Lady Of The Crossbow Inn

The One Thing About Both Books And Show That Really Irritates Me

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Posted (edited)

Okay, maybe I'm not being fair about the show at least, b/c this is fantasy cinema and there s always a level of Hollywood about most modern productions, in order to maintain a suspension of disbelief. But sometimes George is guilty of this as well, and it really bothers me. Or maybe this is just inevitable b/c we cannot help but look at this subject through a 21st-century lens, b/c this way of life described in the books and show is so remote and unknown to us. But here goes. 

 

I'm currently reading a new book called "Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide To Sex, Marriage, and Manners"  by Therese O'Neill. It's easily the most fascinating thing I've read a long while. There have been a lot of books about daily life in Victorian times but this one goes a step further and discusses in great detail everything you were afraid to ask about, things like personal hygiene and feminine sanitary issues in an age without sewage treatment; (yes, there are illustrations), sexual practices and birth control (or lack thereof), even a whole chapter on how a modest Victorian Miss (who is really supposed to Know Nothing) copes with her wedding night. (All I can say is: YIKES.) Things like the manufacture and care of clothing how to cook, houseold management and working as a maid, how to serve dinner and have a party or reception, and even the correct way to walk down the street and behave in public. (OMG. Is all I can say...Saudi Arabia just don't compare. really. There was even a correct facial expression you were supposed to have....OMG.)

One thing I have found out that really surprised me: Those gorgeous dresses, the kind worn over hoop skirts /aka GWTW dresses,  were never washed. The cotton and linen underclothes were washed fairly often, but the dresses themselves, NEVER. B/c of the fabric and embellishments, it was impossible to wash them.  In fact, just the opposite: sometimes they were hung in the er, "Necessary" so that all that "fresh air" (AHEM) might purge the lice and vermin from them. You can imagine how your typical ball was like, with all that heavily perfumed body odor and smelly dresses floating around. Now imagine a crowded train station or worse, a stagecoach  or  trolley....:) Once O'Neill gets into talking about "garderobes" in medieval castles and states that this is how Disney princesses most likely relieved themselves, and then says to tell your daughter about this to get her out of her annoying Disney princess phase, I was hooked. 

 

Which got me back to thinking about medieval hygeine and care of clothing, something I was already wondering about watching Season 7. I was already thinking HAS JON'S CAPE EVER BEEN WASHED??? but this book has got me going on steroids. George is sometimes very admirable in mentioning "the nitty gritty" in ASOIAF, He talks about things like Arya and Hot Pie and crew havi to be scrubbed  free of lice and vermin at the Harrenhal baths, characters needing to pee (and yes, contrary to the Bran thread below, we also have a Jon relieving himself against a tree at Craster's and Aeron Greyoy's ahem, ability to put out a hearthfire before he became the Damphair.) Evil characters have rotten teeth or scraggly filthy hair or clothes that..let's not go there. We have Sam seeing mice and Cersei cracking open an undercooked egg to find an undeveloped chick inside,  and a memorable scene at Winterfell  where the cold forces everyone, including the horses,  inside and soon it's implied that not just the animals are pooping on the floor. And you think: wow, this is real. This is the nitty-gritty.

 

But this NEVER occurs with our heroes and often not with the principal baddies as well.Characters journey from North to South still wearing their hot northern furs in warm weather and never appear to break a sweat; (ie Ned in KL, Sam back at his home. Not even Sam's sis frowns meeting Sam still wearing his blacks, or perfume-smelling Gilly.) None of the Dothraki women ever suffered from yeast infections, apparently.  I can tell you that in real life, Jon would NEVER be enchanted with the smell of Ygritte's hair, it would probably be lice-ridden, and most likely his  own by that point, that many weeks from the Wall. And for those of you who know the far racier cave scene from the books, my eyes were popping out of my skull. You recall that Jon gives Ygritte "the lord's kiss" while she is...ahem, (as Deadpool would say) "Sitting on his face." (She straddles him and asks him to do it that way.) I leave it up to you to imagine what this would be like with a Ygritte who was only as clean as an icy-cold stream several days ago could make her...and furs that most likely were NEVER EVER washed, inside or out.  What did all  those Wildlings stuck at Hardhome do if anything to keep themselves clean, I wonder, or could they, living in that icy environment. I mean think about it...months with no equivalent of toothpaste, deodarent, or even toilet paper, not so much as a handful of tree leaves to use. (Gods bless you, or not, Allister Thorne.) 

 

Add to this that most women never shaved their bodies either...(didn't Natalia Tena try to address this?) So yes, Jon knocking on that door must have been terrified in more ways than one. Dany has her retinue to keep her spiffy and her clothes washed and hair impeccably washed and braided at all times, but I wish we had seen his squire and mini-retinue. I'm sure that his hair was shampooed and his hair pomade was not bear grease or animal-grease based, that it smelled like hairspray, that his armor had been scrubbed and all that leather as well, that his breath was Listerine-fresh no matter what he ate (and yes, everyones' teeth is sparkling white) and when Dany peeled all those clothes off, that he smelled everywhere like sandalwood or some other spice from the Summer Isles. Not to mention his feet after walking around constantly indoors in boots. 

 

Interestingly, Martin is always mentioning that Littlefinger's breath smells like mint. And of course we all know that Varys is probably the best-smelling guy in the Seven Kingdoms. And that they are two shady characters on opposite sides of the chaotic coin. What is Martin trying to say here? LOL. 

 

Sorry, but my mind has just gone here. How did people ever live back then??!

Edited by Lady Of The Crossbow Inn

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5 minutes ago, Lady Of The Crossbow Inn said:

And for those of you who know the far racier cave scene from the books, my eyes were popping out of my skull. You recall that Jon gives Ygritte "the lord's kiss" while she is...ahem, (as Deadpool would say) "Sitting on his face." (She straddles him and asks him to do it that way.) I leave it up to you to imagine what this would be like with a Ygritte who was only as clean as an icy-cold stream could make her...and furs that most likely were NEVER EVER washed. 

I read a very fascinating article one time describing a study of people's tolerance for ick in relation to their sexual arousal.

 The main finding was that  the more turned on a person gets, the less they are repulsed by things like body odor and other personal smells.

Interestingly the ick resistance doesn't seem to persist after the arousal abates.

 

 If i can find it I'll post a link.

 

Point of Order:  Is Jon's cloak only trimmed in black feathers in the show? I don't remember.   You can't really wash feathers, I believe.  

 

 

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It must be remembered that the health practices of our history were greatly influenced by mysticism, which lead to sorts of stupidity.

 

The Masters loathe mysticism.

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Posted (edited)

The link would be interesting, Reekazoid...we book readers know how Jon's teenage hormones were kicking in overtime at that point! Wow! How tame show Jon was!  (and we know Kit had read the books by that point...so he knew too. Lol)

But I still would debate the article I think.  I still think in certain situations our 21st-century sensibilties would kick in no matter what, that there's a threshold. You mean that if you were really attracted to a hot-looking chick and you got close enough to get it on, only to find out that she smelled as if she hadn't properly bathed or deoderized herself in months, that she was hairy all over,  that she apparently didn't know what toothpaste was, and her feet had moss, that you'd still be getting it on in all sorts of ways? I doubt it. You'd have to have been a concentration-camp survivor to want that. 

 

And let you folks think I'm exaggerating about all this, I once read a contemporary account of the murder of Thomas A' Beckett. The chronicler states that when they peeled off all the layers of clothing to wash his body for burial,he had so many lice that  "the vermin boiled over from his robes like water spilling over the rim of a pot." 

 

Interestingly, people seem to have been cleaner in the Early Middle Ages; but once the overcrowding in Europe became a factor starting in about the late 1200's, and then after the Great Famine of 1315-1320, people became more like the stereotypical filthy Middle Ages person. And this pretty much continued all the ways through the 19th century and the advent of modern plumbing and sewage systems.

 

But seriously...I'd like to know how those delicate fabrics and things are taken care of, we can do it with our modern systems, it's no problem for the costume designer. But imagine laundresses in the world of Westeros trying to do it! 

