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Victorian Secrets

What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself
Narrated by: Kristin Kalbli
Length: 7 hrs and 52 mins
4 out of 5 stars (49 ratings)

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Editorial Reviews

Sarah A. Chrisman uses her own journey with wearing the body-shaping undergarment known as the corset to explore the lessons that Victorian styles and notions can teach modern women. Chrisman, initially hesitant to don the garment with the possible chauvinistic implications and physical burdens it carries, found it in fact to give her a certain confidence and to illuminate ideas about feminism and sexuality that were hitherto absent from her daily life. Kristen Kalbi deftly performs this account that dips into history and big ideas with a personal tenor, making it feel like her own journal.

Publisher's Summary

A true story about discovering positive selfhood, from a woman who moved beyond stereotypes to explore the world of corsetry firsthand.

On Sarah A. Chrisman's 29th birthday, her husband, Gabriel, presented her with a corset. The material and the design were breathtakingly beautiful, but her mind immediately filled with unwelcome views. Although she had been in love with the Victorian era all her life, she had specifically asked her husband not to buy her a corset - ever. She'd heard how corsets affected the female body and what they represented, and she wanted none of it.

However, Chrisman agreed to try on the garment . . . and found it surprisingly enjoyable. The corset, she realized, was a tool of empowerment - not oppression. After a year of wearing a corset on a daily basis, her waist had gone from thirty-two inches to twenty-two inches, she was experiencing fewer migraines, and her posture improved. She had successfully transformed her body, her dress, and her lifestyle into that of a Victorian woman - and everyone was asking about it.

In Victorian Secrets, Chrisman explains how a garment from the past led to a change in not only the way she viewed herself, but also the ways she understood the major differences between the cultures of twenty-first-century and nineteenth-century America. The desire to delve further into the Victorian lifestyle provided Chrisman with new insight into issues of body image and how women, past and present, have seen and continue to see themselves.

©2013 Sarah A. Chrisman (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Exploration of Vanity

I tried this book as an interesting diversion into the world of historic dress which has become a growing phenomenon. Blogs about historic clothing construction, dress-up dances, parties and conferences are on the rise these days. These discussions and events deal with the smallest details needed to recreate historic garb. This book was well written and nicely narrated.

The problem lies in the fact that the author may have exposed too much of the inner workings of her thoughts, marriage and life to the reader. The extremes the author was willing to take in order to wear antique garments, shoes and reproductions and appear beautiful was surprising. The quickness and harshness of her judgements of other people encountered day to day was painful. The idea that she "knew" what others were thinking about her and their motives became a window into a deeper issue all together. For me it was just too much raw information and vanity exposed and in the end felt embarrassing.

If you like loads of intimate personal detail, and an uncensored, often unkind stream of thoughts retold you might enjoy this listen. To me, pretty is as pretty does.

36 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

A real disappointment

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

This book sounded condescending to all humanity besides herself and her husband. The entire story Sarah Chrisman's tells is self serving and had such a negative tone about all of the world around her. She was comfortable with labeling others, name calling "Ms Polyester" and "Mr. Tomato Head" and criticizing ffreely most of the people she encountered. The reading contributed to the negative tone. I was so looking forward to something delightful and charming, positive, and liberating.

What could Sarah A. Chrisman have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

She tried too hard to convince the world how much of a liberated woman she is and just enjoyed telling her story. Everyone else is portrayed as idiots. She obviously gained self confidence and a greater sense of of self, it is such a shame.

Would you be willing to try another one of Kristin Kalbli’s performances?

No I would not be willing to listen to her again. I wonder if the reading was what cast such a negative tone to the reading of the book.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Victorian Secrets?

The migraine, so boring.

Any additional comments?

I couldn't wait for the book to end so I could write this review. I listen to so many wonderful books. This is just a great disappointment. I guess with the sales of this book she can have more custom corsets made, get a 1 bedroom apartment, and her own wi-fi.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Frustration holding hands with enlightenment

Is there anything you would change about this book?

A better editor that had the courage to save the author the embarrassment of revealing more personal issues than probably she probably meant to.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

So much of the story is boasting and complaining about "posers" and it really detracts from the well written meat. The author writes quite well and I really enjoyed her progress into a Victorian lifestyle. I just wish some of the personal opinions had remained personal. It made me really dislike the author while thoroughly appreciating her journey. I would definitely take out the migraine chapter as well as the foot breaking chapter. Too much fodder for her to impress her abhorrence for the "general public" into the story.

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

Yes

Do you think Victorian Secrets needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

I would actually love a follow up. Her writing style is right up my alley but a little more maturity would be wonderful.

