Writing a story – Make Sure That Your Characters Are Dirty Enough

Be whatever you want to be

Writing historical fiction is the closest encounter that you may get with time travel. Therefore, I would urge you to give it a go whether you see yourself as a writer or not.  Why? You may ask. The reason is simple – writing a story  is good for you. When you totally lose yourself in another world you forget outrageous bills; folks that you want to send to Mars and even the state of politics worldwide. It’s your world, you can control it and if you wish to be a gothic temptress or a swash buckling pirate you can be.  in other words, be whatever you want to be.

Fancy yourself as a gothic temptress? -Yes, you too could look like this.

Fancy yourself as a gothic temptress? -Yes, you too could look like this.

A word of warning however, don’t go overboard on cleanliness. To give you an idea of how dirty you need to get when you write your stories, we at Loony Literature, have given you some true examples that we have unearthed.

During the seventeenth century, folks did not favour a good wash all over.  In fact, baths were mostly public places and visited for health purposes as opposed to getting one’s body clean.  For some strange reason, if you did go to the baths to cleanse yourself there was superstition attached to it and it should only be done when the moon was in Libra or Pisces.

Although Samuel Pepys wrote his diary on a regular basis, he did not apply the same amount of drive to washing himself.  He boasted that he sometimes gave himself a vigorous rub down with a cloth which he believed made him clean.  Elizabeth, his wife, however, did visit a public bath house at least once because Samuel sniggered about that too in his diary.

Stay out of my bed, you filthy oaf

Although Elizabeth probably visited the public bath house for health purposes, it would surely have made her smell sweeter than Samuel.  This was what might have put her in a morally advantageous position when she banned him from their shared bed until he had at least ‘cleaned himself with warm water’.  Samuel also had an aversion to washing his feet but he did do it occasionally.  The reason for such behaviour was that flinging off one’s socks and wetting one’s feet could lead to all sorts of health disasters like getting a cold.

Would YOU kick him out of bed?

Would YOU kick him out of bed?

If you’d lived in 1909, you may have been tempted by a newspaper advertisement which suggested that you wash the ‘Witch’ way.  Housewives who had probably been tackling the household wash for years were staunchly advised that they should never rub clothes as that would make the dirt worse.  The secret behind proper clothes washing was simply to let clothes soak in Witch and all the dirt would be loosened out.  This promise was backed up by the boast that that was what clothes manufacturers did and, of course, they all used Witch.  No names were mentioned to back up this testimonial.

“Let your clothes soak overnight in the morning they’ll be white” was the sales slogan.  If you still were not convinced of Witches’ magical washing powers the manufacturers added that it was a hard soap dried by a secret scientific process and then powdered.  As an added gesture of selling to everyone who read the advertisement, whether scientifically minded or superstitious, there was a huge caricature of a ghastly looking witch on a broomstick on it.  It is really surprising that we are not still using that product today.

Washing clothes is obviously a lot more complicated than can be imagined.  In 1916, a meeting took place of the Camelford Board of Directors for the workhouse to determine if the number of staff could be reduced.  A Mr Boney suggested that they should do their own clothes washing during the war and this would save them the cost of paying a char lady to do it for them.

Me! Wash clothes! Are you insane?

Me! Wash clothes! Are you insane?

Mr Uglow, the Master, stated that he would not wash his own collars; neither would he go without wearing a collar.  When questioned why he would not consider washing his own clothes he wiped his brow and shuddered.  He informed the gathered party that it was out of the question as he had never undergone an apprenticeship to wash clothes.

For folks who lived during World War II, food rationing began in 1940 with clothes rationing closely followed in 1941.  Within just eight months, soap rationing meant that having a good soak became something to daydream about.  Even hair washing became a luxury.  Magazines at that time advised their readers to wash greasy hair every ten days but dry hair could go for three weeks before needing a shampoo.  No wonder Marlene Dietrich took three months’ supply of dry shampoo with her when entertaining the troops in Europe.

When you can't get your hands on a shampoo - wear a top hat.

When you can’t get your hands on a shampoo – wear a top hat.

No excuse now – writing a story will help you to get rid of stress and feeling glum because you will be in control. You don’t have to let anyone else read it either – so do yourself a favour, pick up a pen, open a new file or simply record yourself. Happy writing.

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18 Comments

Filed under Creative Writing, The Peculiar Past

18 responses to “Writing a story – Make Sure That Your Characters Are Dirty Enough

  1. What a brilliant piece! I always forget I can write make believe when I get bogged down in this business of writing! By the way – too much cleanliness is very bad for the earth so I’m doing my bit to save it and washing less too!! 😉

  2. I loved this post! As always, a thoroughly entertaining and informative read.

    Just like Mr Uglow, I haven’t got an apprenticeship in washing clothes either…if only that was a good enough reason to not tackle the laundry 🙂

  3. That’s a great post. I knew people were dirty way back when, but the information about the dirty hair during WWII was great! I think I’ll skip my bath today!

  4. Well, if I ever finish building my time traveling machine, you won’t be invited to London in the 1800’s.

  5. Neridah

    Interesting read Michelle, thank you.

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