NPJ Book Review: The Philosophy of the Bed by Mary Eden and Richard Carrington

The Philosophy of the Bed by Mary Eden and Richard Carrington (1961)

I’ve been reading this book while sleeping in different hotel beds. This is one of those books I classify as a gem and I brought along from my personal library for some insights into the sensuality and the realities of the bed throughout history.

The authors have offered up a spicy, thoughtful, documented and accessible look into the philosophical and social history of the bed – from ancient nomadic tribes in caves and forests, to those who made beds from  piles of grass and brushwood in huts and the use of straw that served as pillows to a myriad of other bed types in different cultures. The constructions of beds whether on wheels or mechanical or out of wood or metal this study offers an informative look at beds, bedding and furnishings that could be found in different levels of a society and the philosophy of bed design – from Ancient Greece and Rome to the Medieval ages and the present, the authors offer poetic, social, philosophical  and artistic insights.

Superstitions were attached to the many uses of the bed: such as the young losing their vitality by sharing their bed with the old, or the man who sits on the bed of his mother has committed incest, or importance in certain types of hunting expeditions and associated rituals to have intercourse, particularly with one’s spouse, the night before the hunt to achieve success and the bed being viewed as an omen for good or ill in a variety of relationships depending on one’s partner and circumstances.

Throughout history it was only those who had resources to have a bed for themselves while the masses of impoverished shared beds together especially while traveling. The smell of human odor was prevalent.  Infestations of lice, fleas and cockroaches was not uncommon.

The bed through the ages has been used for  sex in its varied and stimulating erotic forms along with the use of chastity devices, giving birth, reading, eating, writing, drawing, painting, personal and not so personal intimacies & conversations, breast-feeding, dispensing justice,  composing music, dying and sleeping with any number of marriage and death-bed sayings and confessions. With regard to sleep, snoring it was noted in some cases led to divorce and murder. Mistakes also were made at times as in the case of the chambermaid that mistook a guest’s wooden leg for the handle of a warming-pan.

This concise book is very well illustrated with photos, paintings and drawings. And I suspect given the many new designs and philosophies of the bed and its uses make for an opportunity for a 21st century social history update by an enterprising author as more information has been discovered. Until such time this philosophical and social historical insight will do. Enjoy!