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Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero Paperback – June 13, 2000

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (June 13, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816635390
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816635399
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,340,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Superb, faintly seedy, fascinating book by swimmer and classicist Sprawson on the history of swimming in literature. Having read it years ago when it came out,Opened it up to read in Ballynahinch Castle, and discovered that the swimming pool of Sprawson's boarding school in India was donated by the Edwardian cricketer Ranjitsinhji (otherwise known as the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar), whose portrait hangs in Ballynahinch - he was a former owner of the castle, which is a beloved hotel on the best trout-fishing stream in Ireland. It's typical of the spooky synchronicity evinced in the book, with its awe-inspiring descriptions of the kamikaze, or divine wind, that sent a cloud of butterflies floating over the Japanese winners in the Berlin Olympics; of the Roman pool with a marble lip lapping on to the open sea, with swimming guests fed by delicacies floating in golden boats or swans...
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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