(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Miss Lambe’s “sheltered Dip” while in the spirited embrace of Diana “the Dipper” Parker

Earlier this week, I was surprised and delighted to receive a link to the latest Persuasions Online, which contains a dozen new articles all focused on different aspects of the Sanditon fragment that Jane Austen, in the final year of her life, began to compose and then abandoned one quarter of the way through. I promptly skimmed them all, and my attention was particularly drawn to two of them. Together, they led me to realize something remarkable about one extraordinary passage in the latter part of the Sanditon fragment. And so I am currently working on a post to explain my fresh insight in that regard, hopefully to present it within the next few days.

In the interim while working on that other post, I was also (by seren-DIP-ity, if you will) struck for the first time by the following words spoken by Diana Parker in the final chapter of the Sanditon fragment:

“…in five minutes I must be at Mrs. G. to encourage Miss Lambe in taking her first Dip. She is so frightened, poor Thing, that I promised to come and keep up her Spirits, and go in the Machine with her if she wished it…”

I had previously been aware, as are many of you reading this, that Englishwomen in Austen’s era went swimming in “bathing machines”. But I now realized that I had never previously taken the time to learn more about JA’s own sea bathing experiences, or about what that activity involved. Google led me first to the following 2012 post by our very own Diana Birchall, in which she helpfully provided the relevant details of Jane Austen’s own report of at least some of her sea bathing experiences:

 “People visited the seaside as being beneficial for their health, but Jane Austen’s visits seem to have been mostly for diversion. One of the main attractions of Bath for the Austen family, when they moved there on Mr. Austen’s retirement in 1800, was that the spa city, in an inland valley, communicated by road easily with seaside watering-places such as Lyme and Sidmouth. Seaside holidays became a regular and attractive feature of the Austens’ new life, and Jane specifically writes about going into the water, in her letters:
“The Bathing was so delightful this morning & Molly so pressing with me to enjoy myself that I believe I staid in rather too long, as since the middle of the day I have felt unreasonably tired. I shall be more careful another time, & shall not bathe tomorrow, as I had before planned,” she wrote from Lyme on 14 September 1804.
On that occasion, Cassandra was in Weymouth, and Jane wrote, “I continue quite well, in proof of which I have bathed again this morning. It was absolutely necessary that I should have the little fever and indisposition, which I had; – it has been all the fashion this week in Lyme.”
Perhaps Molly was the “dipper.” Strong females were employed to help the bathers, to push or lower them into the water as needed, sometimes giving them a ritualistic three strong dunks. Martha Gunn was a famous “dipper” at Brighton, seen below in 1801. In Sanditon, Jane Austen writes of Miss DIANA Parker feeling the need “to encourage Miss Lambe in taking her first Dip. She is so frightened, poor thing, that I promised to come & keep up her Spirits, & go in the Machine with her if she wished it.” “

Sounds like JA really enjoyed sea bathing, and that Diana is correct, that JA enjoyed the “dipping” provided by another woman. Akiko Takei adds this gloss on Diana’ above point in “Sanditon and the Uncertain Prospects of a Resort Business” in that brandnew issue of Persuasions Online:
While Austen felt great joy being in the sea for many hours, in her fiction references to bathing are strangely few, and nobody has as pleasant an experience as she did.  Mr. Woodhouse’s complaint, “‘I am sure [the sea] almost killed me once’”, presumably points to his fearful experience of bathing. In Sanditon, Diana Parker states: [“dip” quote].  To get the Sanditon business on track, it is necessary to help those who are terrified of bathing to overcome their fears.”

I also found further details about sea bathing in two Persuasions articles from 1997:

“Sickness and Silliness in Sanditon” by John Wiltshire:
" Like her younger daughters, [Mrs. Bennet] longs to persuade Mr. Bennet to take a family holiday [to the sea], and remarks ‘A little sea-bathing would set me up for ever.’ Sea bathing was widely understood as the most efficient remedy for diseases of the nerves, and Brighton, like other resorts, was booming. We are led to understand, of course, that it is not sea-bathing that is the real attraction of Brighton in the Regency period. When Mrs. Bennet speaks of "sea-bathing" she does not mean swimming: "immersion" meant that you were taken out in a "bathing machine" drawn by a horse and then "dipped" into the cold sea, suddenly, by an attendant. No wonder that poor Miss Lambe, the West Indian heiress of Sanditon, "chilly & tender",' is "frightened, poor Thing," of her first dip. (The phrase "chilly and tender," by the way, is one which Jane Austen probably found in a popular 18th-century manual about nursing.) Immersion in sea water was thought to toughen and strengthen the fibres, to invigorate the circulation, and thus generally strengthen the constitution. (Rather like cooking vegetables in salt water-they get tougher.) In the 1770s Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale used to go to Brighton and experience immersion in the chilly waters of the English Channel in October. Johnson called the man who attended them "Doctor Dip." As we have learned, bathing was undertaken under medical supervision. (Johnson also was known to growl ‘I hate immersion.’)”


