Jasmijn Post: The Corset
At the request of the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors each brought a painting from the Rijksmuseum back to life. They wrote a new text about an old work from the Gallery of Honour, based on one key question: what do you see when you look at these paintings through gender glasses? Jasmijn Post brings the painting 'The Love Letter' by Johannes Vermeer to life. We listen to a woman whose feelings are restricted by social conventions. ‘It’s as if the contents of this envelope bring together two worlds that ought to remain separate.’
Jasmijn Post (b.1989) is a Dutch journalist in Brussels. She writes for news site BRUZZ about subjects ranging from exploited Uber drivers, trafficked Nigerian sex workers, forced marriage and volunteers helping migrants at Brussels-North railway station. She studied investigative journalism and anthropology and believes in providing a platform for people who are overlooked in the media.
Johannes Vermeer, The Love Letter, 1670 / Jasmijn Post © Rijksmuseum / © Marianne Hommersom
Your hands brush against mine when you give me my husband’s letter. Shall I open it? My hands are trembling. For months now, I’ve been fighting the urge to take your hands in mine, swallowing the words I want to whisper in your ear. You look at me with scorn, as if you know what’s going on inside me. Your gaze is self-possessed. Your arm all but touches my back - I can feel its warmth.
I don’t want to lie any longer. All these years I’ve had to pretend: with my words, my corseted body, my heart. I can still picture myself in the front room with my embroidery, during that first meeting with my husband. I hear my father stress that a captain of a Dutch East India ship is an excellent match for me, and I see my mother’s encouraging glances, while she whispers that she and father grew to be fond of each other.
I tried, I really tried, but the longing for the moment when the captain closed the door behind him grew stronger with each departure. How blissful were those months when, freed from my corset, I only shared the house with you, Annemien. Freedom, that’s being able to breathe through my abdomen, instead of pushing those superficial draughts of air through my chest when my waist is constricted.
I weigh the letter in my hands, but I don’t open it just yet. It’s as if the contents of this envelope bring together two worlds that ought to remain separate. The moments I spend with you are so different from those with the captain. I think of you, listening attentively when I play the lute, with that mischievous smile, that one dimple to the right of your mouth. Of you carefully removing my earrings in the evening, unclasping my pearl necklace, taking off my robe and undoing my dress, hook by little hook. I think of what follows: your soft skin against my skin. The clumsy scrawls on the envelope remind me what will take its place: the captain’s rough hands. His abrupt movements and his words, his endless monologues filling the house.
You ask if I’m not curious to see what’s in the letter and wink at me. I slice open the envelope. My eyes skim over the words, my heart sinking further with each line. The captain has been felled by jungle fever. On the barber-surgeon’s orders he will sail back to the Netherlands on the first ship from Ceylon. A position on land has been arranged. Despite the bad news he feels relief too, he writes, because from now on he’ll be closer to me.
You ask me what’s wrong. I force a smile. They’re tears of joy, I lie, because the captain is coming home. I think of the rest of my life, here, in this house, where I’m miles away from you. You ask if you should take my corsets to the tailor, so they’ll be ready in time for the captain’s return. I fight the urge to scream and say 'yes, please.'