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Monday, May 2, 2016

Charles Kingsley & E. F. Benson on the Importance of Bathing: Part 1

The Church House Inn in Holne, England,
where Charles Kingsley wrote his 1863 novel
The Water Babies

Recently, my wife suggested that we watch the TV series based on E. F. Benson's novel Mapp & Lucia, and that I should read another E. F. Benson novel. While I'm not sure what prompted this suggestion, I enjoyed watching the TV series again. I also enjoyed reading The Babe, a novel E. F. Benson wrote in 1897. Like his previous novel, Limitations, it affords us a view of undergraduate life at Cambridge University in England. This time, however, Benson's tale is more humorous and colorful. While it's not a perfect comparison, the novel reminded me The Adventures of Verdant Green by Cuthbert M Bede, which takes place at Oxford, England's other great university town.

Just as interesting and quirky as Verdant Green's friends, the title character of The Babe is a celebrated rugby player who drops colorful quotes in casual conversation, and lives a life of easy and comfort while, perhaps, he should be studying. Here's one such quote:

I hate water except when it’s a hot bath. Water is meant not to drink, but to heat and wash in.”

“Babe, do you mean to say you have hot baths in the morning?”

“Invariably when the weather is cold, and a cigarette, whatever the weather is. I am no Charles Kingsley, though I used to collect butterflies when I was a child.”
--from The Babe by E. F. Benson

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that last year's trip to England took me to several places mentioned in Charles Kingsley's 1855 novel Westward Ho! These included Bideford and Clovelly, the latter a town on the coast of Devon where he spent his childhood. My wife and I also visited the tiny village of Holne, located on the outskirts of Dartmoor National Forest, where he was born. There we saw a church with a Charles Kingsley stain glass window, and a rare public house owned by the Church of England. Inside, the bartender kindly showed us the Charles Kingsley room, where the writer reportedly wrote part of his children's novel The Water Babies, and shared with us a little of his affection for the story.

The bartender never mentioned anything about Charles Kingsley's attitudes on bathing, but the tiny room had its own fireplace, and smoke from that fire must have seeped into Kingsley's clothes while he wrote. So perhaps, after a few hours of writing, especially in the winter, he might have felt he needed a bath. But that's what writing, and reading a great story is like. After immersing yourself in another world, you awaken in this one, and realize that you need to do something to enhance your life.

Bathing is a small way you can do that, I suppose. Personally, I much prefer travel, although bathing is cheaper, which means I can do it more often. Still, if I were to total up the cost of each day's hot water...

Dragon Dave

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