked by 2 people

    • lillian January 18, 2021 / 3:28 pm

      So glad you enjoyed, Kim. Perhaps young Phinneas will appear in a future write! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 18, 2021 / 3:29 pm

      Ah yes…..she’ll don those breeches and cut off her hair….and out to sea she shall go! In some ways she’s already a pirate….stealing a young boy’s identity! She shall persevere! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. merrildsmith January 18, 2021 / 3:53 pm

    Wonderful take on the theme. I hope she goes off and has a great adventure!

    In the seventeenth and early eighteenth-centuries both boys and girls wore corsets when they were infants and children–it was considered necessary for good posture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 19, 2021 / 2:10 pm

      I didn’t realize boys were corsets as well! I always learn something new at dVerse. Glad you enjoyed the post, Merril. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • merrildsmith January 19, 2021 / 3:19 pm

        I researched and wrote about stays and undergarments for an American history encyclopedia I edited. 😀


  8. Beverly Crawford January 18, 2021 / 4:34 pm

    This is compelling, Linda. With our privileged lives, we too often forget the women who still are oppressed and abused. This makes us painfully aware. Well penned.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Glenn A. Buttkus January 18, 2021 / 4:36 pm

    Some men still wear corsets today. I love the take you chose for the prompt, letting actual bone represent part of the prompt line. History is littered with women passing as men, and vica-versa.
    I fear your heroine may encounter discovery and rape while out to sea though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 19, 2021 / 2:12 pm

      Oh I hope that is not her fate!!! I like to think she can manage the subterfuge until she gets back to shore 🙂


  10. Ron. January 18, 2021 / 4:44 pm

    Nice work, Lillian. Sometimes we can’t resist what we must become, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The Abject Muse January 18, 2021 / 5:29 pm

    Good one, Lillian. Really good. Love where you took this prompt. I cannot imagine wearing one of those corset things. Yikes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 19, 2021 / 2:13 pm

      Me neither. I like to breathe!! 🙂


  12. Mary (tqhousecat) January 18, 2021 / 5:48 pm

    It is no wonder the women were trim. They could not eat but a few bites in those bone-crushing corsets! Great story. Needs a sequel!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 19, 2021 / 2:13 pm

      Ah you never know…..young Phinneas may appear in another prompt some day!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. rothpoetry January 18, 2021 / 8:37 pm

    A great story of a strong woman! I like the connection of whale bones to the great bones of my life! Very nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. robtkistner January 18, 2021 / 9:20 pm

    Too depressed to read and comment this evening, just saying hello – be back when I am repackaged.

    Liked by 1 person

    • robtkistner January 19, 2021 / 12:59 pm

      Powerful piece Lillian, about the long unfair struggle of women in this world. I firmly believe it has suffered from the deification of testosterone.


    • lillian January 19, 2021 / 2:14 pm

      Oh dear, Rob. Hope all is okay? Glad to see you returned. Take care of yourself…..that is always an important thing. Glad you enjoyed the post.


  15. Astrid January 19, 2021 / 6:55 am

    Such a great piece! When I read about the whale bones confining this woman, I didn’t realize at first you were talking about corsets. I would hate to wear that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 19, 2021 / 2:17 pm

      I really wonder how they could even breathe. You can see why they wouldn’t be able to run, or jump….very inhibiting.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Louise Gallagher January 19, 2021 / 10:43 am

    More please!!!! What a great story — and an enticing morsel to mull over wondering… what happened next?

    Love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian January 19, 2021 / 2:18 pm

      So glad you enjoyed, Louise. You never know….young Phinneas may appear in another post!


    • lillian January 19, 2021 / 2:19 pm

      I’ll raise a toast to that! HAH! Didn’t even realize….my new post today plays into this theme as well. Must have strong women on my mind!?!


    • lillian January 26, 2021 / 3:19 pm

      So glad you enjoyed! Just getting back to some older replies I didn’t catch!


  17. Dale January 19, 2021 / 10:52 pm

    I love this, Lillian! I cannot help but think of those historical romance novels I used to devour – there was often a lady who was done with the lady like duties!


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