Writing the Shore

The Shore and the Self - the Floating Meaning of the Coastline in British and American Literature

Master's Thesis, 2010

85 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. A Cultural History of the Shore
2.1 The Christian Tradition
2.2 Antiquity and the Sea
2.3 The Invention of the Beach

3. A Theory of the Shore
3.1 The Shore in Philosophy
3.1.1 Carl Schmitt: Land und Meer
3.1.2 Jacques Derrida: Parages
3.1.3 Deleuze/Guattari: TheSmooth and theStriated
3.2 Spatial Models ofText
3.2.1 Overview
3.2.2 Jurij Lotman: The Spatial Structure of the Artistic Text
3.2.3 Modifications ofLotman's Model

4. Writing the Shore
4.1 Signs and the Self
4.1.1 Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
4.1.2 Nathaniel Hawthorne: Footprintson theSea-Shore
4.2 Dissociations
4.2.1 OscarWilde: TheFisherman and hisSoul
4.2.2JosephConrad: TheSecretSharer
4.2.3 Alex Garland: The Beach

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

Somewhere beyond the sea Somewhere waitin' for me My lover stands on golden sand And watches the ships that go sailin'1



The present study is a comparative approach to the meaning of the shore as a cultural concept in literary texts. However, I raise no claim to completeness. Rather, I trace several discursive lines that have shaped the understanding of the coast in history, philosophy and British and American literature until today.

My approach to the shore must be seen as a small contribution to the larger project of what the historians Nicholas Horden and Peregrine Purcell have called the 'new thalassology' (Horden and Purcell 2000, 2006) and what Steve Mentz, a literary scholar who is primarily concerned with the English Renaissance, hopes to develop into a so called 'blue cultural studies' (Mentz 2009a, 2009b). These terms do not only connote an increased or rediscovered interest in maritime topics. Horden and Purcell's main focus lies on the symbolic meanings and the cultural importance of the oceans, whereas Mentz 'does not view the oceans simply as bodies to be crossed, but as subjects in themselves' (Mentz 2009a: 997). The view of the sea, however, is necessarily defined by its opposition to land. Following Mentz's assumption of the active role of the sea, I aim at an extension of his approach, which considers the oppositional structure of land and sea as the basic model for an analysis of a text's structure and of its character's understanding of the world.

To consider the active role in which topography creates meaning in narrative texts casts an altogether different light on the mode in which meaning is ascribed to landscape. My main argument is that the relationship between the self and it's environment in the process of the creation of meaning is a mutual one in literary texts, which thematise the shore in a non-trivial way. As a result of this mutual process of interpreting and relating to each other, the cultural concepts of the shore, which I discuss in this study can only be expressed in terms of a 'floating meaning', a concept that relates the phenomenon of the shore to the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, whose writing on the shore as well as works by Carl Schmitt and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have informed the present study from a philosophical point of view. These approaches use the border between land and sea and the opposite realms which define it, as a structural model for their description of the way in which humans think about, perceive and give meaning to their environment. In addition to the Philosophy of the beach I direct my attention to the historically contingent view of the sea and its shores because the literary texts I discuss in this study mirror a historical development in which the ambivalent view of the shore took its modern shape. Even though any claim to 'discursive completeness' would be implausible, the selection of narrative texts of this study might be considered exhaustive to the extent that it mirrors the main features of the historically contingent view of the sea and exemplifies the main problems and starting points for an interpretation, which considers the shore as a subject in itself and aims at describing the resulting mode of ascription in terms of mutuality.

In particular, I focus on two interrelated aspects of the literature of the shore. The first is the relation of the self and it's surrounding and the way in which meaning is ascribed to landscape in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Footprints on the Sea-Shore. In my analysis of the meaning of the footprint, I argue that the coastal topology is constitutive for the internal structure of these texts and that its depiction mirrors important techniques of demarcation, respectively of approximation and meeting.

