In which the Wenches digress from ladies in the bath to Lord Byron in canals of Venice, along with a few naked Frenchmen, English kings, and Greek kouroi for good measure….
SS: Loretta, you’re the Byron expert here, and I know Lord B. liked to swim. Have you any idea of what he was wearing while he explored the, ah, beaches around Greece?
LC: My instinct is to answer that Byron would of course swim naked, no matter where he was. Swimming, he couldn’t hide his deformed foot, so what would be the point of hiding anything else? He really was more Georgian in his thinking than what we think of as Regency, and even for his time, he was pretty wild. He was also very direct in his speech, noting, after the outraged reaction to Don Juan, "…the outcry has frightened me.-I had such projects for the Don–but the Cant is so much stronger than C–t [meaning the other monosyllable]–now a days…" So I simply cannot imagine him swimming in anything but the altogether.
JO: We really do miscalculate the early 19th century in this respect, I think. In many ways it was still very Georgian, very bawdy and free-spirited, but changing rapidly, leading to conflicts. Byron is probably a prime example.
LC: I will see if I can find out exactly what Byron did or didn’t wear–he swam Venice’s Great Canal, too, BTW, in a race with somebody–but swimming attire is one of those taken-for-granted aspects of life men seldom bothered to mention in their letters & journals. Today, OTOH, we women at least might mention a style of swimsuit we prefer, and which men, if any, should wear Speedos–but today it’s taken for granted that one wears swimwear, except on a nude beach.
SS: My guess would be that he was especially proud of his swimming ability because, unlike running,his deformity wasn’t a factor in the water. Of course, he found plenty of other places where it wasn’t an issue, either. *g*
My favorite King Charles was a famous (or notorious?) swimmer, often rising at five to go swimming in the Thames while his attendants shivered on the riverbank. No mention of what he was wearing, though; would a king go skinny-dipping in the middle of London?
EL: King Charles ll would go skinny dipping anywhere he wanted to.
There’s a reason he’s just about my fav monarch.
LC: As to King Charles II–I am with Edith in thinking if anyone could be buck naked in the Thames, it would be the king–and he’s my favorite, too.
SS: I think it’s pretty safe to say that Charles certainly did. Whenever his appearance is described by contemporaries, his great height (he was over six feet tall, towering over most of his 17th century subjects) and the proportionate size of the rest of him were great cause for wonder, and national pride as well. When Lord Rochester wrote of the king "Nor are his high desires above his strength/His sceptre and his [you can fill in the word, oh, worldly Wench readers] are of a length", no one questioned the earl’s statement.
And yes, Edith, he’s my favorite king, too. *g*
JO: As I see it they had a completely different attitude to male nudity, which was part of the reason for keeping some areas/activities for men only. These romantic heroines who absolutely insist on invading such places probably got some surprises. Again, somewhere, I have a print of boys swimming in the Thames, all starkers, and I’m sure I’ve come across references to men swimming naked in rivers and such. There were no approved swimming clothes and why get something wet?
I also have references to "open" bathing in Brighton (without a bathing hut), for both men and women, on different and widely separated beaches. It’s not clear whether they bathed naked or in very light clothing (which when wet would be as good as) but it was considered indecent and outlawed in 1806. The following implies to me that he was naked.
One man did it anyway. From the Morning Herald, August 28th 1806. "The greatest novelty, however, that this part of the coast exhibited this morning was in a gentleman undressing himself on the beach for the purpose of a ducking, in front of the town, attended by his lady, who sans diffidence, supplied him with napkins, and even assisted him in wiping the humid effects of his exercise from his brawny limbs, as he returned from the water to dress." (Quoted in BRIGHTON IN THE OLDEN TIMES by John George Bishop, , 1892.) He was fined five pounds, quite a hefty sum then, which seems to have discouraged the practice, but not obliterated it. Also, on the men’s beach, even using machines, it was often possible to see the bathers. (They didn’t usually swim, merely take a "dipping." Which is why the gender segregated beaches were off limits, and also why telescopes were popular with the ladies as well as the gentleme — especially before the bylaw!
