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     You are here
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

 

When it was dark

When it was darkHow should historians treat a despised book when it contains a well-written description of something central to the story being told? Omit the passage, or leave it in? It's not a new problem, and we do not have to be writing about world-shattering events to come across it, though I hardly expected it when I started researching the Victorian Turkish bath. I included an excerpt from this particular book when I started these pages a decade or more ago when it was out of print and long forgotten.

Guy Thorne's When it was dark: the story of a great conspiracy was, after all, published in 1903 and was praised by the then Bishops of London and Exeter. It was for a time extremely popular, representing views which were widely held at a time when organised religion was more strident than it is today.

This is a book which, in 1972, Claud Cockburn described as a 'stew of spicy cunning, gross pomposity, wild melodrama, heavy religiosity, anti-Semitism and acute class-consciousness'. Yet, as a disturbing sign of the times we are moving into, the major online book retailer today lists five new reprints published between 2012 and 2018.

I believe the book as a whole is better left unread, yet I have, rightly or wrongly, included it's description of a visit to the Jermyn Street Hammam at the turn of the century because nothing else describes it as it was at this time so accurately.

Thorne, like Trollope and Galsworthy, also sends one of his characters to the London Hammam for de-stressing. But unlike Trollope's short story, which describes some of the customs at the Hammam in a gently humorous manner, Thorne's novel describes the procedures in a more straightforward way. The author also emphasizes how relaxing it is for those with problems on their minds. No wonder that this excerpt was reprinted in the Hammam brochure until, at least, the late 1920s.

After breakfast, the lunch time of most of the world, he found it impossible to settle down to anything. He was not due at the office that night, and the long hours, without the excitement of his work, stretched rather hopelessly before him. He thought of paying calls in various parts of the West End, where he had friends whom he had rather neglected of late. But he dismissed that idea when it came, for he did not feel as if he could make himself very agreeable to anyone.

He wanted a complete change of some sort. He half thought of running down to Brighton, fighting the cold, bracing sea winds on the lawns at Hove, and returning the next day.

He was certainly out of sorts—liverish, no doubt—and the solution of his difficulties presented itself to him in the project of a Turkish bath.

He put his correspondence into the pocket of his overcoat, to be read at leisure, and drove to a Hammam in Jermyn Street.

The physical warmth, the silence, the dim lights and Oriental decorations induced a supreme sense of comfort and bien être. It brought Constantinople back to him in vague reverie.

Perhaps, he thought, the Hammam in London is the only easy way to obtain a sudden and absolute change of environment. Nothing else brings detachment so readily, is so instinct with change and the unusual.

In delightful languor, he passed from one dim chamber to another, lying prone in the great heat which surrounded him like a cloak. Then the vigorous kneading and massage, the gradual toning and renovating of each joint and muscle, till he stood drenched in aromatic foam, a new, fresh physical personality. The swift dive under the indiarubber curtain left behind the domed, dim places of heat and silence. He plunged through the bottle-green water of the marble pool into the hall, where lounges stood about by small inlaid octagonal tables, and a thin whip of a fountain tinkled among green palms. Wrapped from head to foot in white towels, he lay in a dream of contentment, watching the delicate spirals from his Cairene cigarette, sipping the brown froth of a tiny cup of thick coffee.

At four, an attendant dressed in Turkish costume brought him a sole and a bottle of excellent wine, and after the light meal he fell once more into a placid restorative sleep…

At length, as night was falling, Spence went out into the lighted streets with their sudden rush of welcome. He was immensely refreshed in brain and body. His thoughts moved quickly and well, depression had left him, the activity of his brain was increasing.

When it was dark: the story of a great conspiracy Guy Thorne [ie, Cyril Arthur Edward Ranger Gull] (Greening, 1903)

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