Any additional comments?

My opinion of the story flip flopped so many times. I'm glad I stuck it out and finished this audio book because by the end of the story I kind of understood where she was going.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Jessica
  • Lakeport, CA, United States
  • 04-08-14

It's no more than promised but not what hoped

What disappointed you about Victorian Secrets?

Sarah Chrisman says herself that she wrote this because she answered the same questions constantly about her corset wearing and associated lifestyle. It is as promised. However, I can't help but feel this book lacked a good editor. It feels almost passive aggressive, with every person who (admittedly rudely) questioned or criticized her personal fashion/body/lifestyle choices described as ignorant, ugly or having bad taste or questionable life choices themselves. She dislikes negative attention but clearly enjoys attention. This book read like having a long lunch with a self centered friend who never tired of talking about themselves or lecturing endlessly on topics they see themselves as an expert in.

What about Kristin Kalbli’s performance did you like?

Great voice, very pleasant and clear.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Slightly disappointing.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Witty and charming

A fun narrative of the authors forray into living her fullest and best life. When the author and her husband start to go deeper into their research they choose to become more immersed in the late 19th century by dawning authentic victorian garments they have restored. To do so, the author must acostom herself to corseting her natural waist. This book details her transformation and process over a year period in her life.
I almost did not read this book because of poor reviews, but I am glad I did! This book is a non-fiction personal journal style book, written very much in period narrative style. Those who enjoy reading Victorian literature will enjoy the style, those unacostomed to the period may not. This may also be said for the story, it is not for everyone. Many people are not ready for the idea of a woman taking up space and not apologizing. I feel as though if the author was a man she would be lauded as 'uncompromising in ideals' and 'living intentionally' but the author is indeed a woman. And the internet has many words they like to use when a woman does all the things men are praised for, I needn't repeat them.

The narrator of the book is on the dry side, this is appropriate for the non-fiction autobiography that this book is. You wouldn't want your national geographic narrator to be bubbly or dramatic, the reading style fits the work.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Learned more about the author than her corset

First, I will admit that I didn't finish this book. I gave up about two hours from the end. By that time I had already learned the author is scathingly superior to almost everyone she meets, has a difficult relationship with her mother, has a better grasp of medicine than doctors, is smarter than her fellow massage students, and uses faulty historical research. What I really wanted to hear was about her corseting experience - minus the long-winded judgements of the rest of the world. After being subjected to the boringly extended description of her broken foot experience, which contributed nothing to the narrative, I gave up. This is not a book about what someone learned from wearing a corset, Instead it's a kind of diary written by a snarky author who seems to only like her judo instructor, her husband, and a teenaged girl she met at a meeting once.

I had hoped for something more substantial. Despite allusions to her education and research, the author is not a historian. In supporting her choice to wear a corset the author cherry picks from primary historical sources. She fails to explore whether these references were truly substantiated in their opinions in their own era, and blatantly ignores many things we know now about corset use and the impact and affects on the human body.

Finally, the author just comes off as mean and petty. She doesn't want to be judged for living a lifestyle that is out of the norm, but certainly judges everyone around her. After several hours of listening to her disparage the opinions, conversations and life style of everyone around her, I gave up. Perhaps the end of the book was better, but I doubt it.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Lovely story - not my thing

This was a unique perspective and an educational journey into the Victorian era and the fashion that defined it. I learned a lot and I loved the way the book was written! I bought the book because I was curious about corsets and to learn about the author’s experience with them. The rest was a nice story, but if her accounts on the corset was not included, I would have returned it. It served its purpose and more. Although I am not interested in Victorian fashion, I did find myself cheering for the author in times when she overcame ignorance and put people in their place for their rude comments. She sounds graceful, strong, sophisticated, and elegant. A woman in every sense of the word.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Loved it!

wonderful story, wonderful author, wonderful narrator! would love to hear more by this author. awesome.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

This is a fun memoir of a year in a corset.

If you like non-conformists, this is a bit of fun. She is eccentric, but always interesting.

2 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Susan
  • Girdwood, AK, United States
  • 04-21-15

A wonderful listen

Where does Victorian Secrets rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I'm taking a break from the "Outlander" series to listen to Victorian secrets.
I loved everything about this book and hoping there are more to come.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Victorian Secrets?

When Sarah was willing to give the corset a change against her previous doubts and fell in love with it.

Have you listened to any of Kristin Kalbli’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

When her husband Gabriel went all in.

Any additional comments?

Sarah is a fabulous role model for woman.

1 of 5 people found this review helpful