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Turkish baths in fiction:

notes on some of the baths that are imaginary,
and on some of the ones that are real

Adams, Nene - The Madonna of the sorrows     Saki - The Recessional
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      You are here
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 CityJoyce, James - Ulysses    

Daughters of Albion  You can print this page -- Click for printer-friendly version

Daughters of AlbionDaughters of Albion, the last volume of a trilogy by A N Wilson called The Lampitt papers, is included here even though it is not completely clear whether Wilson's Miller Street baths were actually Turkish or Russian. But reference to steam and heat tends to indicate that inclusion would be acceptable. There are, of course, many books, such as Kerry Greenwood's delightful Cocaine blues, that it would have been a pleasure to include—had Melbourne's Little Lonsdale Street Turkish baths actually been Turkish. But although there were Victorian Turkish baths round the corner in Lonsdale Street from 1860 until the 1920s, it is unlikely that they would have been a distribution centre for drugs. Or would it?

Wilson's Miller Street baths, however, may have been an establishment where some bathers went for a different type of pleasure and satisfaction.

I was not so naïf as to suppose that everyone attended Turkish baths purely for the enjoyment of steam and heat. The proximity of scantily clad sweating male bodies never happened to be a temptation to myself, but—chacun á son goût. I had never seen any man at the Miller Street baths behaving in a remotely suggestive manner, but for some reason on this occasion, the hand of my near neighbour, even though it was not yet touching me, made me think that I was unquestionably in the presence of a man on the prowl for a sexual partner. It seemed the moment to cross one's legs and fold one's arms.

While there do not seem to have been any totally gay Turkish baths in the British Isles (as there are, for example, in the United States),10 there were some establishments where sexual activity could be found, especially those which remained open all night. Many more were known to be gay tolerant, even if overt sexual activity was (from time to time) discouraged.

It is difficult to discover whether such baths were to be found in the nineteenth century.11 In the 1920s and '30s, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in the UK, but there were certainly Turkish baths where 'men forged a public sexual culture with its own protocols and micro-geography which was remarkably insulated from surveillance and hostility: a functionally private and queer tolerant space in which they could meet friends, relax and enjoy sexual encounters without fear.'12

Daughters of Albion AN Wilson (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991)

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