Ten of the best spas

“Tunbridge Wells” by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

The mineral spring waters of the Kent town allured fashion-conscious Restoration folk, witheringly described in Rochester’s poem. “I trotted to the waters / The rendezvous of fools, buffoons, and praters, / Cuckolds, whores, citizens, their wives and daughters”. His fellow punters “without drinking, made me purge and spew”.

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett

In Georgian Bath, the novelist’s alter ego, Matthew Bramble, suspects that the mineral water pump is connected to the baths: “What a delicate beveridge is every day quaffed by the drinkers; medicated with the sweat and dirt, and dandriff; and the abominable discharges of various kinds, from twenty different diseased bodies, parboiling in the kettle below”.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen Catherine Morland gets the chance to go to Bath and enjoy the social whirl because her mother’s friend Mrs Allen has a gouty husband. We never find out whether Mr Allen is cured, but Catherine gets a husband in the pump room.

St Ronan’s Well by Sir Walter Scott Scott’s tragic tale of two brothers in love with the same woman is set in a small Scottish town where a spring of mineral water is discovered, making it suddenly a fashionable destination. Scott based St Ronan’s on the town of Innerleithen, whose popularity was greatly increased by his novel.

The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Alexei, the narrator, has come to Roulettenburg as tutor to a Russian family. “Granny”, a rich relative, arrives to take the waters, and Alexei helps her lose lots of cash – but catches the gambling bug himself. Will his ability to win money impress the lovely Polina?

Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane

Effi is married to dull civil servant Instetten, who cannot understand why, after the birth of their first child, she does not become pregnant again. She is despatched to take the waters at Bad Ems, and while she is away her husband accidentally discovers letters showing that she has had an affair.

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

This Edwardian tragedy begins with the meeting of two apparently strait-laced couples, the Americans John and Florence Dowell, and English Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, in the German spa town of Nauheim. It is “a special heart cure place”, where Dowell has travelled because of his wife’s infirmity. But her relationship with Ashburnham will suggest that the waters have more than invigorated her. 

In a German Pension by Katherine Mansfield

Mansfield’s stories are narrated by a young English woman who is staying in a Bavarian boarding house while taking a cure. In the Luft Bad she lies around naked with all the other women. She gets hosed down and is told “there is a man who lives in the Luft Bad next door. He buries himself up to the armpits in mud and refuses to believe in the Trinity”.

The Escape by Adam Thirlwell

Thirlwell’s anti-hero Haffner, an ageing libertine, finds himself in an Alpine spa town, where he has travelled to try to reclaim his wife’s villa, stolen by the Nazis. The other characters may be there for the waters, but Haffner, in his late 70s, seeks health through sex, mostly with a helpful yoga instructor.

C by Tom McCarthy

McCarthy advances his neo-modernist credentials by sending his constipated protagonist Serge Carrefax to a spa town called Klodebrady, where his excrement is analysed by the disapproving Dr Filip. “Nationality seems less of a defining label here than type of illness.” He too gets a bit of a sex cure.


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/nov/20/ten-best-spas-literature