Edited by Lady Of The Crossbow Inn

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1 hour ago, Lady Of The Crossbow Inn said:

Add to this that most women never shaved their bodies either...(didn't Natalia Tena try to address this?) So yes, Jon knocking on that door must have been terrified in more ways than one. Dany has her retinue to keep her spiffy and her clothes washed and hair impeccably washed and braided at all times, but I wish we had seen his squire and mini-retinue. I'm sure that his hair was shampooed and his hair pomade was not bear grease or animal-grease based, that it smelled like hairspray, that his armor had been scrubbed and all that leather as well, that his breath was Listerine-fresh no matter what he ate (and yes, everyones' teeth is sparkling white) and when Dany peeled all those clothes off, that he smelled everywhere like sandalwood or some other spice from the Summer Isles. Not to mention his feet after walking around constantly indoors in boots.

Remember, the hair removal thing is cultural. As for the general smell and stuff... I don't really feel comfortable getting into this, even anonymously on a forum, but when the blood is really up, these sorts of things become pretty irrelevant.

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Correct me if I'm wrong but, that book you mentioned about Victorian life is a non-fiction book, right? 

Very few people want their fiction to include everything. Sure it would make it grittier, but then we'd have discussions on here about how many times various characters went to the bathroom and whether Ser Alliser Thorne's lack of trips means he's constipated, and whether that explains why he's always such a jerk, or if Euron Greyjoy has a prostate issue and should really see a maester about it.

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I will add that, under clothing is supposed to "absorb" the sweat, etc. allowing the outer clothing to remain, relatively pristine.

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First I feel like it should be pointed out that the middle ages and the Victorian era are very very removed from each other.

The TV show, of course, does have to make adjustments both for modern audience and for the comfort of the actors.

Now, as far as the books: Your applying your on 21st century sensibilities to a very different society. Any smell, hair etc, is what they are accustomed to and expect. No reason to think they'd be grossed out by any of it.

Also, Westeros is a world without germ theory. That makes a huge difference.

That being said --- people weren't as dirty and smelly as most people seem to think they would be in the actual middle ages. They would wash the important parts (hands, underarms, privates) every day and change and wash their underclothes regularly. In modern day we actually overwash. We wash so much that our bodies produce more oil, smell, etc. than in previous times. And while they may not have washed everything everyday, just like in medieval Europe, we see the people westeros do semi regularly use bath and hotsprings.

As a couple interesting asides: during the actual middle ages it was believed that bad smells were how disease was transmitted. That was, ironically, why people stopped bathing as regularly: they thought doing so would open up their pore and allow the disease causing smells in.  Also, in world where most people don't eat sugar, dental hygiene isn't as important: while the rich regularly had black or rotten teeth the poor tended to have pretty healthy ones.

 

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Posted (edited)

I think Unmentionables is not especially historically accurate, actually.

From what you have mentioned,

12 hours ago, Lady Of The Crossbow Inn said:

Those gorgeous dresses, the kind worn over hoop skirts /aka GWTW dresses,  were never washed. The cotton and linen underclothes were washed fairly often, but the dresses themselves, NEVER

In the Regency (1810-1820) and before it, in the Georgian (1714-1810) those dresses were washed, and pressed. Not as often as the underclothes, and it was a fussier process, the different fabrics sometimes having to be taken apart then sewn back together, that laundresses charged more for (a trained eye could calculate the amount of pin money a young lady had at her disposal by the type of embellishments and fabrics of her gown, and the condition they were in.) 

In the 1500's (I know, but very probably earlier and later) wool and wool mix outer  clothes were hung in the guarderobe, because the smell and the light and comparative airyness (compared to being folded and packed in a trunk or chest) and the vertical hanging deterred clothes moths and kept the gown in its best condition.

The dressing closet was not the best smelling place, but remember, for every crap m'lady took, there would be a handful of ashes scented with attar of roses added to the mix too.