The second aspect to which I direct my attention is the act of transgression and its consequences. Here I compare three accounts of coastal dissociation. In Oscar Wilde's The Fisherman and his Soul, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Sharer and Alex Garland's The Beach the dissociation divides the main character into two separate entities, one of them belongs to the land the other one belongs to the sea. Here I argue that the environmental opposition parallels the dissociation, which can therefore be described as an internalisation of the shore.

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?

Where is your tribal memory? Sirs, in that grey vault. The sea. The sea has locked them up. The sea is History.2



In the following chapter I would like to sketch the outlines of a cultural history of the opposition of land and sea and the way in which the meeting of the opposed elements has been described in literary and other texts. Since this study presents a comparative approach, this overview is supposed to serve as a background against which the texts I direct special attention to may be interpreted in terms of continuity and discontinuity.

I will briefly discuss the cultural meaning of the sea in the Christian tradition as shaped by the bible and reinterpreted during the Renaissance. In this chapter I argue that the view of the sea is characterized by a certain ambivalence, which I believe to be apparent in the mosaic text as well as in early-modern writing. The ambivalence relates to both: the opposition life and death, as well as to the opposition of order and disorder. Subsequently, I will discuss some influential antique texts from Greek and Roman authors and their reception. I hope to be able to show that the ambivalence, which was found to be a characteristic of the Christian tradition, also shapes antique concepts of the sea and its shores.

I will then give an account of the so called 'invention of the beach' - a rather heterogeneous process that unfolded in the seventeenth century but has its roots in the reception of classic texts and ideas as well as in new approaches to the sea that originated in the early-modern era.

I will end my account of the literary and cultural history of the shore with a brief discussion of the new appreciation of nature in romanticism and the importance of the romantic view of the world - and the self - for the perception of topological opposition and the overlay of adversative elements.

I base my account of the history of the shore on Alain Corbin's The Lure of the Sea, which may be considered the standard reference for the history of the sea and its shores - an illuminating book that, however, suffers from a teleological tendency to level the differences in order not to contradict the main argument. I have tried to compensate this problem by using various other sources and direct my attention to some primary sources where I felt that Corbin's analysis was not detailed enough for the purposes of this study.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten



In the following discussion of the Christian tradition and its influence on the idea of the shore I would like to concentrate my attention on three aspects: The creation of the world, the great flood and the resulting perception of the sea as a space in which humans were especially subject to fate.

Water is the primeval substance of chaos. Before all creation, there was water and God's spirit was moving over its surface (see Gen. 1:2). When God created the sky he separated the ocean and created an expanse 'in the midst of the waters' (Gen. 1:6). This expanse was called sky. Then he gathered the water under the sky in one place and solitary land appeared. The oceans are a 'remnant of that undifferentiated primordial substance on which form had to be imposed so that it might become part of Creation' (Corbin 1994: 2). Hence, water reminds us that the Creation always remains incomplete. When God created the Earth he drew two lines, one, which is the shore, the other being the clouds. Both lines edge the sphere of human experience.

In his analysis of biblical origins of the old image of the sea, Alain Corbin focuses on aspects of fear and chaos. This is due to his general claim that the image of the sea shifted from the anxiety provoking parallel world of monsters to the site of life and regeneration after 1750. However, it needs to be pointed out that even the mosaic text from the beginning on contains both sides of the sea: life and death.

In the genesis the dark 'void' represents chaos but the text deliberately changes to the general Hebrew term for water, as soon as God takes control over the elements.3 Also, water is clearly depicted as the realm of life:

'God said, ,Let the water swarm with swarms of living creatures and let birds fly (...) God created the great sea creatures and every living and moving thing with which the water swarmed, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind' (Gen. 1, 1:20).

The repetition of 'swarm', which emphasizes fertility, can also be found in the Hebrew original. The King James Version differs in this respect but stresses the live-giving aspect of the sea even more strongly: „And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life'.4

Not only are the creatures of the sea outstandingly prolific, they are also different from the rest of creation in two more respects. Firstly, marine creatures are outside of men's dominion because Adam could not name them. The mosaic text mentions only the 'creatures of the air and the field' (Gen 2:19; see also Corbin 1994: 2) but not those of the sea. The bible connects the naming of animals with Adam's God-given power over the creatures. The idea that naming the animal would bind it can also be found in the mystic kabala and other sources (see Eco 1994: 123). Secondly, the creatures of the sea differ from the other animals in that they are - according to the genesis - survivors of the great flood, hence they are remnants of a mythic pastime. Whereas all other animals who 'had the breath of life in their nostrils died' (Gen. 7:22) - and only those who had been selected by Noah survived the Deluge - marine life forms are beyond human control in spatial, chronological and semiotic terms.

My second point is the reshaping of the world through the return of chaos. The biblical 'floodwaters' originate from 'under the sky' (Gen. 6:17) where the pre-creational water, a substance of chaos, had been preserved. In this line of thought, the flood was often described as the return of chaos to earth in Renaissance cosmogonies. According Thomas Burnett's influential Theory of the Earth (1681/84)1, there had been no sea in paradise nor anywhere else on the planet during the time between the fall and the flood. Such being the case, all humans lived on the same single continent. Burnett describes antediluvian topography as a semi-paradise of topological purity:

‘In this smooth Earth were the first Scenes of the World, and the first Generations of Mankind; it had the beauty of youth and blooming Nature, fresh and fruid'ul, and not a wrinkle, scar or fracture in all its body; no Rocks nor Mountains, no hollow Caves, nor gaping Chanels, but even and uniform all over. And the smoothness of the Earth made the face of the Heavens so too; the Air was calm and serene; none of those tumultuary motions and conflicts of vapours, which the Mountains and the Winds cause in ours: 'Twas suited to a golden Age, and to the first innocency of Nature' (Burnett 1684: 64).

Alain Corbin reads this as a description of a beach (see Corbin 1994: 5). According to Burnett, the oceans of today's globe and particularly their irregular coastlines were products of the flood. Water, the substance of chaos had left the world in chaotic shape. The irregular shapes of the coastline were seen as lacking any system or order. They contradicted aesthetic norms of systematic orderliness and could thus not be a part of God's original Creation (ibid: 5). William Whinston's New Theory of the Earth (1696) made similar points. Indeed, today's rugged shoreline was a result of the flood. Before the flood, all men lived on one single continent. The ocean, which surrounded this continent, was calm and without storms. ‘As the waters of the Flood receded, the coastlines of continents, which from then on were separated from one another, took on their complex outline' (Corbin 1994: 5). Whinston described storms and broken water as a result of the Flood. Standing at the shore, facing the ocean, one would not only be reminded of the antediluvian sins and evils of humankind; the sea and the wild storms suggested the possibility of yet another deluge (ibid: 6).

The third point I would like to make with regard to Christian traditions and the duality of land and sea is that as a result from Gods use of water as an instrument of punishment, the sea was believed to be a sphere were fate where God carried his will into effect. In William Strachey's A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight (which has become known as a possible source of Shakespeare's The Tempest) practically all major events - especially those of sea-change - are connected to God with phrases like: „It pleased God to bring a greater aflliction yet vpon vs' or „(the) almighty God wrought for vs, and sent vs miraculously deliuered from the5 calamities of the Sea' (Strachey: 1735: 1744).1 The ocean is a sphere in which humans are totally subject to fate.

Further evidence for this may be provided by the way in which Shakespeare makes use of the sea as an instrument of destiny in Othello. It is the drowning of the Turks, which initiates Othello's transformation from an esteemed soldier to the miserable cuckold. Being the realm of the Turks the sea represents strangeness of course. But also it is parallelized to Othello himself. Othello is integrated in the society of Venice, a city, which is neither on land nor in water. The element transgresses the scene like Othello transgresses the social sphere.2 Even more elusive is Shakespeare's use of the sea in The Tempest. Miranda states that the sea is the place for divine intervention: 'Had I been any god of power, I would / Have sunk the sea within the earth' (1,1,10-11). It is of course Prospero's art and Ariel's skills, which have sunk the ship but this is by no means the work of human beings. In context of the identification of Prospero as Artist-Magician- God (God as a master of destiny and a Magician as one who usurps God's powers) the sinking of the ship is an act of godly will. By wielding God-like power over the ocean Prospero restores the godly order in which he is the rightful Duke of Milan. When the order is restored the whole ensemble is allowed to leave the marginal realm of the island and return to the shores of the European continent.3

