Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sultry Climates

What men call gallantry, and gods adultery,
Is much more common where the climate's sultry.

Byron, Don Juan

Last month Lacy blogged about the erotic implications of travel, and I wanted to follow on from that. I've just read a splendid book, Sultry Climates: Travel and Sex, by Ian Littlewood, a study of how and why the English (mostly) went abroad, and their expectations of travel. And yes, sexual tourism was well and alive in the eighteenth century.

Take, for instance, the Grand Tour--the rite of passage that young Englishmen of the Enlightenment undertook to pick up some culture and polish, in the company of an older, responsible gentleman called the bearleader. It was generally understood that as well as viewing the marvels of antiquity, the young gentleman might also receive a sensual education with the right sort of aristocratic woman.

Invariably, the outcome was different. Evading the bearleader's leash, young men, dazzled with the sensuality and novelty of the countries they visited, consorted as often with the wrong sort of woman. In either case the intrepid travelers frequently took more than some bits of classical sculpture home as a souvenir.

But here's one of my favorite passages in the book, from the other side of the world when the good ship Dolphin visited Tahiti in 1767. A month after making land, Littlewood reports:

The Tahitians' high valuation of anything made of iron had quickly established nails as a currency for buying sexual favours from the women. By 9 July the gunner could inform Robinson [master of the ship] that 'the price of the old trades, is now fixt at a thirty penny nail each time'. Such was the popularity of the trade that by the time [Captain] Wallis left, most of the men had to sleep on deck for lack of any nails from which to sling their hammocks.

The prized nails cost thirty pence for one hundred.

Any other favorite travel books? Or books inspired by travel?


Pam Rosenthal said...

That book sounds wonderful, Jane. I'd love to read it. I guess I haven't read a lot about travel, though my husband's been loving The Valley of the Assassins, and Other Persian Travels by Freya Stark, one of those intrepid early-20th century traveling Englishwomen.

I did, however, love reading about Mary Godwin and Percy Shelley running away to France in 1814 (she was 16, he a few years older). When they checked into inns, he'd write in the registers that their destination was "L'enfer," or hell -- much to her distress, though her stepsister Claire (who was with them some of the time) found it as funny as I did.

Anonymous said...

I believe I must find this book...thanks!

Gillian Layne said...

Fascinating. Thanks for sharing the research!