If seaside gothic literature were to exist in a Venn diagram with other genres, it would overlap many considerably. As classification is simply a question of choice of perspective, it can therefore be assigned to works sometimes outside of its associated remit. In acknowledgement of this, each quarter I am bringing to the fore three notable works of seaside gothic literature—fiction, poetry, and nonfiction—along with an example from another form of media.
Fiction: Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation
Perhaps more known as a science-fiction novel, Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation is part horror, part philosophical self-discovery, told in a twisting stream-of-consciousness from a forbidden area beside the sea. Though the description of the novel itself may sound far-fetched this is a far from silly story which cuts deeply with beautiful language. Bearing all the hallmarks of a seaside gothic novel, Annihilation crosses so many genre lines it is practically unclassifiable, and does so with such panache and authenticity.
Poetry: Charlotte Smith, Beachy Head
An epic blank verse poem from the early 19th Century meditating on England’s relationship with nature, Charlotte Smith wrote ‘Beachy Head’ a few years before her death. It is a layered and unconventional poem which shifts narrative focus halfway, and includes footnotes and multiple references in a way later used by T.S. Eliot in his most famous poems. Smith rejected the Romantic traditions of the day to use nature as a transcendent allegory and instead focused on scientific accuracy. It is perhaps her most definitive work, and certainly one of her bravest.
Nonfiction: John Payne Collier, Punch and Judy: A Short History with the Original Dialogue
An exploration and explanation of the traditional seaside Punch and Judy puppet show, this nonfiction account by John Payne Collier delves into the supposed origins of the play, as well as considering why the well-known usual iteration is so quintessentially British, despite being about a mass murderer who escapes justice. The book features a traditional script and makes a lot of claims of absolute truth, though as with any seaside tradition these need to be taken with a large pinch of salt.
Television: The Third Day
The Third Day was a miniseries that included a lengthy live episode at its mid-point, though this gimmick is not the reason it was intriguing. It starred Jude Law, Emily Watson, Paddy Considine, and Naomie Harris, and was predominantly set on a small island-like peninsula only accessible from the mainland at low tide via a causeway. The series explored folklore and religion as well as seaside life through a prism of grief and community tradition. A dark and disturbing show, The Third Day is a challenge but one very worthy of being undertaken.
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.