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     You are here
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    




KeptAlec Waugh's novel Kept was first published in 1925 and is subtitled—on the jacket blurb, rather than on the title page—'a London story of 1924.' Well into the book, Simon Merivale arranges to meet one of the two main characters, Ransom Heritage, in the Turkish baths at the Royal Automobile Club in London's Pall Mall. The short description of the Turkish bath tells us a little about the baths six years after its First World War requisition.

There can be few places more utterly reposeful than a Turkish bath. It is the negation of all effort, the parody of death. Behind you at the door you leave your worldly goods, your watch, your keys, your diary, your money. You take with you only the masseur's tip.

'As the dead,' murmured Merivale, 'carry their two pences to Charon.'

A boy kneels at your feet to unlace your shoes. With silent, unassertive tread you pass into that muted atmosphere. The attendant who directs you to your cubicle does not raise his voice above a whisper; like some ghostly ministrant he draws your curtain, switches on your light, leaves two towels beside you on the couch. You do not speak as you undress, you wrap the towels about you and walk to the place of judgment, the implacable tribunal, the tall brass weighing-machine that does not lie, that deals out with bandaged eyes to the rich and poor, the just and the unjust, the fat and the thin, impartial justice… And you step from the platform and push open the swinging soundless door, and the immense mantle of heat is cast upon you, and you sink into a canvas chair and are at peace.

For a few moments you turn listlessly the pages of an evening paper, then even the effort of reading grows excessive, and you lie back waiting for the fine dew of sweat to break out along your legs and arms. You are safe, armoured, shut away. For two hours nothing can molest you. All is quiet. Only an occasional murmur of conversation, the rustle of a newspaper, the clap of hands to summon some swift and silent servitor.'

Kept Alec Waugh (WH Allen, 1973)

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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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