2012 is a special year for the United Kingdom; not, hopefully enough, for a hypothetical end of times, but because, for the third time now, London has the honour to host the Olympic Games of this summer.
The significance of this worldwide event as a global and fair-play cooperation shall not be underestimated. In their ancient version already, when Greeks competed in stadion race, javelin throwing or pankration, the games held both religious and political values. Even if nowadays the Olympic Games are no longer a sacred ritual, they keep their essential role of international emulation. Sport, as a matter of fact, holds a deeply geopolitical and human meaning in this occasion. The solemnity of such glorious meetings finds their reflection in the Lutterworth Press team itself, in which United Kingdom, Germany and France are represented with dignity, giving rise to heated – and friendly – verbal jousts.
One could hardly choose a more suitable moment to dive in the history of sport. The Olympic Games are one thing – and a colossal thing it is too – however they disappeared during fifteen centuries of our era, while the sports represented kept evolving, diversifying and spreading all over the world, defining in their way our societies and national identities.
In her forthcoming book Swimming with Dr Johnson and Mrs Thrale, Julia Allen makes a return to the English eighteenth century and examines the history of sport and exercise of this period with a fine-toothed comb. Through the biographies of two archetypal figures in the matter, Dr Samuel Johnson and Mrs Hester Thrale, she explores an unknown country where the practice of sport, its social perception, its moral implications and the medical theories about it have nothing to do with what we are used to. And yet, this country is called England – only, three hundred years ago. The author actually draws up a peculiar, amazing, brand-new portrait of the British past as we have never seen it before.
Previous books tackled the subject before, but none of them did it in the way Julia Allen does; that is, with a totally multidisciplinary methodology, getting on to culture, social codes, education, feminism, biology, medicine, politics, ethics, questions of classes, arts and literature, altogether in the historical perspective of what came before and what was going to follow. The reader will find precious and relevant information about any kind of sport, from the odd and disappeared ones to the favourites of this summer, but above all about the every-day life of eighteenth-century England.
While we watch Teams GB, France and Germany winning their weight in gold medals, we shall remember where all this and, in fact, ourselves, comes from. It is a fascinating story really – a story told by Julia Allen.
And if you want to whet your appetite, here are a few suggestions you might be interested in: