*Now a Major Film*
On the night of 24 August 1875 Matthew Webb, a 27-year-old British Navy captain, launched himself into the English Channel at Dover. Twenty-one hours and 45 minutes later he became the first man to swim the English Channel. In this acclaimed biography, Kathy Watson shows how Captain Webb was instrumental in bringing the sport of swimming into the modern era. It is also a study of the Victorian drive to push back the boundaries of endurance. In THE CROSSING, Watson uses this great British eccentric's extraordinary life as a springboard to explore themes of obsession and failure and the emerging force of the media, and swimming's place in our psyche.
London journalist Watson delivers a sensitive, well-wrought account of the life of Matthew Webb, a 27-year-old British merchant seaman who in 1875 became the first person to swim the English Channel making it from Dover to Calais in under 22 hours, a feat not duplicated for 36 years. Fueled by frequent servings of coffee, beer and brandy, suffering from a jellyfish sting, Webb traversed the icy, "frighteningly unpredictable" 21-mile Channel by overcoming tides so strong that he actually swam over 40 miles. Watson details Webb's early life, his status as "probably the best known and most popular man in the world" after his deed, his tragic fall from grace and his death at age 35 while swimming below Niagara Falls. Watson deftly contextualizes this obscure sporting figure: "His crossing gave swimming an enormous boost, transforming it almost overnight into one of the most popular participant sports in the country"; government-supported swimming baths proliferated and still thrive today. Watson carefully recounts the increasingly exploitative Victorian popular culture in which Webb's popularity yielded to new fads; he had to resort to less-than-professional "championship" races and cheap stunts to support his family. A Channel swimmer herself, Watson understands that the crossing "is never less than a rite of passage in the swimmer's life" and that history "has remembered Webb only in isolated flashes, but his real and lasting monument surely lies in the spirit of all the men and women who, since his crossing, have tried to swim the channel."