Health, Hedonism & Hypochondria also delivers a gossipy romp through the “secret or shadow side” of spas — the sex and the shenanigans. Bradley sums up this salacious dimension by embracing the German word Kurschatten, “generally used to describe the romantic and amorous dalliances that regularly took place in spas during their golden age”. Not so much steam room as steamy room. This not only gives a surprising pep; it also reveals how wellness entered the mainstream through another channel — culture, as the dramas of spa life were captured in 18th- and 19th-century literature and music.
Bradley has a gift for wrestling the most joyous morsels from his sources. In Bath, for instance, locals amused themselves by throwing cats, dogs and pigs over the spa walls and into the tubs, to the great annoyance of those bubbling away inside. Charles Darwin hammered nails into planks in his London garden, to create a shed in which he might continue the cold water cure he had taken at Malvern for his flatulence. Turgenev came to the roulette-addicted Tolstoy’s aid at Baden-Baden with a wad of banknotes, which his friend blew within the hour.