The concept of Seaside Gothic is based around its namesake genre, which features a wide range of notable works. To begin a short regular online feature, every quarter I will highlight three works of seaside gothic literature—fiction, poetry, and nonfiction—and an example from another form of media.
The first examples are the go-to choices when describing ‘seaside gothic’ as a category, and combined they make sense of the rules of the genre whilst also identifying where and how it can be explored, showing the lengths it can reach.
Fiction: Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
Hemingway’s seminal novella is in some sense his greatest achievement. He told a full novel in a novella, and brought minimalism to its extreme. There are two characters—three if you include the sea, which I feel Hemingway does—and the most basic of plots, and yet this is a tight and tense tale. It is worth reading simply to understand how to strip a narrative back to its base form, but more than that it is a beautiful and touching story, and one which is consumable in a single sitting.
Poetry: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Conforming to some degree to the standards of the epic, this long-form poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge follows a mariner telling his tale of woe to a man travelling to a wedding. It explores the supernatural by way of the superstitious, with rolling language akin to breaking waves. As a study in narrative poetry it is wonderful, but it also has heart and is a wholly absorbing piece of writing which feels different when read from the page, read aloud, or listened to.
Nonfiction: David Seabrook, All the Devils are Here
Legend is tied to this book, in both its writing and its discovery, with its author becoming central to a gothic story of his own. He also appears within its pages, writing himself into sections as he explores the psychogeography of the Kent coastline. This is narrative nonfiction at its truest: creative, exploratory, emotional, and unquestionably intriguing. Seabrook rewrites the rulebook for gonzo journalism, throwing out the drugs but keeping the unreliability, and then delivers the truth.
Film: Saint Maud
As horror films go, setting one in a seaside town following a live-in carer is a brave move, and yet it completely pays off. Written and directed by Rose Glass, Saint Maud is a stunning piece of film-making that defies genre constraints, making it a perfect example of seaside gothic in action. The dark and twisting story turns from drab to impossible, and then beyond that to something truly magnificent, and it is delivered with such panache it must be seen.
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.