But, by the late eighteenth century, wool and wool-linnen worsted and fustians were being replaced by light cotton muslins and lawns. These outer clothes were not only being washed, but ironed. The better sort of people, while not completely aware of or convinced by Continental germ theory ( partly due to the interruption of scientific communication thanks to wars with Directory France and Napoleon) were nonetheless under the impression that inhaling bad airs led to bad health, and had begun installing water closets in their town houses (which used the storm water drains to take the waste straight down the street and into the Thames, and that, plus the 'improvements' made to the drainage systems to facilitate the process, and the rising prosperity of the first half of the 19th century leading to more and more people being able to afford said town houses with water closets, as well as the rise of manufacturing and butchering industries to supply the newly wealthy middle classes with meat to crap and brightly dyed tablecloths to lay it on,  lead to the Great Stink of 1858, but there had been lesser Stinks and cholera epidemics before the Victorian era).  

In fact, the Victorian era was when the miasma theory of bad airs was finally overturned in Britain (firstly by Farr and Nightingale, with their statistically evidenced theories of zymotic disease,then by the late Victorian era, Pasteur finally convinced the English that germ theory was a thing. By which point British medicine had become scientific enough to accept and assimilate the work of  Koch, Cohn, etc. thanks to people like Sir Joseph Lister).

The Victorians were the people who took cleanliness from being next to godliness to being something that even the poor should have, to be deserving of charity. They invented disinfectant, and the general improvement in standards of hygiene is a characteristic of their era.

Even before the Victorian, it was standard for the middle class and higher to wash themselves about once a week. Elizabeth the First famously (according to the report of a Venitian ambassador) 'had a bath every month, whether she needed to or not'.

Richard III had brought back the habit of bathing regularly from his crusades in the Holy Land, where Salidin's saracens ritually purified themselves five times a day before prayer, and wrote in horror of the lack of hygiene of the barbarians that had slaughtered women and children at Acre. His brother, John I, travelled with his own private tub, like Elizabeth I. The habit of bathing on Saturday, before attending mass, was picked up by the monasteries, and sometimes imitated by the godly.

In Chaucer's time, every sizeable village had a bath house (or 'stew').  As it was a space where men and women could appear naked in public together, the medieval bathhouse became synonymous with prostitution, so it can be hard to tell if a man going to a brothel or having a bath from written sources, but still, bathing was far from unknown. 

Throughout the time, water was treated with suspicion, not just because of the association with prostitution, but because river water was not necessarily pure or potable, and it was believed that submerging the whole body in water allowed disease to seep into it. Although for sick people, having baths was often part of the cure (I presume, because the fever or scrofula could seep from them into the water).

The public baths were closed down by Henry VIII, ostensibly because of their association with prostitution and plauge, but more probably because they were a place where peasants could meet and plot uprisings.

In the medieval, people believed in washing their hands, especially before eating and after using the toilet. Also in washing their faces. And, (I strongly suspect - and know to be the case in later eras) washing their privates after sex, and after going to the toilet.

So, while not absolutely spotless, they would not be as dirty as all that. As one Victorian traveller in Korea observed :

Quote

The inhabitants of the land of Cho-sen, from my experience, are not much given to washing and still less to bathing. I have seen them wash their hands fairly often, and the face occasionally; only the very select people of Corea wash it daily. One would think that, with such a very scanty and irregular use of water for the purpose of cleanliness, they should look extremely dirty; but not a bit. It was always to me irritating to the last degree to see how clean those dirty people looked!

(Corea or Cho-sen, Arnold Henry Savage-Landor, pub.1895)

As you can no doubt see from the above, there are difficulties for historians in generalising about a population's bathing habits, especially as it is most often commented on by outsiders, who may well be presuming as much about the general standards of their own people, as of those they are ostensibly observing.

Claimed lack of cleanliness has been used to communicate contempt for, inferiority of, another race, since the time of the ancient Greeks, that I know of, and very probably earlier than that.

I'm guessing that if you check the sources in Unmentionable you will find a number of references before 1837 are included as 'Victorian' or not clearly distinguished from them, and that your author has generalised specific cases and selected specific cases that supported her general point, even when there are as many from the period that would refute it, even when the point could be supported in any era by the selection of similar evidence, the kind of hearsay and anecdote that proves nothing.

