I was delighted to be at the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival last month to interview Doloranda Pember, the author of In the Wake of Mercedes Gleitze: Open Water Swimming Pioneer, a biography of her mother who was the first British woman to swim the English Channel in 1927. Mercedes was a young working woman with an immigrant background who, without any sponsorship or financial backing, carried out some astonishing long distance and endurance swims. During her sporting career, she was a household name.
Mercedes was an independent woman who set her own goals and never gave up, in spite of obstacles and set backs. She challenged prevailing stereotypes about women – many of which still linger today – proving by her exploits that women could be fit and strong. She also defied the pressures on women to conform to restrictive notions of body image. In her day, it was the craze for boyish figures, but as the Dublin Evening Mail noted, her lead was “certain to be welcomed by women, who are weary of the rigours of dieting”.
Now, I’m not particularly interested in swimming, or any other sport for that matter. But I recommend this book because even if, like me, you think sport isn’t really your thing, Mercedes’s story is one that will inspire anyone to make their dream a reality, whatever that dream may be.
Find out more about In the Wake of Mercedes Gleitze: Open Water Swimming Pioneer by Doloranda Pember at The History Press website.
The Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival is a one day festival that takes place every April in the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton. Make a date for HULF 2020, when the Festival will take place on Saturday 25 April. Find out more at the HULF website.