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Excerpt from the novel: ''Mit den Augen einer Frau''

by Zsolt von Harsànyi

Then she sat down to sing instead of undress. From the other room she could hear the clicking noise which she had been used to for years now: her mother took off her corset, and the eyelets caused the noise. Magdalena could almost see her mother undress and rubbing her hips that had been forced into the stays so far. That was Magdalena's dream: she had been dreaming of it for three years now: a corset. Other girls of her age already had been wearing such garments for years now. But she had been treated like a child again and again by her mother.

''Magdalena'', she cried from the other room, ''what are you doing? Why don't you undress?'' ''Alright, mother!''. She started to undress. She let her shoes fall to the floor by intention: the mother should hear that she really undressed. After bathing she was halfway dressed again and stood in front of the mirror. She had already put on her stockings and shoes as well as slip and vest of Rumburg linen; her long plaits touched it with every one of her movements. The mother came in with a tape-measure in her hands.

''What is the matter with you? Didn't you sleep well? You have such sleepy eyes!'' ''No, mother, I really slept well. But I have a slight headache, this may be the reason.'' ''You'll drink a glass of bitter mineral water. But let me show you something first. Guess what I have.''

Magdalena was surprised and looked at her mother's face, where she noticed a rare expression: a warm and tender emotion. They tried to read from each other's face. Suddenly Magdalena cried: ''I'm going to get a corset.'' Her mother nodded, but didn't say a word. It seemed as if she tried to keep back the tears. Her eyes were already glimmering. Magdalena embraced her.

''Mother, my dear, good mother, I'm all happy, thank you so very much.'' She embraced and kissed her. The mother also embraced her daughter. ''Oh yes, you little fool, calm down, calm down. I postponed it as long as possible, but now I have to do it. I have no other choice. How tall you are by now. I already have got a grown-up daughter.

Then she lost her countenance. Thinking of her daughter's first corset Mrs. Hubay started to cry. And that was really a special event, for she really was a master in keeping back her motherly feelings; and when Magdalena tried to remember a day when her mother cried because of her, she had to go back to the day of her communion. Now she, too, started to cry. Then both of them had to laugh and dried their tears. ''Now keep yourself upright. Ne bouge pas. Stand erect.''

Then they took the tape-measure and measured Magdalena's hips and bust. ''Retract your belly, will you? A bit more. That's still not enough.'' ''But, Mum, I'm so ticklish!'' ''It's alright, don't clown! Your waist has 52, hips and bust 62cms. That is what I imagined. I'll order the corset today. Now get dressed, please.''

She left the room with a deep sigh. A sigh that involved both the joy about her daughters physical development and a feeling of resignation regarding her own diminishing youth. The corset problem had been tackled rather late indeed. Other girls had got their first corset at the age of 15 already. She really couldn't have waited any longer.

Magdalena was all cheerful when she went on dressing herself. This is a sign from God, she thought, and a bride needs a corset. Now, finally, everybody has to treat me like an adult. Now I can make up for all the years, not only with my corset, but also with the bals. Other girls attend bals at 16 already, and many of them get married at 18. This great, great, wonderful love has come for me now, too.

During lunch she told the great news to her father: ''Dad, guess what is going to happen with me during the next few days.'' ''Is it an important event? And very beautiful?'' ''Oh yes, a real great event, and it's terrific.'' ''It's not terrific, my dear. That's a slang word they use in large towns. But you're looking forward to whatever is going to happen with you, right? Well, what can that be? I cannot guess. I hope you won't get married, for heaven's sake?

And when he noticed that she blushed deeply he couldn't keep back a peal of laughter. ''Don't try and guess'', said Mrs. Hubay, ''I ordered her a corset from Budapest.'' Hubay's facial expression altered. Then he looked tenderly at his daughter and took her hand. ''Time goes by, honey. I cannot believe that my daughter is in that age already. But your time has come. There's one condition on my part: this corset must be the most beautiful and delicate corset in the whole world. That's just good enough for my honey. You know, Tibor Szilagyi told me this morning, when I accompanied him to the train station, that you are the most beautiful girl in the area, and he is right, no doubt about that.''

''Emmerich'' the mother cried, ''is that what you call good education? I can't believe that! Have you gone crazy?''

''That's what he said, for sure,'' the father repeated and, good-humouredly, he hit the table with the palm of his hand. ''And he said that we are going to have the queen of the bal if we come to Budapest in winter. Now what? You must not be resentful, my dear wife, it can never be harmful for a woman to know that she's beautiful. What did I tell you!''

First Mrs. Hubay looked upwards to show her amazement about the fact that the ceiling didn't come down in view of such harmful statements. Then she turned her head to her daughter: ''Don't listen to what your father says; he seems to be going insane as he grows older. You are rather pretty, that cannot be denied, but you constantly keep your back bent, you don't take enough care of your hands and your feet are much too large. Please! It would be the last straw for me if you became high-spirited! Already now I find it hard enough to get along with you, and this donkey of a Szilagyi should really keep his comments to himself. Un vieux cretin, ça.''

Mr. Hubay winked at his daughter's. Magdalena was so happy, she would have liked to secretly wink back to him, but owing to the corset matter she felt a deep gratefulness towards her mother, so that she didn't want to betray her.

Finally the new corset had arrived. A Budapest fashion factory had sent it; a factory that prided itself in newspaper advertisements on its noble customers: the countess Ludwiga Batthyany, née Gräfin Ilona Andrassy, had just ordered two corsets made of cambric, the countess Adam Teleki had ordered one of silk; even Her Royal Highness, the duchess Marie of Orléans, recently had telegraphed that the factory owner should come to Alesuth; she then had ordered two Josselin-corsets, which had been made so excellently that she made her come once again to order a riding corset this time.'' But Magdalena's new pink corset was even more marvellous. Standing in front of the large bathroom mirror she learned from her mother how to hold the laces, how to pull them and how to adjust hips and waist to this silk armour. She proved to be particularly quick to learn, as early as after the second or third try she manipulated the laces and eyelets as skilfully, as if she had always been wearing corsets. And she could hardly get away from the mirror. For there she could, if she was fully dressed, look at an admirably slim lady. It took her less than three days to get perfectly used to her corset. She no longer found it uncomfortable, on the contrary, she loved her erect posture and the feeling of being firmly supported by the corset. In the evening, while she undressed, she made the same clicking noises that she had heard so often from her mother's room and she rubbed the red spots on her hips with enjoyment, as she had seen her mother do so many times.

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