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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Charles Kingsley & E. F. Benson on the Importance of Bathing: Part 2

The front yard of The Church House Inn
in Charles Kingsley's birthplace of
Holne, England

"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

Apparently, the washing that The Babe is referring to in E. F. Benson's novel refers to a character in The Water Babies, a Charles Kingsley novel that I have yet to read. A quick Google search led me to a preview of a book called If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley. Here's a short passage from Worsley's book:

The poor little chimney sweep in Charles Kingsley's Victorian children's story The Water Babies learned that he could only go to heaven if he kept himself clean. He needed to "work very hard and wash very hard" before he could be considered worthy.

According to Worsley, Charles Kingsley wrote this at a time in which the public attitude toward bathing was changing. Although it seems odd to us today, the people of Kingsley's day were only beginning to realize that regularly cleaning the body could promote health and prevent illness. Many still felt that bathing was a wasteful use of water, if not downright dangerous, as it could cause people to catch a cold or some more debilitating illness. 

This was the second Charles Kingsley reference that the Babe offers in E. F. Benson's novel, and unlike the first, which I understood, this one I decided to investigate. I'm glad my wife suggested that I read another novel by E. F. Benson, as his stories always bring me such pleasure. The Babe certainly offers a nice change of pace, after immersing myself for so long in Shirley by Charlotte Bronte. 

As with Bronte and Kingsley, Benson liberally peppers his novels with references that I feel compelled to check out, such as the Charles Kingsley association with bathing. As with bathing, researching those references takes time, but leaves me feeling as if I learned something important. Unfortunately, hunting down those references can prove equally dangerous as bathing, as it takes time away from my fiction writing, just like catching a cold, the flu, or some other illness. 

As with anything else is life, E. F. Benson's novels offer a wealth of knowledge and delight. Yet they can also prove dangerous, as my example of research, and writing these two blog posts, has demonstrated. Therefore, I must caution you when approaching any of the Benson's novels: Read with care!

Dragon Dave

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