Turkish baths in fiction:
notes on some of the baths that are imaginary,
and on some of the ones that are real

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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline
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Original page
Adams, Nene - The Madonna of the Sorrows     Saki - The Chronicles of Clovis
Bartlett, Neil - Mr Clive and Mr Page     Thorne, Guy - When it was dark
Galsworthy, John - In Chancery     Waugh, Alec - Kept
Ibbotson, Eva - Morning gift     Wentworth-James, G - A Mental marriage
Moore, George - Esther Waters     Wilson, AN - Daughters of Albion
Rita - The mystery of a Turkish bath    
Doyle, Arthur Conan - Sherlock Holmes     Trollope, Anthony - The Turkish bath
Hornung, EW - The chest of silver     Woodhouse, PG - Psmith in the City
Joyce, James - Ulysses    



Introduction and Arrangement of notes & Other baths list

Although no attempt has been specifically made to identify all works of fiction which mention Victorian or Victorian-style Turkish baths, some have inevitably come to light. Many are passing references which are not worth following through.

Sometimes, though, we discover information which is unavailable elsewhere, as is the case with the mention of Bartholomew's Leicester Square Turkish Baths in Eva Ibbotson's Morning gift.

But in using works of fiction as sources for history, we have to be very careful. Especially is this important when we know that an author was a bather at a particular establishment as, for example, was Trollope at the Jermyn Street Hammam.

Trollope describes much of the bathing procedure at the Hammam, sometimes with tongue in cheek, gently poking fun at such practices as the way bathers wrap their towels around themselves.

But it is important to realise that however realistic such a description may seem, it is, after all, part of a work of fiction. And treating every part of a fictional description of the bath as being totally accurate has caused a number of historians and literary critics to make false claims about the Hammam to support their own pet theories.

John Potvin, a Canadian academic, for example, gives one of his papers the title Vapour and steam: the Victorian Turkish bath, homosocial health, and male bodies on display. Another is tantalisingly called Hot by design: the secret life of a Turkish bath in Victorian London. Yet the inclusion of the words ‘vapour’ and ‘steam’ is nonsensical when the whole object of the Victorian Turkish bath was to enable the body to sweat profusely by means of hot dry air. Part of a chapter in my book (chapter 27) discusses this in greater detail.

What is included, and how the notes are arranged

Entries fall into one of three categories:

a.    when the Turkish bath is fictional, it is reached from one of the linked GREEN buttons at the top of this page;

b.   when the bath is, or was, a real establishment, then it is either included on the page which deals with the baths, if the bath has already been written up—in which case it can be reached from one of the linked RED buttons at the top of this page—or, if the bath has not yet been written up, it is reached from one of the linked GREEN buttons at the top of this page;

c.    when I haven't yet decided whether to write about a book, or haven't yet had time to do so, it is listed below.

Other works of fiction mentioning Turkish baths

Jepson, Edgar and Eustace, Robert The Tea-leaf
    London: Savoy Turkish Baths, 92 Jermyn Street [named Duke Street]
A short story about a mysterious death in a London Turkish bath.
    The world's best one hundred detective stories. Vol.1, — New York: Funk & Wagnall, 1929.

McLeod, Nanzie Tales of the Arlington
    Glasgow: Arlington Baths Club, 61 Arlington Street
Using personal memories, club anecdotes and some imagination, Nanzie, a member since 1936, has written fifteen stories which span the last sixty years of this elegant Victorian swimming establishment.
    Tales of the Arlington Nanzie McLeod (Glasgow: Hyndland, 1996)

Mansfield, Katherine Bains Turcs
    [Unspecified baths, in Geneva, Switzerland]
A short story revealing a clash of cultures in a women's Turkish bath in Geneva, one of three stories she wrote while staying in the largest city in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Some writers have suggested that the baths were in Germany and were inspired by Mansfield's time there at a hydropathic spa. But the quick in-and-out, third storey baths in Bains Turcs are quite different from those in her story The Luft Bad in the collection In a German pension.
    Something childish, and other stories Katherine Mansfield (Constable,[1924])

Massie, Allan Change and decay in all around I see
    London: Savoy Turkish Baths, 92 Jermyn Street
Atwater, the novel's eccentric hero lives in the Savoy Turkish Baths in Jermyn Street because, 'It's convenient and they ask no questions.' Massie partly describes the baths by implication, as when he writes that living there suggested to some, incorrectly, that Atwood was gay, that the place was like a rabbit warren, and that the rooms had underfloor heating rather than hot air which circulated through the hot rooms in turn.
    Change and decay in all around I see Allan Massie (Bodley Head, 1978)

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