The association of the oceans and chaos rubbed off on the image of the seafaring kind. In the Christian tradition the sea as the element opposed to land was used for projections of inverted morals. Jean Delumeau quotes a manual for confessors from 1344: 'Solltest du, Beichtvater, einem Seemann die Beichte abnehmen, versäume es nie, ihn sorgsam auszufragen. Denn wisse, daß eine Feder es kaum vermöchte, alle Sünden aufzuzählen, in denen dieser Menschenschlag versunken ist. So groß ist in der Tat ihre Bosheit, daß sie mit Namen nicht zu nennen ist. (...) Nicht nur töten sie Priester und Laien, wenn sie an Land sind, auf dem mere ergeben sie sich den Greueln der Piraterie, plündern das Hab und Gut der anderen und namentlich der Kaufleute (...) Überdies sind sie alle Ehebrecher und treiben Unzucht, denn in allen Gegenden und Ländern, wo sie leben gehen sie in dem Glauben, derlei sei erlaubt, Verbindungen mit anderen Frauen ein oder ergeben sich der Wollust mit Freudenmädchen' (cited in Delumeau 1984: 62).

The ambivalent notion of the sea may hence be explainable in light of the Christian tradition. In the biblical account of the creation of the world, water represents life and death equally. In the reception of the narration of the flood, chaos and sin but also Gods6 actions against deviance and disorder were connected to the ocean, thus adding up to the ambivalent meaning of the sea. The sea was the Flood. The shore could be read as a visible trace of God's interference with the human sphere and was therefore a symbolically charged space with religious significance.7

Water meant chaos but was also an instrument with which God could establish order and punish those who had transgressed the order. In this ambiguity I see an early form of what I have called the unity of the irreconcilable, that is the overlay of opposites a figure of thought that is suggested by the topology of the shore where land and sea meet.8



The Greeks were strangers to the sea when they first settled on the Greek peninsular. Only slowly and due to economic necessities they took on seafaring and became 'marins de toujours' (Lesky 1949: 6; see also Westlake 1949: 179).

Austrian classicist Albin Lesky describes the Greek's view of the sea in terms of a slow approximation. Lesky's work is especially suitable for literary studies, because he devotes a major part of his book to the use of maritime metaphors. Levsky finds evidence for his claim of a historically conditioned process of gradual approximation to the sea in the language of the epics and tragedies as well as in Greek historiography and mythology. For example, Poseidon's reinterpretation as god of the sea might be seen in this context. Originally, Poseidon was a god of rivers and inland waters. His name meant 'Spouse of the earth', which seems to be connected to him being the god of earthquakes as well (ibid: 95ff). The association of Poseidon as the 'Earth-Shaker' once again inflicts the anxiety-provoking image on the sea (see also Blumenberg 1979: 10). But there is a god for every line of argumentation. Aphrodite, arisen from foam when Cronus cut off Uranus' genitals and threw them into the sea, connects the oceans to notions of sexuality and fertility. Thus we find an ambivalent cultural construction of the sea in Greek mythology that is similar to the Christian tradition, which has been discussed in the last chapter.

