OK, so it usually isn’t this hot in England…The thermometer hit 108 in St. Louis (where my son lives) yesterday, and 106 the day before. Here in Northern Iowa, it was in the upper 90s. But…I have always wondered what did the English do to keep cool? Those skin tight pants and coats on the men, and the multiple layers on the women look like a recipe for heat stroke to me.
At least the Regency girls did not have to wear a corset under long sleeved dresses like the Victorians did, but still…how many of them had heat stroke, I wonder? In Pride and Prejudice 1995 we see Colin Firth dive into a pond that was full of algae and looked pretty nasty, but he came out looking wet, but pristine. (This scene was, as many of you know, not in the book, but was a bit of whimsy added by the director). I have a suspicion that when men went for a dip, they did not keep on their breeches and linen shirts (do you remember the skinny-dipping scene in the film of “A Room With a View”?)
I’m quite sure that young ladies were not allowed this method of cooling off when the summer heated up. I am trying to picture Miss Bingley stripping off her silk gown (undoubtedly with the help of her maid!), petticoat, stays, all the way down to her shift (as was done in bathing machines at the ocean) before jumping in an entirely genteel fashion into the green water of the pond and inviting Elizabeth Bennet to join her in this “so refreshing” activity, in hopes that Mr. Darcy will come along and notice them. I am positive that Miss Bingley would not get her hair wet, and would probably use her oh-so-chic turban as a bathing cap!
Many people retired to Brighton, the resort made so popular by the Prince Regent, for the summer and those bathing machines probably were heavily used if the temperature climbed, and there would likely be some sea breezes for cooling, as well. Very few of the wealthy stayed in London during the hot summer, both because the crowded buildings prevented breezes from flowing through and the hot pavement reflected the heat up, but also because of the much increased risk of epidemic diseases such as typhoid and cholera in the summer.
Of course, ladies did have their fans to cool themselves off (and flirt coyly with the gentleman of their choice). Perhaps a room on the north side of the house, a fan to move the air and a book for entertainment would be enough…I prefer air conditioning and my Kindle, personally.
These musings are my last post before Sharon Lathan and I appear at the Romance Writers of America conference to talk about medical care before 1900. If any of you are members and going to the meeting, I hope to see you at our talk!
Stay cool everyone…remember that reading is a great way to keep from getting heat stroke!