Victorians Loved Their Hammocks


Hammocks in French Market

July 22 is National Hammock Day—a day reserved for human laziness. All chores are verboten. I’ve read the devotees of this holiday lie in hammocks for much of the day into evening. Typically hammocks–made of cloth, straw, rope or any flexible material–are suspended between trees or hung on porches with ingenious riggings from the ceiling or from decorative posts. Either location provides comforting shade from the sun for the hammock occupant.

The Victorians went one better. They put hammocks in their parlors during the summer months. A few months ago while reading the bound volumes of Harper’s Bazar (now Harper’s Bazaar) from the mid-1880s, I came across an article suggesting that a gentleman might enjoy relaxing in a hammock inside the house. In fact, it gave detailed directions on how to hang a hammock in the parlor. My imagination took me to that household in the prim Victorian age. What wife would think such a location for a hammock was a good idea? Probably not many. The argument likely to ensue when the husband suggested such an outrageous idea gave me a scene in our third romance in the Love in New Orleans Series.

In honor of National Hammock Day, I’m sharing an excerpt from our current Work in Progress, tentatively titled Love Lessons. Carine Bouchard and Vespasian Colville write an advice column, “Dear Jacques and Jacqueline,” for The Daily Picayune in New Orleans. Rather than answering each letter together, the pair splits the correspondence, but each answers using the pronoun we. Carine is furious about one of Vespasian’s answers in this morning’s paper.

Vespasian visibly bristled. “What on earth is wrong with my answer? With summer approaching, a husband wanted to hang a hammock in the parlor. And I—we—supported that decision.”

“A hammock in a formal room would be hideous.“ She not only raised her voice. She slammed her hand on the table, an action she found herself repeating quite often while working with this arrogant man. “It would destroy the whole décor of the parlor.”

He halted his pacing mid-room and turned to face her. “I think a husband has the right to enjoy himself in his own parlor. If a hammock suspended from the ceiling is more appealing to him than a horsehair-stuffed settee, then he should have it. Must everyone be so formal, especially in the summer months?”

“But, sir, you didn’t leave it at that.” She looked up to meet his eyes. “You wrote that it might do the lady good to relax in the hammock with her husband.”  

Vespasian let out a loud sigh and leaned forward, placing his hands on the table and bringing his face within inches of hers. “I grant you, lying side by side in a hammock conveys a certain intimacy, which is precisely why I suggested it. Miss Bouchard, they are husband and wife. I presume they share a bed—at least occasionally.”

Inevitably Vespasian’s mind ran to such actions, no matter what the topic of a reader’s letter. He was so near her, her own thoughts dwelt a moment on couples in bed together. Breathing in a pleasant mixture of sandalwood shaving soap and maleness—a dog and horse scent, she didn’t move.

She protested once again, but she’d lost the anger in her voice. “The husband wanted to hang a hammock—a hammock—in the parlor. How you managed to find an intimate component in his stupid idea, I don’t know.”

He whispered so softly she inched closer to his lips to hear him. “I suspect there is little or no love making in their marriage. She’s inventing disagreements to keep him from her bed.”

No doubt he was correct, but she wouldn’t admit it. She rolled her eyes. “Thank heavens you didn’t write that.”

For a complete history of hammocks—from the Mayans to modern times, see:http://www.ecomall.com/greenshopping/hammock.htm