When the Greek's relationship with the sea was essentially ambivalent during the process of approximation to the sea, their view of the coast changed likewise. Plato's dialogue between an Athenian and the Cretan Kleinias bears witness to a negative view of the ocean. Kleinias and the Athenian, who represents Socrates-Plato, discuss the location of a city, which lies 15 kilometres away from the coast, the Athenian tells Kleinias, is still in danger of being corrupted by its proximity to the sea. The closeness to the seaside, especially any contact with seafarers is seen as perverting the morals. Accordingly, the Athenian sees one major advantage of the site: in the periphery of the city there is not enough wood to built a fleet.9 (see Lesky 1949: 221-224; Feldbusch 2003: 37). Such negative attitudes towards the sea seem to contradict the Greek's immense dependency on seafaring with respect to both trade and military activities. Lesky provides an exhaustive discussion of the metaphoric use of the sea in classical tragedies by Euripides, Sophocles and others, which substantiate the negative view of the sea:

‘Die maritime Bildsprache der griechischen Tragödie ist wie diese selbst von Fragen der menschlichen Existenz her geformt. Ganz in dieser tragischen Weltsicht steht die häufige Wendung ‘Meer des Leidens'. Mitunter ist von dem Sturm (...) oder von der Woge des Unglücks die Rede' (Lesky 1949: 228).

In Homer's epics maritime metaphors of rough sea and storm are used to describe combat actions of various kinds but also serve to make the protagonist's emotions visible in ways that seem to foreshadow modern descriptions of landscapes. The shore in the Homeric epics, Lesky concludes, is often a steep coast. In the Iliad most maritime events are described as seen from that cliff. The reader stands on solid land, next to the poet, which exemplifies the not yet completed process of approximation (ibid: 173). In the Odyssey we find many more maritime metaphors used to describe inner feelings. Lesky sees this as evidence for the process of approximation, as marking a watershed on the Greek's ‘way to the sea' (ibid: 149ff). However, the Odyssey presents many hostile maritime creatures: Circe, Scylla, Polyphemus, the Sirens, these are all marginal creatures, who live in the sea or close to its shores (see Delumeau 1984: 59).

Roman authors had a very different interpretation of the sea and its shores. According to Alain Corbain, the appreciation of the coast, which took shape during the early 17th century, was not entirely without presuppositions. Without the ancient idea of otium ‘the chain of influences would remain incomprehensible' (Corbin 1994: 250). The Latin term Otium means ‘active leisure'. In Cicero's writing, otium is described as an activity reserved for the optimates in which ideas of rest and free time are combined with active reflection and preparation for future (political) actions. This notion of useful rest was shaped by the primacy of an ethical purpose to any occupation of an optimas. In this otium differs essentially from the occupation we call holidays. However, the seaside connects both activities in so far as it is perceived to be the perfect site for doing nothing in particular. Wealthy Romans often owned vacation homes overlooking the seashore.

‘From the end of the Republic until the middle of the second century of the Empire, seaside resorts flourished along the shores of Latinum and Campania, which rode the crest of a veritable fashion wave. At the time of Pliny the younger an almost unbroken line of villas stretched across the coasts near Ostia, between Terracina and Naples, and along the shores of the bay. (...) Caesar, Pompey, Antony and many others, like Cicero, owned villas near Pozzuli. They came there during the seasons to enjoy cooler weather and take sulphur baths' (ibid: 251f).

There are different descriptions of life in Roman seaside resorts that do not fit Corbin's high esteem of antiquity's concept of leisure. In 56 B.C Cicero delivered a speech in defence of Marcus Caelius Rufus in which he mentions accusations of a dissolute lifestyle in the seaside resorts. Apparently Rufus was known to indulge in 'beach parties, banquets, drinking bouts, singing, dance bands, (and) pleasure-boats'.10 Seneca describes the beach life in the resorts of Baeia and Canopus in similar terms:

Therefore, if he is contemplating withdrawal from the world, he will not select Canopus (although Canopus does not keep any man from living simply), nor Baiae either; for both places have begun to be resorts of vice. At Canopus luxury pampers itself to the utmost degree; at Baiae it is even more lax, as if the place itself demanded a certain amount of licence.11

These sources seem to suggest continuity in the 'genealogy of practices', which is historically questionable, especially because the chain of similarities is interrupted. Corbin (who is not concerned with Roman decadence in his brilliant but regretfully teleological monograph) notes the importance of guarding oneself 'against anachronism' (Corbin 1994: 251). However, it seems important to note some similarities in the description of beach life between the ancient and the modern world with regard to the seaside as a place for transgression of moral borders. Ideas of otium and decadence shape the discourses until today.

Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker make an important point with regards to transgressions in Graeco-Roman mythology. 'In classical myth', they argue, 'the shoreline is typically a place where identity itself is imperilled and the self becomes unrecognisable.' It is at the beach, they continue, where chains of beings might be turned upside down for a moment and Gods take the form of animals in order to abduct and rape beautiful women. Most famously, Europa was abducted by Zeus, who had taken on the form of a white bull (see Lencek/Bosker 1998: 30).

In the Metamorphoses Ovid gives us several accounts of transformations at the shore. In Book V the nymph Arethusa tells the story of 'how she became a fountain':

I found some water, moving without a ripple,
Without a sound, clear to the very bottom,


I thought I heard a curious kind of murmur
From deep down under. I fled to the bank in terror,
Heard Alpheus calling: 'Where are you going,
Where are you going in such a hurry, Arethusa?'

There seemed to be a pool, and even quicker
Than I can tell the story I was changed
Toa stream of water.12

My discussion of the Greek's approximation to the sea mainly served to contextualize the Christian view of the sea as a space whose meaning oscillates between the opposites of life and death. Homer's Odyssey presents the open ocean as a sphere in which Gods exercise their will on the subject. Similar associations of the sea as the space of fate have been described exemplarily for some of Shakespeare's plays which should be seen as reflecting both traditions, classical and Christian.

The antique texts describe the oceans as a sphere of difference and otherness. Against this background the idea of the transformation as a result of the transgression of the border between land and sea becomes explainable. Land and sea were seen as so overbearingly different, that no body could remain the same when it went from one element into the other.

Whereas the Greek idea of the sea and its shore may be described as ambivalent in ways similar to the Christian tradition, the Roman sources provide a different kind of ambiguity: The Seaside is a place for introspection and reason but also a spot of transgression and decadence. In this respect the Roman discourse seems to foreshadow the postmodern conception of the beach, whose rise I will describe in the next Chapter.



The invention of the beach as a site for relaxation and recreation in the 18th century needs to be seen in context of old and new ideas. The antique idea of otium took a new shape in form of educational tourism for those who could afford it. Travel became increasingly popular and reports about the journeys to the European continent as well as to the distant shores were widely read. Since the beginning of the 17th century more and more young men of the upper classes went on a so called 'Grand Tour', a traditional journey usually through France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Thomas Coryat, one of the first to go on such a tour, used a maritime simile in order to describe the feeling of being carried away by the beauty of nature in his 1611 travelogue Coryat's Crudities: Hastilygobled up in Five Moneth's Travels:

‘But whither are we carried away? I perceive the like happeneth unto me that doth unto them which for recreation sake doe enter into a Barke and passé by the coast of the shore, when at length being deceived by the sense of delight, they are carried away from the Sea shore to the middle of the surging waves and so launch forth a great way from the heaven by the prosperous windes, even contrary to their first intent' (Coryat 1611: 176).

Here we find an interesting, but not representative, construction: rapture in the presence of nature (interestingly enough, Coryat thinks about the landscapes of Prussia) is expressed in terms of a maritime event in which one is carried away, presumably lost forever, because one has been deceived by delight. This short passage shows in which ways the old fear and the new appreciation for natural beauty could intermingle. However, many travellers did not pay much attention the beauty of the Italian shore even in the 18th century, though they were well aware of the classic's appreciation of the maritime site. Corbin puts the 'absence of a genuine descriptive style' down to the preference of quotations from classical sources in the 18th Century reports by Joseph Addison and others. Even though there was a lot of interest in the antique authors, their descriptions of the Mediterranean and its shores - due to its importance for the Odyssey', this was apparently not seen as an important or moving aspect of the text. Disregard of the sea's importance in antiquity could go even further. According to Corbin, Addison once admitted, 'that he failed to understand the seasonal rhythm of the ancient otium'. Before the rise of bathing culture, travellers were not so much interested in natural sights as in 'Painting, Sculpture, Architecture' (Addison: 1705: 31), hence preferring culture over nature. Maybe the learned traveller's view was directed to another threshold, namely that of history. Only when he had come to the Mediterranean and looked at its shores, Goethe wrote in 1787, the scenery of the Odyssey had become a 'living expression' to him (see Corbin: 1994: 50; in detail Feldbusch: 2003: 72-79).

