The artful use of one's free time was a discipline perfected by the French in the nineteenth century. Casinos, alpine hiking, hotel dinners, romantic gardens, and lavish parks were all part of France's growing desire for the ideal vacation. Perhaps the most intriguing vacation, however, was the ever popular health resort, and this is the main topic of Douglas Mackaman's fascinating study.
Taking us into the vibrant social world of France's great spas, Mackaman explores the links between class identity and vacationing. Mackaman shows how, after 1800, physicians and entrepreneurs zealously tried to break their milieu's strong association with aristocratic excess and indecency by promoting spas as a rational, ordered equivalent to the busy lives of the bourgeoisie. Rather than seeing leisure time as slothful, Mackaman argues, the bourgeoisie willingly became patients at spas and viewed this therapeutic vacation as a sensible, even productive, way of spending time. Mackaman analyzes this transformation, and ultimately shows how the premier vacation of an era made and was made by the bourgeoisie.
The familiar image of Cheltenham, a large and prosperous former spa town, world-famous on account of its Georgian and Regency architecture, its festivals and educational establishments, masks an earlier history. While numerous descriptions of the town have been published over the years, most say little about the many centuries of its existence before the 1740s, when it began to develop as a fashionable resort. This is the fullest account ever attempted to chronicle those centuries, from the late Saxon period until the 18th century. In this period, Cheltenham developed into a successful small town, ranged along a single main street, with the market and trades serving not only its own needs but also those of the surrounding countryside. It draws on a range of documentary sources preserved in local and national archives, many of them never examined in detail before. It therefore helps to explain the foundations upon which present-day Cheltenham was constructed.