“ ‘A little sea-bathing would set me up forever’: The History and Development of the English Seaside Resorts” by Eileen Sutherland
“…When bathing, it was necessary to plunge vigorously into the water, to suffer the force of the waves, to feel a momentary sense of suffocation, to experience the shock of the cold water. But it was essential
that bathing should be perfectly safe. It must be only a pretence that one could be knocked over, sucked under and nearly drown. The hard sandy slope was carefully chosen to give good secure footing, and professional helpers held the bathers steady while they were plunged in and submerged. The thought of this abrupt plunge into cold water and buffeting waves, especially for the first time, could terrify some bathers. Jane Austen mentions this in Sanditon, when Miss Diana Parker feels the need "to encourage Miss Lambe in taking her first Dip. She is so frightened, poor thing, that I promised to come & keep up her Spirits, & go in the Machine with her if she wished it".
Fanny Burney wrote of the first time she bathed, "I was terribly frightened, & really thought I should never have recovered from the Plunge-I had not Breath enough to speak for a minute or two, the shock was beyond expression great-but after I got back to the machine, I presently felt myself in a Glow that was delightful-it is the finest feeling in the World,-& will induce me to Bathe as often as will be safe". The safety of bathing, even in summer, was always emphasized: medical advice and supervision were considered necessary…”

As I read Fanny Burney’s description of her own initiation into sea bathing, I was reminded of the turbo-charged romance of Anne Elliot’s emotional and physical reaction upon Wentworth’s leaving “the letter” on the writing table at the White Hart Inn in Bath: 
    “The revolution which one instant had made in Anne, was almost beyond expression.”

And it is with that romantic excitement “almost beyond expression” in mind, that I read Diana Parker’s (seemingly passing) mention of her mission to “keep up the spirits” of the “chilly and tender” young biracial heiress Miss Lambe’s “first dip” of sea bathing experience. How so? Because, for the past several years (and most recently in my presentation at the last JASNA AGM in October 2017), and without having previously noticed that reference to sea bathing in Sanditon, I’ve claimed that JA chose the name “Diana” for Miss Parker, in key part in order to hint to the knowing reader that Diana Parker was of the same “tribe” as the huntress goddess who symbolized virginity (and, subtextually, non-heterosexual women): self-reliant women who looked to other women, not to men, for friendship and support, and sometimes also for sexual pleasure.

And so, when read through that lens, Diana Parker’s reference to Miss Lambe’s need of help to “encourage” her in “taking her first dip”, and even to “go in the Machine with her if she wished it”, takes on a decidedly sexual connotation. And that sexual connotation of lesbian sexuality in sea bathing became that much stronger when some further Googling led me to the following eye-opening (on more than one level) 2012 blog post:

…apparently, not all sea bathers were clothed at all! The caricature below by Thomas Rowlandson (1776-1827) is entitled Summer Amusement at Margate, or a Peep at the Mermaids and clearly shows a group of men ogling the nude bathers.

Even more revealing is Rowlandson’s Venus Bathing (Margate): A Fashionable Dip. Margate is in Kent.

And its companion engraving by Rowlandson, Sideway or any way, in which a crowd seems to have gathered at the top of the cliff to observe:

I quickly confirmed at the following website that this particular high-profile artwork by Rowlandson was contemporary with the latter half of Jane Austen’s lifetime, readily available prior to JA’s writing of Sanditon:

Margate, Kent: a woman swimming in the sea; in the background people are looking out to sea from cliffs and a beach. Coloured etching, ca. 1800…In 1798 he produced a caricature 'Bathing at Margate' of voyeurs enjoying the view of the sea-bathers from the cliff, and in 1813 another caricature 'Summer amusement at Margate, or a peep at the mermaids'. He also produced a smaller pair of pictures set in Margate, called 'Fresh water' and 'Salt water' (in Margate Museum, one said to be an aquatint and the other a watercolour, dated ca. 1800)
[same image as the third one in the previous blog quotation]

And I also found some more detail about how bathing machines were used, that adds to DIANA Birchall’s brief description:

“Victorian Prudes and their Bizarre Beachside Bathing” by Messy Nessy 04/05/2014
…Once deep enough in the surf, our bather would then exit the cart using the door facing away from prying eyes on the beach and proceed to paddle. For inexperienced swimmers (which would have been most Victorian women in their billowing swimwear), some beach resorts offered the service of a “dipper”, a strong person of the same sex who would escort the bather out to sea in the cart and essentially push them into the water and yank them out when they were done. As long you as you didn’t drown, for the average Victorian, this sobering experience could be considered a successful day at the beach….
[same image as the third one in the second previous blog quotation]
 She’s got the right idea! This early cartoon shows a female swimmer taking full advantage of the ‘privacy’ provided by a bathing machine.
Bathing machines began popping up around the 1750s when swimwear hadn’t yet been invented and most people still swam naked. But even when early forms of swimwear did start being introduced, society conveniently decided that a ‘proper woman’ should not be seen on the beach in her bathing suit. Totally logical.”   END QUOTE FROM MESSY NESSY BLOG POST

And so, as my friend Diana (Birchall) noted, Diana Parker is saying, in code, that she is going to offer her services to Miss Lambe as a “dipper”, which will obviously involve a great deal of intimate physical contact. And I add my own slant on that, which is that she will initiate Miss Lambe into the wonderful mysteries of “sea bathing” – which I asserts works particularly well in this case as a metaphor for lesbian sex.

