Seaside Gothic represents the epitome of seaside gothic literature, which is both a genre of its own and a classification of other writing that features many notable works. For this quarterly online feature I will highlight three seaside gothic works—fiction, poetry, and nonfiction—and an example from another form of media.
These examples are all regarded as ground-breaking literature, and for this quarter are all written predominantly by women.
Fiction: Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley
There are crime novels which detail how criminals operate, and there are character studies considering what makes a person immoral or amoral, and then there is Highsmith’s sublime seaside novel which does both and so much more. The Talented Mr Ripley is a thriller, a study in psychology, and a literary masterpiece all at once. Highsmith shows us not so much how Ripley came to be a psychopath, but instead what a psychopath truly is. She explores his insecurities and weaknesses as much as his cunning manipulations, painting a graphic picture of a broken man as divided as the coastal retreats where he spends his time.
Poetry: Emily Dickinson, I started Early—Took my Dog—
Having never seen the sea, Dickinson relied on her imagination to create the sense of awe she imagined she would be struck by, yet instead her poem reads as a regular exploration of an everyday place as much as it is a description of the great and powerful ocean. It is in this liminality that Dickinson crafts a stunning exploration of seaside life which is as unsettlingly accurate yet wholly detached as living beside the sea ever could be.
Nonfiction: Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea
Carson, a marine biologist, became renowned for her stand-out nonfiction work The Sea Around Us, a history of the life of the oceans, but it is her later work The Edge of the Sea which explores the coast and the space in which seaside gothic literature sits. Writing with poetic prose she explores coastal ecology and ecosystems, and the result is an insightful and fascinating view of the littoral space which brings together land and sea.
Television: The Affair
Created by Sarah Treem, along with Hagai Levi, The Affair explores an extramarital relationship conducted by a writer visiting a small seaside town with his family when he meets a woman who works in a local restaurant. The episodes are split into two, offering scenes and plot lines from both the man and woman’s perspectives, leading to memory bias and differing interpretations of key moments within the titular affair and the surrounding circumstances. The first series received critical acclaim, and still stands as an incredible depiction of seaside life outside of tourist times.
Seb Reilly is an award-winning published writer, fiction author, poet, and occasional musician. From 2015–2020 he was Editor-in-Chief of Thanet Writers. In 2021 he was named Kent Columnist of the Year from his third nomination for his column in The Isle of Thanet News.