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The meaning and origin of the expression: Close your eyes and think of England

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Close your eyes and think of England

Meaning

A reference to unwanted sexual intercourse - specifically advice to an unwilling wife when sexually approached by her husband.

Origin

This is recorded in the 1912 journal of Lady Hillingdon:

"When I hear his steps outside my door I lie down on my bed, open my legs and think of England."

That is widely repeated in various reference texts, but without access to the source document it has to be counted as speculative. If it is indeed accurate then we can also speculate that the good lady's forbearance wasn't frequently tested. She was married to Charles William Mills, second Baron Hillingdon, who had retired from active business life five years prior to this journal entry, owing to ill health. Her idea of an unpleasant experience being moderated by dreams of the green and pleasant land may have been inspired by the poem 'In A Strange Land', which was published anonymously, but presumably by a homesick ex-patriot, in the New Zealand newspaper The Evening Post, in February 1905:

Oh, to lie awake at night and think of England,
Out of reach and far away;
Oh, to see her in the distance as a picture,
And let your fancy play.

'Lie back and think of England', or as it is more often expressed these days 'close your eyes and think of England', was used in two contexts. Firstly, it was, or later dramas have portrayed that it was, advice given by a mother to her daughter on her wedding night. Sex education wasn't all that it might have been in the early 20th century. The other context is of advice given by a woman friend to a loveless wife. Marriage was a route to economic security for women in Edwardian England and many must have seen the granting of sexual favours as an unwelcome price to pay for it.

The expression is sometimes attributed to Queen Victoria. The phrase certainly has the moral tone of many Victorian maxims that emphasised effort and forbearance, for example, 'Play up, play-up and play the game', 'If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run... you'll be a man, my son', etc. There's no evidence that Queen Victoria ever uttered the phrase and circumstantial evidence points entirely the other way as she loved her husband deeply, was an enthusiastic sexual partner and the couple had nine children.