Acetic acid

When Stephen, in Proteus, comically imagines a Casanova rising "from the bed of his wife's lover's wife," he puzzlingly adds that "the kerchiefed housewife is astir, a saucer of acetic acid in her hands." Acetic acid is the chief component of vinegar, and vinegar is sometimes used for household cleaning, so this clause could refer to morning chores. But the housewife is more likely getting out of bed to perform a contraceptive douche.

JH 2021

Display in the Museum of Contraception and Abortion, Vienna. Source:

Sea sponge contraceptive from the early 1900s displayed with two rubber cervical caps from the 1940s. Source: