Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August 12, 1875 --- A Girl on a Swing

The Rev. Francis Kilvert has a most interesting day at the school fete in the Wiltshire village of Kington St. Michael. A girl with a "beseeching look" asks for a push on the swing. "She was a perfect little beauty," he writes in his diary that evening, "with a sweet little mouth as pretty as a rosebud." Unfortunately, while seating the girl on the swing, her clothes become disarranged. "It instantly became apparent that she wore no drawers. A titter, then a shout of laughter ran through the crowd as the girl's plump person was seen naked hanging from the swing ... I believe it was partly my fault." No doubt embarrassed for the child, he finds pleasure in the moment, nonetheless, "Her flesh was plump and smooth and in excellent whipping condition."

Rev. Kilvert's unusual diary was discovered and published shortly before World War II, and no less a critic than A.L. Rowse has called it "among the best half-dozen or dozen diaries ever written in English." Born in 1840, Kilvert began his diary while a curate at Clyro, near Hay-on-Wye, in 1870. He continued it until his marriage in August 1879; a month later, he died suddenly of peritonitis. The diary, according to Rowse, is "an extraordinarily sensitive and observant picture of life in the 70's."

The incident at the fair is only one of several in which the cleric reveals his voyeurism. Like Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) and John Ruskin (at 47, he proposed to a teenager), Kilvert was a member of the cult of the "little girl." Only weeks before the swing incident, while strolling a beach on the Isle of Wight, he happily encountered a little girl, entirely naked on the sand.  He noted well what he had seen: "The supple slender waist, the gentle dawn and tender swell of the bosom and the budding breasts ... and above all the soft and exquisite curves of the rosy dimpled bottom and broad white thigh."  Rattled by this chance meeting, the good curate admitted, "I missed the road by the windmill ... and went too far round to the right."

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