Pump room politics and the murky past of spas
in Murky waters
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‘Pump room politics and the murky past of spas’ takes a look at the political impact of spa societies of temporary visitors, who gathered for a season before returning to their homes bearing new ideas and new information. It starts by examining the politics of gossip, a recurrent theme in spa literature, made no less dangerous by its gender bias and its ramifications into cultures of power. In a second section, ‘Healing the nation’, the chapter addresses the national issues at stake in the spa towns, and the political role of master of ceremonies and the colonial dynamics at work in British spa towns. Finally, the chapter dwells on the religious heritage of healing waters in the eighteenth century by tracing the resurgence of Catholicism in the culture of British spas, and the ways in which this was negotiated in the discourse of medical doctors, visitors and literary authors. Relying on the work of A. Walsham on the reformation of holy waters, their disappearance and their modes of persistence in early modern culture, this chapter investigates the eighteenth-century sites of Roman Catholicism in which mineral waters kept some of their original holiness. Spas such as St Winifred’s in Wales and St Chad’s in London were clearly remembered as holy wells, and the rituals associated with them were not forgotten by contemporary authors.

Murky waters

British spas in eighteenth-century medicine and literature

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