Sunday, 22 August 2010

Nude or Prude? Victorian attitudes to sea bathing.

I am currently researching Georgian and Victorian attitudes to marriage and after a particularly pleasing foray into a second hand bookshop yesterday, came home with a real gem - 'The Perfect Wife,' by Rona Randall.
Skimming through this passage caught my eye, about Victorian attitudes to nudity. In short, in the Victorian bedroom nudity was to be avoided at all costs. Even sisters sharing a bedroom would stand back to back, and undress beneath voluminous night gowns. Indeed husband's often disrobed in an ajoining room to don his night shirt and didnt enter the bed chamber until his wife was safely attired in biloowing nightgown and frilly cap.
With this in mind it came as a shock to read that some Victorians thought nothing of bathing nude in the sea! The invention of swimming costumes came as late as 1870 and before this the options were a bathing hut wheeled into the see or to cavort naked in the waves. It seems many preferred the later and in the summer local newspaper correspondance columns were full of complaints about the;
'shameless seaside cavortings of loose women and unblushing men...'
However one naked bather, the Rev Francis Kilbert, was anything but loose. In his diary he extols the delights of nude sea bathing and complains about,
'the detestable custom of bathing drawers that are now becoming de rigeur.'
It seems he created quite a stir at Seaton 1873 when unaware of the new requirement for wearing bathing suites, especially as;
'the young ladies strolling near seemed to have no objection.'
One newspaper, the Saturday Review, commented on the habit of some women activley seeking out male nude bathers;
'There they sit [women] happy, innocent, undistrubed - placidly and immovably gaze at hundreds of males in the costume of Adam.'
Who'd have thought it!

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