Water Defences

The Arts of Swimming in Nineteenth-Century Culture

in Critical Survey

In Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), the Minor canon of Cloisterham Cathedral is introduced to the reader as a thoroughly muscular Christian. Crisparkle’s moral fibre is designated by a prolonged succession of adjectives; indeed, the only point at which this adjectival rhythm is ruptured is when the text pauses to describe the Reverend’s sophisticated and frequent swimming rituals. So proficient a swimmer is he, that when the crews that drag the river searching for Drood’s body fail to find any clues, it is Crisparkle we are told, who ‘threw off his clothes, […] plunged into the icy water, and swam for the spot. Climbing the timbers, he took from them […] a gold watch, bearing engraved upon its back E. D.’ (198).

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