Sweet and Clean? challenges the widely held beliefs on bathing and cleanliness in the past. For over thirty years, the work of the French historian, George Vigarello, has been hugely influential on early modern European social history, describing an aversion to water and bathing, and the use of linen underwear as the sole cleaning agent for the body. However, these concepts do not apply to early modern England. Sweet and Clean? analyses etiquette
and medical literature, revealing repeated recommendations to wash or bathe in order to clean the skin. Clean linen was essential for propriety but advice from medical experts was contradictory. Many doctors were convinced that it prevented the spread of contagious diseases, but others recommended flannel for
undergarments, and a few thought changing a fever patient's linens was dangerous. The methodology of material culture helps determine if and how this advice was practiced. Evidence from inventories, household accounts and manuals, and surviving linen garments tracks underwear through its life-cycle of production, making, wearing, laundering, and final recycling. Although the material culture of washing bodies is much sparser, other sources, such as the Old Bailey records, paint a more
accurate picture of cleanliness in early modern England than has been previously described. The contrasting analyses of linen and bodies reveal what histories material culture best serves. Finally, what of the diseases-plague, smallpox, and typhus-that cleanliness of body and clothes were thought to
prevent? Did following early modern medical advice protect people from these illnesses?
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Number of pages: 336
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm