The Best Linen And Cambric For Her Underclothing

Middlemarch by George Eliot (or rather by Mary Ann Evans writing under that pseudonym) was published in 1871/2 and is about the lives of characters in a fictional English Midlands town. There’s a lot of focus on marriage, family, courtship, hypocrisy and disgrace, and it’s generally considered her best work, but today I’m just going to talk about knickers.

Rosamond Vincy is a young woman who is well educated and stunningly beautiful, but is ambitious and therefore certainly not the heroine of our tale. She can also be described as vain and shallow, far more interested in social niceties and improving her standard of living than actual emotions.

She decides that she is going to marry the handsome town doctor – and he falls in love with her, of course, and proposes.

But there’s a problem – despite his initial agreement, Rosamond’s father decides to revoke his consent to the marriage. At that time, fathers had the power to stop their daughters getting married if they weren’t happy with the situation for whatever reason, so this could seriously scupper her plans.

Her mum is on her side though and puts forward some arguments to try and persuade her husband to let Rosamond have her wedding. For my money, I think the most convincing is this:

“Why, my dear,” said Mrs. Vincy, “you seemed as pleased as could be about […] the engagement. And she has begun to buy in the best linen and cambric for her underclothing.”

Yep, she’s started getting fabric for her new knickers so we can’t cancel the wedding now.

It’s a good argument, right? Not that Rosamond needed any help.

Apart from his dinners and his coursing, Mr. Vincy, blustering as he was, had as little of his own way as if he had been a prime minister: the force of circumstances was easily too much for him, as it is for most pleasure-loving florid men; and the circumstance called Rosamond was particularly forcible by means of that mild persistence which, as we know, enables a white soft living substance to make its way in spite of opposing rock. Papa was not a rock[.]

I won’t say whether or not they all lived happily ever after, but Rosamond was given permission to get married to the man she wanted.

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21 thoughts on “The Best Linen And Cambric For Her Underclothing

    1. It’s these bits that I love ❤ They are what makes the difference between struggling through a great work of literature because you think you should, or curling up with a good book because you want to.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Very interesting, I too would want the marriage to go ahead if I had invested a great deal of money in linen and cambric for undergarments, although I might have been more impressed had they chosen silk for these items, it might have shown a tad more commitment and I’m wondering whether linen and cambric might be somewhat itchy for a delicate woman’s undergarments. Had this novel been set during World War Two whilst they lived in the countryside it wouldn’t have been impossible to lay ones hands on a silk parachute from a downed airman with which to make quite a number of French knickers, a couple of slips and should the expertise be available I would imagine even a couple of brassieres, a far more impressive dowry than some cheap linen items. I quite agree with your point though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really like reading your blog and I promise I’ll post whenever I have anything worth saying 🙂 I’m very glad to hear you find this stuff interesting too – I thought that maybe it was just me who was interested in this stuff until I started this blog, but it turns out I’m not alone! It’s so good to hear from other people 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed this unusual story about knickers! I pity the woman who had to wear knickers of linen but then some women wore rubber girdles not that long ago, and spandex that doesn’t breathe is a thing today. So I suppose I can’t be that surprised that linen was used for undergarments. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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