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Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero [Kindle Edition]

Charles Sprawson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $19.95
Kindle Price: $13.00
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In a masterful work of cultural history, Charles Sprawson, himself an obsessional swimmer and fluent diver, explores the meaning that different cultures have attached to water, and the search for the springs of classical antiquity.
In nineteenth-century England bathing was thought to be an instrument of social and moral reform, while in Germany and America swimming came to signify escape. For the Japanese the swimmer became an expression of samurai pride and nationalism. Sprawson gives is fascinating glimpses of the great swimming heroes: Byron leaping dramatically into the surf at Shelley’s beach funeral; Rupert Brooke swimming naked with Virginia Woolf, the dark water “smelling of mint and mud”; Hart Crane swallow-diving to his death in the Bay of Mexico; Edgar Allan Poe’s lone and mysterious river-swims; Leander, Webb, Weissmuller, and a host of others.
Informed by the literature of Swinburne, Goethe, Scott Fitzgerald, and Yukio Mishima; the films of Riefenstahl and Vigo; the Hollywood “swimming musicals” of the 1930s; and delving in and out of Olympic history, Haunts of the Black Masseur is an enthralling assessment of man—body submerged, self-absorbed. It is quite simply the best celebration of swimming ever written, even as it explores aspects of culture in a heretofore unimagined way.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sprawson, an English art dealer who swam the Hellespont, has produced a delightful, profound cultural and literary history of swimming, bathing and the social meanings of water from ancient Greece to the modern Olympics. Swimmers, he contends, frequently fall prey to delusions and neuroses spawned by their solitary training. Flaubert and Shelley had an "erotic, neurotic affinity with water"; Swinburne took a masochistic delight in being scraped by pebbles and pounded by waves; and novelist Baron Corvo (Frederick Rolfe), a passionate swimmer, bathed in "morbid self-admiration and absorption in a fantasy world." Sprawson deftly probes the differing values associated with swimming by various cultures. The English, who swam naked until the Victorian Age, saw bathing as a means of social reform. Germans from Goethe to Thomas Mann linked swimming to a Faustian quest for knowledge, to spiritual perfection and, in Leni Riefenstahl's films, to a cult of athleticism. In the U.S., according to Sprawson, swimming has been associated with refuge and withdrawal, citing as examples F. Scott Fitzgerald's fiction and David Hockney's paintings of Southern California. This invigorating excursion affords a fabulous dip with the likes of Poe, Byron, Virginia Woolf, Yukio Mishima, Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller. Photos.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this poor execution of an intriguing idea, Sprawson, an art dealer who is himself an avid swimmer, attempts to explore swimming and swimmers from both a literary and cultural viewpoint. He quotes extensively from such writer/swimmers as Shelly and Byron, focusing primarily on English literature but adding chapters on German, American, and Japanese swimming experiences. He also considers modern film and architecture. Unfortunately, his book stands in need of extensive editing: the sentences are awkward and obtuse; the quoted excerpts do not fit smoothly into the text and are not adequately prefaced. Not recommended.
- J. Sara Paulk, Concord P.L., N.H.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 4219 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (August 29, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008TSC2MO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,008,425 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars water as life, intelligence and inspiration July 14, 1998
I have this book in an italian translation and I would love to read it in the original language. The book in intelligent, accurate and gives you the right idea that underlines the love of generations of great men for the water. Water as adventure, water as duel and meditation, water as gathering matter and sense of life. Episodes and tales to think about, a book that pushes you straight to the closest lake, seaside or swimming pool. Makes you understand as, sometimes, the most valuable and exciting things are not hidden in the deep and dark forest but are easily available and are just waiting to be discovered.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing, Healing, Wonderful February 18, 2005
I re-read this book every few years. It's one of my five favorite books of all time. If you like swimming, you'll love it. It's very poetic, the language is musical, it's unbelievably well written (James Joyce would like reading this), and a marvelous history of swimming, in the arts and in history. Reading it takes you straight to that place your head can sometimes go to, when you're swimming at midnight, in a dark, warm ocean, on a warm summer night, by yourself, and you slip into some kind of waking, crazy, ecstatic, dreamstate, nirvana/satori. This book is almost as good as swimming itself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars water as muse and temptress January 9, 2001
By karl b.
Something primordial exists in swimming for those willing to recognize it, perhaps some residue of an ancestral species instinct to the sea, a subliminal memory of submergence in the amniotic sac, or the proffered suspension of temporal consciousness in its weightless rhythms. Sprawson explores this allure in athletics and in literature. Most central to his study are the Romantic poets obsession with swimming and water-- among them Goethe, Shelley, Swinburne, Pushkin, Poe and especially Byron who was a formidable marathon swimmer in his own right.
The Romantic ideal was closely associated with Classical notions of the body and nature, and its notion of hero was intertwined with this. Hellenism held a special thrall over the Romantic period. This was the impetus to Byron's swimming of the Hellespont, and to a tragic sub text to his and other lives as they were swept up in naive movements or misadventure (Byron died in a Greek rebellion against the Turks). Swimming was seen as a dissent from the priggish, sanctimonious, imposed to something pure, original, regenerative through nature.
But there was an impulse to self annihilation as well. Some were smashed on rocks, or gripped by undertows or had their health broken by cold water and over exertion. Fitness was not the prevailing motivation; swimming was muse, cave, judge. Its influence continued into the 20th Century, In Jack London's 'Martin Eden', John Cheever's 'the Swimmer" or Yukio Mishima's seduction by Byron's hedonistic fantasies, it again cast down verdicts of elevation, dissolution and destruction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars plunging into the matter of life September 4, 2004
Sprawson's book, more than a decade after its publication, is still the best post-modernist collection of thoughts on swimming in all its forms. It will be of interest to both the atheletic dabbler and the scholarly plunger (not that the two, as ably demonstrated by Sprawson himself, cannot be the same). This remains the best book about the historic and intellectual roots of our modern swimming mad world. Readers wishing to continue their exploration of water's embrace on the human mind and body will find much of interest in my sequal to Sprawson's book - Deep Immersion: The Experience of Water (nominated as top environmental book of the year), which reviews over two hundred modern accounts by writers plunging into water around the world. Stay wet! As Thoreau wrote: "That part of you that is wettest is fullest of life" (quoted in Profitably Soaked: Thoreau's Engagement with Water; Green Frigate Books, 2003)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The author examines swimming from all angles: the history, the competition, the recreation. The style is mesmerizing and turns a mundane subject into a revelation. This book should appeal to swimmers and non-swimmers alike.
The artwork included is outstanding, and makes mw wish the author had included more.
The author includes several stories about his own swimming adventures, but rather than being self-centered, these episodes are avenues into intriguing stories and history.
The style of the writing is smooth and inviting. One gets the feeling that the book is a giant metaphor ... not strictly about water and swimming, but rather using water as a symbol for something larger.
Highly recommended!
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