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     You are here
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    



The recessional  

The chronicles of ClovisSaki (H H Munro), sets The Recessional, one of the stories in The Chronicles of Clovis in a Turkish bath in Jermyn Street. But the establishment is not referred to as the Hammam and, since there were two Turkish baths in Jermyn Street between 1910 and 1941, it is not known which one is the setting for the story, which begins:

Clovis sat in the hottest zone but two of a Turkish bath, alternately inert in statuesque contemplation and rapidly manoeuvring a fountain-pen over the pages of a note-book…

It is tempting to suggest that the story takes place inside the establishment at No.92 simply because it is difficult to imagine anyone using a pen in a hot room at the London Hammam—but this is pure conjecture.

In a second story from the same collection called Filboid Studge, no specific establishment is named, but Saki well observes a frequently found unwillingness to admit going to a Turkish bath for enjoyment. This influenced many of the advertisements for early Turkish baths—and can still be encountered today.

Spayley had grasped the fact that people will do things from a sense of duty which they would never attempt as a pleasure. There are thousands of respectable middle-class men who, if you found them unexpectedly in a Turkish bath, would explain in all sincerity that a doctor had ordered them to take Turkish baths; if you told them in return that you went there because you liked it, they would stare in pained wonder at the frivolity of your motive.

It seems quite possible that this attitude originated as a response to early disapproval of the Turkish bath by many doctors who saw its ability to alleviate the pain of sufferers from complaints such as rheumatism as a threat to their livelihood. It was felt that ordinary people should only visit a Turkish bath under the supervision of a doctor. Unfortunately, many patients continued to bathe there even after they were no longer ill. As a certain Dr Richardson remarked of the bath in the austere pages of the British Medical Journal:

From the use of the heated air bath as a therapeutical agent to its use as a social enjoyment or luxury, is a wide step, and a step which I, for one, hold back from taking. It seems to be the misfortune of this remedy, that its administration is for a time attended by a sensation of great pleasure and satisfaction…

The Chronicles of Clovis 'Saki' [ie, H H Munro] (John Lane, 1912)

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