DOI: 10.1177/03061973231211447 ISSN: 0306-1973

Satire and the Diffusion of Spa Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century

Karl Wood
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • History

The eighteenth-century spa was an important heterotopic social space and functioned as a centre for the diffusion of the culture of sociability generally, as well as its own local variations and expressions. This took place both in the physical space of the spa, but also in the world of print through personal correspondence, a proliferating number of guidebooks, as well as a wide range of writing. These created a literary existence of the spa outside of its physical existence that contributed to the diffusion of spa culture and sociability from its centres into peripheral locations. In addition to guides, descriptions and journalistic reports, satires of the spa experience enjoyed considerable popularity. Perhaps the best known and studied of these is Astley's New Bath Guide, but less known works provided satirical commentary on the peculiar environment and practices of sociability in spaces located more on the periphery of the spa world. Through a close reading of two such works– Meine viertägigen Leiden im Bade zu Pyrmont [My Four-Day Sufferings in the Spa of Pyrmont] (first edition, 1809) by G.C. Sponagel, and Admonitory Epistles to Visitors to Ballston Spa, by Simeon Senex, Esquire (1808), a little known work from New York whose authorship remains disputed, but may have been written by Washington Irving – this article seeks to identify elements of commonality across different spa environments removed from what might be seen as the foundational tradition of Bath, as well as to seek out distinctive peculiarities that may be German in the case of Pyrmont, or colonial-peripheral in the case of Ballston Spa. It is hoped that in doing so, some insights might be drawn regarding the diffusion of spa culture.