swimming scenes in fiction
September 21, 2013 3:08 AM   Subscribe

What are some memorable scenes from literature that center around swimming, and/or use swimming as a metaphor?

(It's OK if they also involve drowning or risk of drowning, but not required.)
posted by pete_22 to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
(I know films probably don't count as literature, but I immediately had a vivid recollection of the childhood swimming scene from Gattaca on reading this question.)
posted by richb at 3:19 AM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Speaking of films, Upstream Color has a very memorable swimming scene.
posted by lumensimus at 3:46 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Trainspotting
posted by ryanrs at 3:48 AM on September 21, 2013


The use of the public swimming pool and the words 'aqua profundo' play an important part in Helen Garner's excellent book "Monkey Grip", a story written and set in the late 70's dealing with relationships in inner-city Melbourne.
posted by h00py at 3:51 AM on September 21, 2013


Best answer: One of John Cheever's most widely-read short stories is his 1964 "The Swimmer," later in the '60s made into a film of the same title. Swimming is pretty much nothing but a metaphor here.
posted by third rail at 3:54 AM on September 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


And as for your mention of drowning: if you want to include poetry? Stevie Smith's "Not Waving But Drowning:"

Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
posted by third rail at 3:58 AM on September 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


From a google search. (I haven't actually read any of these...I feel so cheap just googling it :(
posted by foxhat10 at 3:58 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Humbert Humbert considers murdering Charlotte Haze, Lolita's mother, as they swim together in a lake in Lolita. Water imagery is a running motif in the book.
posted by Diablevert at 4:11 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are a bunch of good ones in Iris Murdoch's Nuns and Soldiers.
posted by Grunyon at 4:43 AM on September 21, 2013


Toward the end of The Great Gatsby. (no spoilers!)
posted by PaulaSchultz at 5:31 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a must read for a lot of reasons, but there are definite themes of water and swimming.
posted by beep-bop-robot at 5:41 AM on September 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Cloudstreet by Tim Winton has a few, and water/drowning is a central theme.
posted by M. at 5:42 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


David Brin's Startide Rising is, basically, all swimming. Featuring a distressed starship crashed on a water world crewed largely by dolphins.

While these aren't exactly swimming I also have brought to mind the story of Jonah as well as the sirens from the Iliad.
posted by mce at 6:21 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


In John Barleycorn.
And in Martin Eden.
posted by hat_eater at 6:40 AM on September 21, 2013


Joseph Conrad, "The Secret Sharer"; W. Somerset Maugham, "A Friend in Need"; Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley doesn't have much swimming overall, but (avoiding spoilers) a... pivotal scene hinges heavily on swimming; swimming is also important in Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game".
posted by pont at 6:55 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Climax Of Tartt's The Little Friend, a kind of grown up exploration of the Nancy Drew Mystery genre, involves an extended swimming scene with risk of drowning in a water tower.
posted by The Whelk at 7:04 AM on September 21, 2013


Their Eyes Were Watching God
posted by Sassyfras at 7:04 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


" A Separate Peace" the prep school novel of repressed and painful romantic longing, uses swimming as metaphor and device a lot.
posted by The Whelk at 7:09 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Walt Whitman, section 11 in Song of Myself.
posted by dilettante at 7:15 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's an important scene in the Ghost in the Shell movie that's about swimming. (Dunno if that counts as "literature".)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:16 AM on September 21, 2013


Lisa Shea's Hula
posted by zoomorphic at 7:19 AM on September 21, 2013


Best answer: There's an important swimming scene in James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice.
posted by afx237vi at 7:19 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Arthur Nersesian's Chinese Takeout, the main character is working on paintings of swimmers throughout the book, even as he works on the "Chinese takeout" sculpture that is at the heart of the plot.
posted by jayder at 7:24 AM on September 21, 2013


There's the swimming match between Beowulf and Breca in, well, Beowulf ...
posted by DingoMutt at 7:49 AM on September 21, 2013


Best answer: John Irving is your man. The 158-Pound Marriage has a swimming pool scene. There's quarry swimming in A Prayer for Owen Meany. There's a swimming lesson in The Cider House Rules. "Undertoad" comes from The World According to Garp. Etc. Also he said "writing a novel is like swimming in the sea. Writing a film is like swimming in the bath."
posted by headnsouth at 8:11 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Madeline L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light has a lot of swimming with dolphins.
posted by freshwater at 8:30 AM on September 21, 2013