GRRM mentions the stews of Lannisport and the stews along Pisswater bend, but it is unclear if he means brothels/bastards/places of promiscuity, or if he means tanners stews - implying the people referred to are the lowly apprentices of the leather and dying trades, and the diseases are being transmitted by the water. You woudn't want to bathe in a tanners stew.

In reference to Jon Snow: furs are shaken and brushed not washed. That is as true for a modern-day person whose tastes run to draping themselves with dead animals as it is for Jon Snow. Note when Tyrion accepts a riding fur from Benjen in Ch.13 of Game of Thrones, it smells a bit of mildew. That is probably because it was stored in  damp saddlebags and such at some time and had not been hung in a clean, airy, dry guarderobe at Winterfell long enough to get the mildew smell out of it. 

Jon and Ygritte talk to each other about hygiene, in a way that indicates they both believe in washing sometimes:

Quote

Why would I hate such a man as that?”
“Maybe he never washes, so he smells as rank as a bear.”
“Then I’d push him in a stream or throw a bucket o’ water on him. Anyhow, men shouldn’t smell sweet like flowers.”
“What’s wrong with flowers?”
“Nothing, for a bee. For bed I want one o’ these.” Ygritte made to grab the front of his breeches.

(ASoS, Ch.41 Jon V)

So, clearly not up to the southern standards of Satin, or the Blue Bard, who comb rosewater through their beards and hair. 

On the other hand, when he met her for the scene you refer to above

Quote

She stood beside a little waterfall that fell from a cleft in the rock down into a wide dark pool.

and had been there long enough to have bathed and dressed before he found her, and afterwards

Quote

Ygritte stumbled into the pool and screeched at the cold of the water. When Jon laughed, she pulled him in too. They wrestled and splashed in the dark, and then she was in his arms again, and it turned out they were not finished after all.

(ASoS, Ch.26 Jon III)

which might not be up to your standards of hygiene, but it shows they do sometimes bathe between having sex.

Edited by Walda

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The idea that medieval people didn't wash is pretty laughable. Even more so for Westerosi, who GRRM has given a more advanced medical knowledge to, so as not to have tons of characters dying from infected wounds and the like.

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I think we have enough bloat without adding extra paragraphs for an in depth description of Eddard washing his balls. 

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On 10/8/2017 at 2:55 AM, Walda said:

Claimed lack of cleanliness has been used to communicate contempt for, inferiority of, another race, since the time of the ancient Greeks, that I know of, and very probably earlier than that.

According to midrash, one of the insults Saul uses for the Philistines connotes their lack of foot-washing rituals, that made them both physically dirty and culturally unlike their Canaanite (including Jewish) neighbors.

 

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On 10/10/2017 at 5:41 PM, Trigger Warning said:

I think we have enough bloat without adding extra paragraphs for an in depth description of Eddard washing his balls. 

Bingo 

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ASOIAF is not supposed to be in Victorian era, because it's not supposed to represent any era at all: It's fantasy.

"In those times...this and that didn't work..." argument is always a mistake some people are doing.

What time? In time of Dragons, Ice zombies, Giants and children telepathically connected with wolves? 

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12 hours ago, The Sunland Lord said:

What time? In time of Dragons, Ice zombies, Giants and children telepathically connected with wolves? 

Well, Victoria was a werewolf (Doctor Who), a vampire (Anno Dracula), half draconic alien (real life, according to David Icke), and a midget Giant (Doctor Who again). Sure, she probably wasn't also an ice zombie, but an anthropomorphic personification of winter who controls ice zombies? Why not?

But really, it's a bit weird to be looking to the Victorian era for comparisons to a world that's mostly generic faux-medieval fantasy with a bit more real-life late medieval than usual. To the extent that Westeros does match the real world, the Victorian era is half a millennium off, and half a millennium of pretty rapid progress, at that.

Also, Victoria would have just asked Torchwood to blow up the ice zombies and the story would have been over back in book one.

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