SK: There’s the Rembrandt painting of Hendrijcke Stoffels, his common-law wife, going for a dip in a pool — her clothes are slung on a rock behind her, and she’s wading into the water with her shift hiked up. No skinny-dipping going on there. And naked in bed, or not — there’s another by the same artist showing a woman in bed — she’s wearing a shift, with shoulder and arm exposed. Rembrandt’s a good source because he’s often painting what he sees, even with posed models, so real life details are very reliable.
There’s always lots of nakedness in art, natch — and young ladies in the 19th c. would naturally see it, and be free to examine great works of art, despite the amount of anatomical correctness on display. Oooooooh let’s go look at the Greek statues…. *g*
SS: Maybe during the Regency, but by high Victorian times, it’s a different story. The mid-19th century marks the appearances of fig leaves and extra drapes added to museum statues. Women artists were forbidden to sketch nudes, and banned from life drawing classes. Art collections were definitely segregated, too, with certain exhibitions not open to the ladies. Even in the much more open 18th century, the true connissieurs of classical art with a naked or erotic turn were all gentlemen and their collections very private, with no ladies allowed to the party. Like these gentlemen in 1781 — "Charles Towneley and His Friends" by Johann Zoffany, who are most properly dressed to study the naked classical stautes.
JO: Just as a counterpoint, I do have this photo of a very erotic statue from the Lady Lever Gallery. I think it’s Victorian, but I’m not sure right off hand and I don’t know where it was displayed. Lacking in anatomical detail, though. Who was it — Ruskin? — who was shocked to find his wife had pubic hair?
SS: Yeah, Ruskin. Supposedly that was enough of a shock on his wedding night to make him swear off his new wife entirely. One wonders what her reaction must have been to HIM.
SK: Egyptian wall paintings, Greek vases (anatomically correct), and of course lots of erotica in Greek and Roman art, no modesty gettin’ in the way there. Though it’s questionable whether some of the stronger stuff would be available to Regency heroines, for example. Earlier we talked about medieval bath scenes…in medieval art, couples were sometimes shown in sexual situations, though they’re mostly demure images of lovers tucked snug in bed, though with a trace of raunchy now and then.
And there’s the well-known February image from Tres Riches Heures — a man and a woman warm themselves by the fire, revealing themselves as buck-naked under their clothing and not too worried about letting it all hang out, while the lady with them is much more demure, keeping her knees (and crotch) covered. So there’s a class difference in attitudes of modesty recorded by the artist.
Nudity was prevalent in the Renaissance, of course — just lots of respect for and curiosity about the body. In every era there are erotic and pornographic images produced (the Italians being real champs at this, and the French and even the English no slouches either), so it’s almost impossible to make a blanket statement about they did, or they didn’t, show nudity and nekkidness in art in this, that, era.
While we’re talking nakedness, a word about the Scots (since I write Scottish most of the time) — there’s always the tired old joke, and natural curiosity, concerning what Scotsmen wear, or wore, under their kilts. Some of the time nothing at all, yes it’s true. Some of the time, black or dark underwear (modern guys). Early on, since shirts were long and multi-purpose garments, shirttails were often wrapped fore and aft (diaper style–not very sexy but nonetheless the case) — and tucked up to be held in place by the belted plaid.
As Susan Miranda pointed out in her Shirt Blog, there’s a reason shirts were changed and laundered often. There’s a clan battle well-known in Scottish history, Blar na Leine, traditionally known as Field of the Shirts– the Highlanders on both sides stripped away their plaids and fought in their shirts, or completely naked on a hot July day in 1544. This shows the freedom that Scotsmen felt, even in the 16th c., to strip down and go at it like ancient Celtic warriors (who were known for fighting stark naked.