And I find further subtle but valuable evidence that Miss Lambe’s “first dip” was meant by JA to have a sexual connotation, in a passage much earlier in Sanditon, in Chapter 4. The young heroine Charlotte Heywood is being driven by Mr. Parker (with his wife along for the ride as well) into the environs of Sanditon for the first time, and that is when, in the description of the former home of Mr. and Mrs. Parker, before they moved into Sanditon proper – a prior home which I have previously identified as JA’s sly send-up of the Garden of Eden in Paradise Lost, we hear about a very different sort of “sheltered Dip”:

“And whose very snug-looking Place is this? ‐ said Charlotte, as in A SHELTERED DIP within 2 miles of the Sea, they passed in front of close by a moderate-sized house, well fenced & planted, & rich in the Garden, Ground Orchard & Orchards Meadows which are the best embellishments of such any such a Dwelling. It seems to have as many comforts about it as Willingden.
“Ah! ‒ said Mr. P. Parker ‐ This is my old House ‒ the house of my Forefathers ‒ the house where I & all my Brothers & Sisters were born & bred ‒ & where my own 3 eldest Children were born ‒ where Mrs. P. Parker & I lived till within the last 2 years ‒ till our new House was finished. ‐ I am glad you are pleased with it. ‒ It is an honest old Place ‒ and Hillier keeps it in very good order. I have given it up you know to the Man who occupies the cheif of my Land. He gets a better House by it ‐ & I, a rather better situation! ‐ one other ascent Hill brings us to the heart of Sanditon ‐ ‒ modern Sanditon ‒ we shall soon catch the roof of my new house; my real home, ‐ a beautiful Spot. ‒ Our Ancestors, you know always built in a hole. ‐ Here were we, pent down in a this little contracted Nook, without Air or Veiw , only one mile & 
…‘It was always a very comfortable House’—said Mrs. Parker—looking at it through the back window with something like the fondness of regret. ‘And such a nice Garden—such an excellent Garden.’
‘Yes, my Love, but that we may be said to carry with us.—It supplies us, as before, with all the fruit and vegetables we want; and we have in fact all the comfort of an excellent Kitchen Garden, without the constant Eyesore of its formalities; or the yearly nuisance of its decaying vegetation.—Who can endure a Cabbage Bed in October?’

I had previously identified the above passage as a key part of a subtle but pervasive allusion in the Sanditon fragment to the Garden of Eden in Milton’s Paradise Lost; and we may well read Mr. Parker’s irrepressible effusions celebrating the wonders of Sanditon as his way, in effect, of calling it a Paradise Regained. But the reference to a “sheltered Dip” in the terrain just happens to also work perfectly well as a description of a lady immersed in the sea within the “shelter” of a sea bathing machine! Jane Austen, the grandmistress of puns, struck again!

So, I suggest that Diana Parker has, in her offer to take Miss Lamb for, if you will, “a sheltered Dip” in the sea, taken on the character of Satan in a “bathing machine”. I.e., she will tempt the innocent Miss Lambe to take a first bite of ‘sea bathing’ inside the safe, private confines of a bathing machine. The powerful Diana Parker will embrace her young charge and “baptize” her into the fallen state of “bathing” pleasure, the same way Milton’s Satan introduces and seduces Eve into carnal knowledge.

Before you dismiss the above as a grand coincidence, let me entice you with an invitation not to refuse my proffered bite of forbidden Sanditonian Austenian fruit, until you read my followup post, tomorrow, about an additional Shakespearean clue hidden in plain sight in Sanditon, which will add strong support to my suggestion of Satanic subtext in Sanditon. Hint: look again at my quotation from John Wiltshire’s article, above, and you’ll find that clue, although Wiltshire has misinterpreted it.

[Added 30 minutes after first posting:
This will sound stranger than fiction, but after I posted the above, and I started to provide the link for this post at Twitter and other online sites, I came across the following:

'Quite a bit of nude sunbathing': how will Jane Austen's Sanditon stand up under Andrew Davies' male gaze? (News that the veteran adapter of P&P and Bridget Jones is turning his hand to the unfinished Sanditon seems out of tune with the times) by John Dugdale

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

1 comment:

Diane Reynolds said...


Serendipity after serenDIPity! I recently read Agatha Christie's memoir and what does she talk about in it but bathing machines! She was born in 1890, and when she started bathing in the ocean in the Edwardian era, bathing machines were still the fashion. As she describes it, women would enter this private chambers alone, clad in the head to toe bathing gear and be dunked as you described. It was also a place private enough that women could shed a could deal of their cumbersome clothing, assured they would not be seen. Except, as Christie discovered later in life, the men's club on the cliffs overhead was positioned so that the men could observe the half clad women in the bathing machines!

After WWI of course bathing machines became another relic. Interesting and informative post. I am looking forward to what Davies does with Sanditon.