German Novels: Monkia Maron (1941- )

Figure 1.--

A HBC reader reports, "I have recently come across an interesting description of the Leibchen, a support garment, in a famous novel by the distinguished German novelist and essayist, Monkia Maron. The Leibchen was a bodice worn by both girls and boys to hold up long stockings." In Germany, especially East Germany, it continued to be worn as late as the mid-1960s. Maron grew up in Germany and spent much time as a journalist in East Berlin. The novel is entitled Animal Triste (Sad Animal) (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1996) and has been beautifully translated by Brigitte Goldstein and published by the University of Nebraska Press (2000). The novel is highly autobiographical in places and describes a love affair between the narrator (a 90 year-old palaeontologist woman who has spent her life working at a musuem in East Berlin) and another scientist of natural history named Franz. Long stockings and Leibchens persisted in East Germany a little longer than in West Germany. In the course of the story, the woman, remembering a teenage contemporary called Hanzi who wore a Leibchen, asks her lover Franz whether he wore one also. The passage describes how many teenage boys in Germany after World War II wore Leibchens. Some mothers insisted on this, primarily to ensure that their sons were warmly dressed. The boys wore Leibchen with long stockings under their short pants. The older boys felt embarassed by this. Here is the passage in Maron's book: "Then I ask Franz the question that provokes overly hearty laughter in every man of my generation [i.e. those who were teenagers during the post-War period], if he has to answer in the affirmative, and most do. The question is about the Leibchen, the little bodice that must be described in every detail as soon as the word is pronounced. This shirtlike garment buttoned down the front or back, with long garters attached [usually four garters]. It was imposed on boys and girls alike, but it was particularly humiliating for boys. I remember very clearly the garters pulled taut over Hansi's thighs between his short pant legs and his dark-brown, ribbed cotton stockings with white buttons attached to them for the garters. Later Hansi [when he reached 15] was allowed to wear long pants, while I was put in a stupid satin feminine undergarment imbued with a certain embarrassment, a so-called garter belt or hip girdle .... I often thought of Hansi's innocent boyish thighs and the hated bodice, which I was now no longer allowed to wear [because my mother insisted that I also now wear a bra]. Franz admitted that he had to wear this Leibchen .... But his mother, who was a great admirer of masculine virtue ... wouldn't inflict this humiliation on her son any longer than absolutely necessary." [pp. 53-54.] This passage reflects first-hand knowledge of the Leibchen and the dislike that many German teenage boys felt for it in the period from about 1945-1955. The German Hosiery Museum corroborates the negative attitude in one of its notes on its display of the Leibchen. Earlier, during the 1920s and 1930s when nearly all German boys wore the Leibchen, the practice seems to have been accepted with less protest because it was so usual. It is interesting that this passage reflects the boys' discomfort with the fact that the garters sometimes showed if the short pants were too brief and one could see the metal clasp or white button of the attachment.


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Created: 8:08 PM 11/19/2005
Last updated: 6:34 PM 11/20/2005