It’s summer, and that means swimming. And in the film My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle mentions a ring Professor Higgins bought for her at Brighton. In G.B. Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the ring is mentioned — but there’s no mention of it being bought at Brighton. However, such rings would be common “trinkets” or souvenirs after taking a holiday. It’s certainly a mere memento, a friendly gesture, with no connotation that the film may suggest about any relationship between Higgins and Eliza. He is twenty years her elder, after all — and she has Freddy Eynsford Hill, who adores her. In our series, will Eliza end up with Freddy or someone else? Perhaps the next book, GET ME TO THE GRAVE ON TIME, coming later this year, will give you a clue or two.
But let’s consider Brighton as a seaside holiday location, quite popular in 1913 England. Lots to see, lots to do.
Would Eliza have taken a “swim” at Brighton? Despite her reluctance to bathe when she first arrived at Wimpole Street, she has learned quite a lot by now about health and hygiene. So yes, we believe she would have enjoyed a “dip” at the time.
And being fashionable, this is the bathing costume Eliza would have donned. First, in her street clothes, she would have hired a “bathing cabinet” which would be wheeled by a porter on the beach and down into the water. Eliza would have changed by this time into the skirted tunic and short bloomers, bathing cap, and sometimes bathing shoes — and then entered the water via the steps. Once she had enough of floating or splashing, she would have returned to the bathing cabinet and dried off — towels were provided, perhaps water and soap as well? — and then changed back into her street clothes. The cabinet would have been wheeled back onto the beach, and she could then rejoin Professor Higgins and stroll along the pier.
On the left are some modern costumes showing smart designs. The parasol would help keep the sun from causing freckles on your face and skin, and the straw boater might lend a jaunty air. No tanning back then! A cream-and-roses complexion was important to ladies of the day. On the right, Professor Higgins might — MIGHT — don the striped bathing “suit” to take the waters, with or without the tube. But certainly without the mustache! Colonel Pickering as well, although it’s hard to picture him in that suit! But Shaw himself enjoyed bathing. Here’s a few photos from 1903 when the author was younger, and one in 1931 at 75.
Today, Brighton is still popular for British holiday goers. Have fun this summer, wherever you “take the waters”!
Above, the Royal Pavilion today in Brighton, England.