Camu's The Stranger has a lot of action around the ocean, including going swimming with his girlfriend which is later used as proof of him not being bothered by his mother's death.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:50 AM on September 21, 2013


The ending of Hermann Hesse's "Magister Ludi" aka "The Glass Bead Game".
posted by zyxwvut at 9:07 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]




Summer People, Marge Piercy
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:50 AM on September 21, 2013


Maia by Richard Adams has numerous swimming scenes, and swimming is also an important theme: Maia's friend uses it as a metaphor to explain the danger she is in as a slave, and ultimately swimming is a key to Maia's success.
posted by tomboko at 9:56 AM on September 21, 2013


There's a memorable swimming scene in Julien Gracq's 'Ch√Ęteau d'Argol'.
posted by misteraitch at 10:12 AM on September 21, 2013


Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two Boys is terrific.
posted by carmicha at 10:15 AM on September 21, 2013


The Descendants has that powerful scene with Shaliene Woodley crying underwater.
posted by kbar1 at 10:26 AM on September 21, 2013


And there's a scene in Whip It where Ellen Page and Landon Pigg seem to have amazing lung capacity.
posted by kbar1 at 10:33 AM on September 21, 2013


Oops - sorry - I thought you were looking for movie scenes - nevermind!!!
posted by kbar1 at 10:34 AM on September 21, 2013


Pincher Martin by William Golding. Also I'll second "The Stranger"- when I read your question I immediately thought of Mersault and Marie swimming together in the sea.
posted by beau jackson at 11:31 AM on September 21, 2013


Ordinary People by Judith Guest (also a truly great film version directed by Robert Redford, all star cast)
Under The Pitons -- a really tightly wound short story by Robert Stone; I read it in Best Short Stories 1997. A great read.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:46 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fantastic novel by Alan Hollinghurst called The Swimming Pool Library. His later novel The Line of Beauty won the Booker Prize in 2004.
posted by feste at 11:55 AM on September 21, 2013


The end and beginning of Plague Dogs.

Speaking of Madeline L'Engle (as posted above) An Acceptable Time has a memorable swimming scene.
posted by phoenixy at 11:56 AM on September 21, 2013


This question inspired the post I just made on the blue, because the opening chapter of Thomas the Obscure features swimming prominently.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:35 PM on September 21, 2013


Margaret AVison's The Swimmer's Moment it's a poem
posted by PinkMoose at 2:24 PM on September 21, 2013


If movies are acceptable, the beginning and end of Hackers.
posted by limeonaire at 3:56 PM on September 21, 2013


Rohinton Mistry's short story, "Swimming Lessons."
posted by ilana at 4:26 PM on September 21, 2013


"Jaws" the book by Peter Benchley.
posted by foxhat10 at 5:42 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are several swimming scenes in Northern Lights by Tim O'Brien.
posted by gubenuj at 10:10 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Swimming is a major plot point in Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great by Judy Blume.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:28 PM on September 21, 2013


After Jake disentangles himself from his traveling companions near the end of The Sun Also Rises, he enjoys a swim. It's a moment of quiet and calm that gives me hope for Jake's future.
posted by TEA at 4:46 AM on September 22, 2013


In I Capture the Castle characters swim around a moat.
posted by Lotto at 5:15 AM on September 22, 2013


Swimming plays a part in Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, especially the Worsewick chapter.
posted by Rash at 10:04 AM on September 22, 2013


Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers!
posted by pete_22 at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2013


There's a scene in Olwen Wymark's play Find Me about a girl suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness where - just before a school swimming competition - the protagonist delivers an incredibly impassioned speech about why she loves to swim and how happy and free it makes her feel and the peaceful things she imagines as she swims and how good she is at it and how in her extremely complicated and unhappy life it's the one thing she feels she can do that might make her family proud of her.

Then her teacher tells her she's banned from the competition because she forgot to bring her swimming cap.

It, er... doesn't go well.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:08 AM on February 9, 2014


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