And Scottish women, who were often described as very modest but affectionate in greeting in every century, including the 19th, would very often be seen with bare feet — even well-born ladies on occasion (such as the Duchess of Queensberry, but she mostly did whatever she wanted). 😉
Jo: One of the travelers to England in the early 19th century noted that children were nearly always barefoot. So many lovely details, some of which I deliberately ignore when writing because they would at least distact and maybe dismay the reader, who I want to be lost in my story.
SS: Most children in America were barefoot, too, esp. in summer, and well into the 20th century. Shoes were expensive, and as every parent can testify, those little feet sure do grow fast!
JO: It’s true we can include more historical detail in a historical novel, but I’m really talking about the jarring detail. It might be true, but the reader is disrupted enough to be jerked out of the story. Of course, if we’ve created great trust, they’ll absorb and read on, fascinated. We can hope.
Early in Vic Gattrell’s CITY OF LAUGHTER, there’s a Gillray print of 1782, showing Lady Worsley bathing. This is not a bathtub but one of those step-down baths–like a swimming pool–usually found in outbuildings. She’s holding a cloth in front of her nether regions, but she’s otherwise naked–and her husband has hoisted another man onto his shoulders so the other guy can peek through a high window at Lady Worsley. The print is titled "Sir Richard Worse-than-Sly, Exposing his Wifes Bottom—O Fye!" This print was published during the Worsley divorce case.
JO: One of the quotes I found relates to that voyeur/bathing scandal. "It was proven, for example, that at the Bath in Maidstone, Worsley had raised Bissett upon his shoulders so that Bissett could view his naked wife bathing." (This is from TRIALS OF LOVE, the guidebook to a Valentine’s Day exhibit at the Harvard Law Library. This has led to a database, but at a quick glance I don’t see how to access it. Can anyone here figure it out? I’m pressed for time right now. Studies In Scarlet database) I can’t find any more yet about a baths along the lines of the ones in Bath, at Maidstone. It’s clear the event took place at a public baths, but some people did have those "Roman Baths" in their houses. They were quite the thing. I used that in Dragon’s Bride.
LC: According to CITY OF LAUGHTER’s Introduction (it deals with 18th century through Regency, mainly), "People do appear to have experienced their bodies differently then. Both sexes dressed their bodies differently from us, and they thought about and had sex differently also (less nudity and orality and more standing up than today, it seems)." The authors sees a change in attitude–increased taboos, prudery–in and after the 1820s, which I, too, feel was the case. Regarding positions and how much clothing, here’s a link to some Rowlandson erotica (BE WARNED: These are explicit).
There’s another naked lady in CITY OF LAUGHTER. This print is from 1803, artist anonymous. It’s four panels. "A Backside and Front View of a Modern Fine Lady…or the Swimming Venus of Ramsgate." Again, it’s not a lady in a bathtub. But this is interesting, because I was under the impression that women wore bathing dresses in the sea.
Then we have NYMPHS BATHING, 1810, another anonymous artist–and a cruel one. Ten naked women, all with less than nymph-like figures, again at the sea (or perhaps a lake).
SS: Oh, this is such a FANTASTIC book, Loretta! (City of Laughter: Sex & Satire in Eighteenth-Century London by Vic Gatrell) Anyone who’s interested in this time period should really get thee posthaste to a copy of their own. The scores of illustrations and images are often shown for the first time, and in beautiful, lavish color. And where else will you find examples of the bawdy jokes printed in late 18th century ladies’s magazines? Highly readable, and highly reccommended.
JO: There’s more in Trials of Love that relevant here.
From the trial of Georgina Ann Fawkener for adultery with the Rt Hon. John, Lord Townsend c 1791 "Though he had not witnessed any act of adultery, Pezzy (a servant) deposed that he believed the two to have ‘slept naked and alone in the one and the same bed together…’"
Viscountess Elmore for adultery with the Earl of Ancram, c 1793
These lovers went off together to Calais, so I don’t suppose the details were in much doubt, but their cook there deposed that "the whole of the said time slept in one and the same bed together naked and alone."
There’s a formula to this "naked and alone" that suggests that sleeping together wasn’t complete proof, especially if others were there, too. That makes sense, given that travelers often did that if beds were scarce. (Something else not exploited in romances as best I know.) So, sharing a bed wouldn’t clinch it if they had clothing on or others were present. They might consider underwear "naked", but I don’t think so.
LC: Given the OED definitions, I’m guessing that some of the couples were nude and some were not. We really can’t be positive what they meant by naked–or even nude, considering that so many equated Grecian costume with nudity. Still, even sleeping together wearing only an undergarment would be incriminating. At this point, my feeling is–as with so much else–one cannot make a pronouncement, beyond "Some did and some didn’t sometimes and sometimes not." And so we needn’t clothe our heroines for a bath, and it’s OK for H/H to get naked together.
SS: One more illustration from 1822 — "Making Decent" by George Cruikshank — from CITY OF LAUGHTER to demonstrate the coming prudishness of the Victorian age. A tiny crusading Mr. Wilberforce tries to hide the genitals of the giant nude statue of Achilles in Hyde Park with his hat. The caption reads: "A hint to the Society for the Suppression of Vice…This print commemorative of Anglo French brass and true British chastity, is inscribed with veneration to that worthy man Mr. Willbyforce who with saintlike regard for the morals of his country has undertaken to make the above figure decent from 10 in the mg. till dusk."
Yes, the cartoon’s in jest, but it sure looks like the bawdy ol’ times of the Regency and earlier are coming to an end….
SK: A very good example would be the Elgin marbles, which I think were in place in the British Museum in 1816, certainly known in engravings before that date. The heroic nude males of the pediments and metopes would be highly instructive sights for Regency ladies, and it would be sooooo very proper to appreciate them…and worthy of not only viewing, but sketching, too, enabling the ladies to study them freely in detail. Kouroi figures in museum collections would also be excellent examples of male nudity, and likely to raise female curiosity. One of the hallmarks of the Kouroi is that they are young men, where a good number of the Elgin dudes are more mature men.
The Elgin Marbles were a very big deal at the time they were put in place, with crowds lining up to see these things, stolen out of Greece with nary a flicker of conscience. *g* Nor were they the only examples of nude sculpture. It would be nearly impossible for ladies to avoid seeing male nudity in art, as Jo points out, with grand house collections of fine art. Library collections would have them too, since engravings in books were a major way to view great art. Greek, Roman, Renaissance, Baroque, there were nude boys and men all along the way, as we’ve all pointed out in our blogs.
Engravings of the Sistine, of the Florence David, of Bernini and Donatello, etc., would be very instructive, but wow, there’s nothing like that 3D sculpture experience. There had to be a good proportion of young ladies in the Brit Mus crowds, perhaps told to look away by their guardians and escorts–and of course many young ladies might have peeked. Sketching art was popular and approved, too, wasn’t it?
The Romans could sometimes be prudish, adding fig leaves and strategic drapery to copies of Greek originals, and there was plenty of Roman art about in Europe and Britain by the 19th century. But in genuine ancient Greek art, the Greeks went for the whole enchilada without qualm. With more Greek art finding its way into Britain–ahh, very nice education! (btw, one way to ID a Roman copy of a Greek original — look for the tree trunk growing out of the leg; when copying, Roman engineer-brains didn’t always trust the physics of the pieces, although the Greek sculptures, especially peak Hellenistic pieces, might have been standing without props, beautifully balanced, for centuries). Anyway, all very illuminating for proper young heroines!
JO: That’s the sort of "exposure" I meant for our Regency ladies. So very educational! Come to think of it, even in my younger days such works of arts were much appreciated.*G*
PR: And so comes an end to the Wenches’ First Naked Anniversary! I hope all of you have enjoyed the illuminating repartee in our exclusive salon. We have certainly enjoyed the company and hope you will continue to return to add to the general merriment. Have a wonderful weekend, one and all!