Shell of a Woman | Skillshare Projects

Carrie King

Your heart inside my chest.



Shell of a Woman

Read final draft here


I chose Pauline Barrett's story from The Spoon River Anthology because it is extremely uncomfortable. (Thank you for the inspiration JF and Herbert White!) 

So uncomfortable that I can barely read it. It not only exposes a horrific time in medicine but also speaks boldly to society's timeless obsession with the woman's body as her measure of value. 

I am SO tired of that obession. What has really changed in the last 100 years? I decided to keep it in the early 1900s like the original text (I know this makes it more expensive to produce but this is where the story took me naturally) - it's a fascinating time to explore women and the age old battle of self identity that still resonates with us today. 

ORIGINAL TEXT by Edgar Lee Masters

Pauline Barrett (from The Spoon River Anthology)

ALMOST the shell of a woman after the surgeon’s knife And almost a year to creep back into strength,
Till the dawn of our wedding decennial
Found me my seeming self again.

We walked the forest together,
By a path of soundless moss and turf.
But I could not look in your eyes,
And you could not look in my eyes,
For such sorrow was ours—the beginning of gray in your

And I but a shell of myself.

And what did we talk of?— sky and water, Anything, ‘most, to hide our thoughts.
And then your gift of wild roses,
Set on the table to grace our dinner.

Poor heart, how bravely you struggled
To imagine and live a remembered rapture!
Then my spirit drooped as the night came on,
And you left me alone in my room for a while,
As you did when I was a bride, poor heart.
And I looked in the mirror and something said: “One should be all dead when one is half-dead—” Nor ever mock life, nor ever cheat love.”
And I did it looking there in the mirror—
Dear, have you ever understood? 


HISTORY to explore: (I keep digging up so many sad and horrifiying and interesting facts - deforming surgery, drugs for 'female problems', the creation of the first bra - there would be a lot of fascinating material to work with/explore to take this even further than a short) 

The Halsted radical mastectomy in the early 1900s (according to wiki)-  is a surgical procedure in which the breast, underlying chest muscle and lymph nodes of the axilla are removed as a treatment for breast cancer.  This often led to long-term pain and disability, but was seen as necessary in order to prevent the cancer from recurring. 20-year survival rates with Halsted's surgery were 50%.

The operation was very stressful for women, because, in many cases, they would go under anesthesia not knowing whether a suspicious lump was malignant or not and wake up to find that a radical mastectomy had been performed.

Medication: Opiates were popular in the United States throughout the 19th century, particularly among women. Tonics and elixirs containing opium were readily available in drugstores, and doctors commonly prescribed opiates for upper and middle class women suffering from neurasthenia and other "female problems."

Corsets: In the early 1900s, the corset was used to accentuate the feminine “hourglass” form, which was highly regarded at the time. The bra as we know it today was invented in 1913 by New York socialite, Mary Phelps Jacob, when she fashioned two silk handkerchiefs and some ribbon since a corset wouldn’t work under her figure-fitting, silky gown. She patented her creation in 1914, which Warner bought the next year;  the company began producing millions of bras for American women. ( 

First thoughts/emotions: emptiness, shame, failure, broken, trapped, unworthy, will never be enough, a piece of flesh somehow overvaluing a piece of soul

Imagery/symbolism brainstorm: her wedding dress, the wild roses (thorns), the mirror, the silent wood, early 1900s corsets and women in advertising - the focus on curves


Listening to: I envision this with its own original music and editing like Drive and Great Gatsby. 

Example: Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Rey - I imagine Pauline asking this question to herself "will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful?" 


For extra drama: Listen to Lana Del Ray's Young & Beautiful while reading. 

FINAL draft: HERE (Final revisions, little tweaks, trying to solidify the reveal at the end) 

Third draft: HERE (Tried to build more tension in the last scene but still debating between this ending and the one in Draft 2 - feedback please!) 

Second draft HERE.  (Different approach to woman off screen and the ending - researched and implemented more historical accuracy).

First draft HERE. 

Relying on good feedback as I continue to work on drafts & the logline. Thank you for your time and energy!


In the early 1900s, a small town's beauty queen is left deformed after a horrific yet common breast-cancer surgery—which only makes her more vulnerable to an even deadlier enemy.


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