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I’m delighted to welcome Victoria Kincaid back to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate the release of her latest Pride and Prejudice variation, Darcy and Deception. I’ve been a huge fan of Victoria’s since her first novel, and it’s been an honor to edit all of her books since then. I hope all of you love this book as much as I did. Victoria is here today with a guest post about Brighton and sea bathing during the Regency era, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!

One of the fun parts of writing a historical novel is doing research about the period and occasionally discovering nuggets of unexpected (and sometimes bizarre) information.  This was my experience when I researched Brighton during the Regency period.  In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet talks longingly of going sea bathing; I always assumed this was another way of describing swimming in the ocean.  However, my research revealed that sea bathing was a very particular activity.

Brighton became a popular destination after the 1752 publication of Dr. Richard Russell’s Use of Seawater in the Diseases of the Glands, which described sea bathing as useful for curing various health conditions.  The prince regent became a frequent visitor, making the location even more fashionable.

Salt water was believed to be most effective when the subject was completely immersed.  This presented several problems since men and women needed to be separated (they often bathed in the nude), and many people did not swim.  In Brighton the sexes were restricted to different parts of the beach and they used bathing machines to ensure healthful immersion.

The bathing machine was basically a wooden structure that was pulled into the surf (during which time the bather changed into a bathing costume).  Once in the deeper water, the bather would be “dipped” by a professional dipper who not only ensured that the bather didn’t drown but would also advise about wave conditions, the best times of day to dip, and other considerations.

It doesn’t sound like the most pleasant way to enjoy the beach, but no doubt there were people (including women) who enjoyed swimming in the traditional sense as well.  One blog helpfully annotated a period drawing to show that some female bathers were scared of the water while others clearly understood how to swim.

I found the practice to be so interesting that I just had to include a sea bathing scene in Darcy and Deception.  Not surprisingly, Elizabeth loves the sea, while Lydia and her friend Mrs. Forster are more cautious.  Please enjoy the excerpt below:

Elizabeth had heard about bathing machines that allowed women to be “dipped” in the sea with the help of an attendant who ensured they did not drown. “I simply planned to swim.”

Mrs. Forster gaped at her.  “You know how to swim?”  Elizabeth might as well have confessed to witchcraft.

“Yes.”

The woman eyed the placid waves suspiciously.  “Risk it if you wish!  But Lydia and I shall use the bathing machine.  I have secured the services of Martha Gunn herself!”  She paused as though Elizabeth should be impressed.

“Very well,” Elizabeth replied, neither knowing nor caring who Martha Gunn was.

“She is the most famous dipper in Brighton!” Lydia exclaimed, proud to know something her sister did not.

“What an odd profession,” Elizabeth said to herself. But she mustered a smile for the other women.  “How exciting!  Please enjoy your sea bathing.”

Elizabeth hurried toward the water while the other women approached one of the machines perched precariously on the beach. Mrs. Forster stopped to speak with great animation to a sturdy, florid-faced woman who stood beside the door.  Mrs. Gunn presumably.

Most of the women on the beach wore casual morning clothes and sat on blankets, chatting and laughing.  Some held parasols to shield their complexions from the sun while others walked about the beach collecting shells.  Numerous women with damp and disordered hair attested to the popularity of the bathing machines.

Elizabeth made her way through the crowds to the edge of the water.  The sand and smooth stones under her bare feet were warm, but not too hot.  The cool water lapped around her feet as she waded deeper and deeper, up to her knees.  Shielding her eyes from the bright sunlight, she gazed out to the horizon, enjoying the view of endless ocean.

There were only a few women, perhaps a dozen in all, who dared to experience the sea without the assistance of a bathing machine—and five were merely wading.  However, a few women swam in earnest, including two who appeared to be naked.

Elizabeth waded deeper, gradually acclimating herself to the cooler temperature.  It was most refreshing.  When the water was deep enough, Elizabeth completely submerged herself, gasping slightly at the cold.  The waves were mild; perfect conditions for swimming.  Elizabeth swam back and forth, parallel to the shore, with strong, swift strokes.  How refreshing!  I have passed far too much of my time recently in drawing rooms.  Already she was wondering when she would be able to return to the beach for a swim. How could such an outing be arranged?

Ultimately her muscles tired of the unaccustomed exercise, and Elizabeth returned to the shallower water.  She stood in water to her waist as she caught her breath.

She had kept an eye on the bathing machine containing Lydia and Mrs. Forster.  Now she noticed as it was pulled into deeper water by a weary horse.

Once the machine’s back ramp was level with the water, one of the attendants freed the horse from its harness, walked it to the machine’s other end, and attached it there.  Clever.  Such a system allowed them to return to shore without needing to turn the vehicle in a circle.

Mrs. Forster, dressed in her shift, emerged from the small door at the machine’s end and sat on the protruding ramp, dangling her feet in the water.  Without ceremony, Mrs. Gunn reached over and plucked the woman from the ramp.  Goodness, she was strong!  The dipper waded a little distance into deeper water and then dunked Mrs. Forster—one, two, three times—all the way into the water, carefully ensuring that even the top of her head and her feet were thoroughly soaked.

I suppose only a complete dunking will benefit the glands, Elizabeth thought.

Mrs. Forster emerged spluttering after each dunking, appearing quite bedraggled and miserable by the time Mrs. Gunn set her back on the machine’s platform.  I wonder how much the colonel’s wife paid for the privilege of being treated like a biscuit in a cup of tea? Elizabeth found herself hoping that dipping did indeed have medicinal properties because the activity itself appeared to provide no obvious pleasure.

When it was Lydia’s turn, Elizabeth’s sister twitched and jerked.  She searched the area as if seeking an escape, but there was nowhere to go.  Noticing Lydia’s disposition, Mrs. Gunn enlisted the help of the other attendant so that they formed a kind of chair with their arms to carry Lydia. But the youngest Miss Bennet screeched as though they were about to feed her to a wild animal.  Completely ignoring Lydia’s antics, the two women hastily dunked the squirming girl three times before depositing her again on the ramp.

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About Darcy and Deception

Returning home from Kent, Elizabeth Bennet is still distressed over Mr. Darcy’s insulting marriage proposal.  However, her attention is diverted by the local militia commander who asks her to observe Wickham, now suspected of being a French spy.  Pretending to be besotted with Wickham, Elizabeth accompanies the regiment when they relocate to Brighton.

Darcy arrives at Longbourn with the intention of making amends to Elizabeth, only to discover that she is now at Brighton with Wickham.  Desperate to save her from the scoundrel, Darcy follows her to the seaside, where he hopes to woo her away from the other man.

Deception piles on top of deception as Elizabeth attempts to carry out her mission without betraying confidences—or breaking Darcy’s heart.  However, the French plot runs deeper than she knows; soon she and Darcy are plunged into the confusing and dangerous world of international espionage.  Can Darcy and Elizabeth escape with their lives and their love intact?

Buy on Amazon

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Giveaway

Victoria is generously offering an ebook copy of Darcy and Deception to one lucky reader! To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, January 20, 2019. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Victoria, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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