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The mortality rate for boys was far higher than for girls; a large number of males served in the armed forces abroad and men were more likely to emigrate than women.By 1861 there were 10,380,285 women living in England and Wales but only 9,825,246 men.During the weeks between baths, the Victorian lady would wash off with a sponge soaked in cool water and vinegar.Sitz baths, in which a woman sat down in a shallow dish of water, were also common.But the details of what constituted proper hygiene for women were hotly debated, mostly among male doctors who weighed the moral risks (good, God-fearing women, washing themselves, naked!) against the physical rewards (general cleanliness).
Imagine the smell on a hot day.” There’s the smell and then there’s the resulting contagion.
These matters — such as hygiene, beauty and relationships — would dominate a well-heeled woman’s pre- and post-marital life.
She would go to the doctor, read women’s magazines, peruse advertisements and become fluent in the finer points of etiquette, all with the goal of making herself presentable to the opposite sex. As Oneill is keen to point out, the Victorian era was a decidedly filthy period in Western history, when public sanitation hadn’t caught up with the major mechanical advances brought on by the Industrial Revolution.
Oneill is an eager tour guide: “You’ll arrive in the 19th century in the guise of a young woman of some wealth, European descent and living in either America or Western Europe,” she writes.
Oneill has good reason for placing her reader in the company of the upper crust; unlike her less fortunate peers, a lady of status would have time to think about matters beyond survival.