What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.
So wrote Jane Austen in a letter – a bit of simple wisdom as true now as it was when she set it down on paper two hundred years ago. On second thought, perhaps it was truer then since baths were few and far between. No running water, hot or cold. Every gallon needed for a bath had to be heated on the kitchen stove and hauled up two flights of stairs. Afterward, one couldn’t simply pull the plug and let the tub drain either. Presumably, the water had to be scooped out and hauled back down (or maybe they bailed it out the window!).
When I found the quote above, it reminded me of a line from my first novel – the sequel to Pride and Prejudice titled The Darcys of Pemberley. Add the barnyard smell of hundreds of horses and other animals to thousands of overly fragrant people, pack them all close together, and turn up the heat. That was London in the dog days of summer. I suppose the sewage ran straight into the Thames too. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
The simmering heat only served to intensify the more unpleasant aspects of living in close quarters with so much humanity and horseflesh. If one dared open the windows in hopes of some relief from the stifling air indoors, one quickly closed them again against the noise and odors emanating from the streets. For those who had the option of somewhere else to go, the advent of such conditions began turning thoughts toward getting out of town …
For this reason, among others, I would have preferred retreating to the quiet and fresh air of the country, as did the Darcys. But then, if you owned the finest estate in Derbyshire, why would you want to be anywhere else?