Friday, August 6, 2010

My ancestors were totally gross

It's quite possible I get a little TOO into researching my historical fantasy. For one thing, they're in a fictional fantasy world. But I generally pick a real place and time they're BASED on and I get really obsessive about getting it right. And one of the many aspects to consider is cleanliness and sanitation. Now, generally, you don't want to get too deep into this. But for Between the Sea and Sky, I couldn't help but think about it, because Esmerine is a mermaid. And when you think of mermaids, you don't really think "sweat". Also, while I had to think a little bit about how mermaids would handle, erm, bathroom issues, they definitely weren't using a chamber pot.

So I got this book from the library called "The Dirt on Clean". It's a history of personal cleanliness in the western world. And you know, I knew Europeans were pretty nasty for awhile, but I figured it was because they didn't have the technology.

In actuality, I guess with all the plagues and everything, since no one knew how these diseases were spreading, they decided water--especially hot water--opened the pores which became a pathway for viruses to just zip right in and kill you. They decided they would keep clean not by bathing, but by changing their linen shirts. People were so excited about linen for awhile that painters actually started getting into white linen glamour shots.

I also found it interesting that people didn't used to want to live by the ocean or look at it. It was considered traumatizing, especially for ladies. Supposedly people didn't start painting the ocean frequently until the "picturesque" movement of the 18th century when suddenly people wanted to look at ruins and weirdly shaped trees and things like that. I've never really paid attention to when seascapes became popular...and of course bathing in the ocean didn't creep in until the 19th century.

But my favorite fact--and I'd read this before, but I still have great difficulty imagining it--people used to poop on the floor of the palace of Versailles.

Enjoy your stay on land, Esmerine!


  1. This sounds so interesting! Yes, most likely people back then weren't as hygienic as we are today. Thanks for the post!

  2. LMAO.

    Didn't they also use perfume/oils to cover stinkyness? Like, "Oh, I seem to be getting a bit ripe--MOAR PERFUME!" Maybe I'm making that up...

  3. Larissa: Yes, they did use perfume. I think I read that Louis the Sun King had such bad breath that his mistress used TONS of perfume to cover the scent of him, and he, in turn, hated the scent of her perfume. Fun times...

  4. LOL, yeah people were pretty ripe back in olden times. I find it interesting though that the ancient Romans had better sanitation than hundreds of years later.

    That's why I like setting my books in Japan. That culture has been obsessed with cleanliness for awhile :)

  5. Interesting facts you've found. I've always loved learning about how things were long ago, though I cannot say that all of them sounded the most... wonderful? Oh, I can't think of the right word...
    Anyway, I saw your new post up and thought I'd read it.
    I also thought I'd quickly say that I finished reading Magic Under Glass and wrote about it on my blog. Loved your work on it, Jaclyn Dolamore. I am really looking forward to the sequel.
    Here's the link if you care to read it at some time or another:
    Happy writing,

  6. inthewritemind: Yes! They talked about that too. One thing I thought was interesting was, it said Spain had the dirtiest Christians in Europe since they also had Muslims in Spain so the Spanish Christians apparently felt they had to be extra dirty to differentiate themselves from the suspiciously clean "heathens". Oh, people, you're so weird.