Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Victorians - not as prudish as we think?

“Victorian morality” summons thoughts of sexually repressed people (solidified by later Freudian theories) who covered piano legs with bloomers because they were too erotic. Bathing costumes for women of that era were enveloping, heavy, dark, wool garments over black stockings and even slippers, and many used bathing machines so that no one saw even them in these concealing clothes. So I was astonished to discover that there was a nudist beach - popularly known as "Bare-assed Beach" - at Hanlon’s Point on the Toronto Islands from 1894 to 1930, when morally upright citizens finally succeeded in shutting it down. 

Skinny-dipping (swimming naked) was something that many people did - and still do - in lakes and rivers, but usually in same-sex groups or as couples. One Muskoka cottager related how his Victorian grandmother always had her morning bathe in the lake, and was almost caught in the buff by an unexpected visitor. My British grandfather-in-law states in his memoir that when he and his wife honeymooned in Normandy, France, they found a deserted beach, stripped off their clothes, and bathed “au naturel” in the sea. What a delightful picture that conjured up of these young Victorians being spontaneous and uninhibited. Had I known this when I met him at the age of 96, just a couple of years before his death, I would have been even more impressed by this “Victorian” gentleman.

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