Saturday, 15 October 2011
Adriana’s life was a sad one. Convicted to an asylum for two very small reasons: firstly, she was extravagant and very fond of dress, and secondly because she made a mistake that threatened to bring disgrace to her family. She was naturally gay and intelligent, and knew that she had a father and an uncle there to help her out of any financial difficulty, so was extravagant in her use of money.
The particular event that led to her incarceration was that she became involved with buying furniture on part credit to furnish the parlour she had rented in the house of two old ladies that were distant relations. She had no room there for a piano, so moved to a larger house in the same neighbourhood which was already furnished, so went ahead and sold the previously bought furniture. The dealer that had originally sold her the furniture heard of this and prosecuted her. She was naive to financial matters, and was unaware of the difficulties that her father and uncle were experiencing with their business. Before the time came for her appearance in court her Physician father decided that she would be placed in an asylum and the insanity plea used in court in her defence. She was questioned briefly by both her father and another doctor who she had never met. They asked about her general bodily health and if she would like to go on a journey. It was later explained to her that the purpose for these questions was to decide if she should be sent to an asylum. Her father told her that they did not believe her to be insane, but under the circumstances it was all that could be done.
She knew where she was going, and was told that it was preferable to being put in jail, but she did not relish the thought of being shut in with the insane. The judge that took her to the asylum where she would spend so long talked openly to the doctors of her extravagance in her presence, as if that was reason enough to commit a young woman to the terrible life she would experience at the asylum. Everything was strange there, and as an intelligent sane woman she could see for herself that the nurses and attendants at the hospital were not themselves rational beings, and some of them had even been promoted to their positions after being patients there for some years. Her father visited and commented of her health looks and promised that she only had to wait there until the troubles had blown over. It was the last time she ever saw him, and he died four years later. Her release turned out to be more difficult than expected.
At the typical asylum where Adriana was committed the untrained staff were violent to the patients, who couldn’t understand why they were being beaten or how to avoid it. The only way that you could get on their good side was to do their work for them, becoming their slaves. Any bruises caused by the violent attacks seen by family visitors were always explained away as accidents and falls. The lucky ones were the ones whose family did not believe these stories and removed them. The rest had to learn how to cope in this strange insular tyrannical world. Suicides occurred, and even the dead went without compassionate treatment and were treated with great disrespect.
After new laws were passed in 1884 which gave inmates the freedom to write with any grievances they had to the Committee on Lunacy Adriana wrote to one of the medical members named on the notice posted in her ward. Along with other women Adriana waited for some replay or visit, which never came. After months she wrote again, believing that the first letter must have gone missing, and this time her case was looked into at once, and her appeal for liberty given the first serious consideration it had ever had. She was visited by doctors of the committee and her release was ordered immediately. Her board at the asylum had always been paid from funds left to her, and after being at the asylum for so long she hardly knew what to do or where to go. She went to a Convalescents’ Retreat where she spent many years being looked after by the kind staff, and where she wrote and published the account of her life as an inmate in the hopes of improving the treatment of those she had left behind locked away – doomed to a living death with no chance of freedom. Adriana was 60 years old when she was finally released. And she devoted many hours trying to improve conditions for those less fortunate than herself.
As Adriana knew where she was going and what was ahead of her, even though she had little choice in what was happening to her, I think that she would have tried her best to dress as simply as she could. She would have been aware that she would have no attendant of servant to help her dress, so I chose to dress her is a well fitted cotton day dress, but without the trappings of bustle cage or too much structure. The kind of dress that would have been worn for comfortable days at home, but because of her extravagant nature I also decided to make it in an impractical, but beautiful, light blue fabric, when a darker colour would have been more suitable, and trimmed it with lace and long ribbons, with a high lace collar. Her white cotton underwear and corset are worn under a soft cotton lawn corset cover to protect her dress from the sharp edges and ridged form of her corset, with one plain cotton petticoat under a cleverly constructed one that is gathered and has ruffles down the back to help give her dress some of the fashionable bustle shape, all worn over a stuffed moon shaped bum pad instead of the usual restrictive cage. Her fancy last petticoat of my favourite stripped cotton lawn has a ruffle around the bottom and is again gathered in back to provide shape, trimmed with a pink tapestry ribbon. Her gown has pretty three quarter sleeves with deep cuffs and lace trim. The crossed front has an almost Kimono style, and that along with the gathered apron front to her dress are both trimmed with navy satin and more lace. She wears a navy velvet sash finished in a large bow in the small of her back and left trailing down her skirts, which has a slight train to give it a soft finish.