An old connection gave rise to the invention of the beach as a place where one could convalesce: The connection of the sea and the soul or, respectively, of the sea and the mind. Madness - itself a state of otherness - had traditionally been associated with water as the element of the other. Michel Foucault stresses the importance of this connection in his history of insanity. There are several levels on which the analogy operates. On a metaphorical level the sea symbolizes the instable mind, historically it is the sphere of madmen who were transported in swimming prisons (German 'Narrenschiffe'), which served to separate the healthy and the insane. But apart from this 'practical effectiveness' the water adds to the concept of the madman 'the dark mass of its own values; it carries off, but it does more: it purifies' (Foucault 2005: 8). And here is the old ambivalence: the water is like the lunatic, but it is also his only hope.

In his Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Roburt Burton had advised the melancholic to live near the coast, for the 'sharp, purifying air that blows from the sea' (Corbin 1994: 58) might clean a darkened mind. In the first half of the 18th century the connection was reversed. For George Cheyne the sea wasn't the treatment but the disease. In The English maladyor a Treatise on nervous diseases of all kinds (1733) Cheyne described the English people as predisposed to various mental diseases because of their constant exposure to water and maritime climate. 'All those fine droplets of water that penetrated the channels and fibres of the human body and made it lose its firmness, predisposed it to madness' (Foucault 2005: 10). But in the same text Cheyne recommends bathing in cold water as a treatment against melancholy and restricted blood flow1 (Cheyne 1991: 239, 243). Furthermore, Cheyne believed in the positive effects of water when it came to his own health. He had moved to the fast growing Seaside resort of Bath as early as 1720, because a lifestyle of alcoholism and overeating had made him 'excessively fat, short-breathed, Lethargic and Listless', as he put it himself (Cheyne 1991: XVI2).

In the first half of the 18th century medics rediscovered the Hippocratic tradition, which lead to a revaluation of water. Based on John Floyer's History Of Cold Bathing, water was13 14 believed to heal both, diseases of the body and diseases of the mind. Floyer referred to bathing in antiquity and quoted texts by Augustus, Pliny and Seneca, thus revitalizing the old spell (see Corbin 1988: 63). Floyer's main justification for the therapeutic value of cold sea bathing was that '(...) cold bathes cause a sense of chilness, and that, as well as the Terror and Surprise, very much contracts the Nervous membrane and tubes, in which the aerial spirits are contained, and they being kept tense and compressed , do most easily communicate, all external expressions to the sensitive soul. Not only the external senses are more lively in cold water, but all our animal actions and reasonings are then more vigourous by the external compressure of cold air' (Floyer 1715: 611).

Consequently, water could be seen as causing (or representing) physical and psychological diseases and at the same time being regarded a possible cure. In the middle of the 18th century, which gave birth to the seaside as an aesteticised place of joy and lust, the ambivalent traditions were equally alive and contributed to the seaside's fascination. This finding is particularly relevant for the present study because the blurring of oppositions (the gift and the curse, the horrible and the delightful etc.) relates topographical aspects of the shore with culturally ascribed meanings.

Not only new trends in medicine gave rise to the love for the seaside. Spas had been popular for a while amongst persons of rank and leisure. While the new sea resorts grew quickly until the 19th century they became more and more attractive - and affordable - for the increasing middle classes (see Walton 1983: 6). The leisure towns became marriage markets with a strict social code. Apparently, life in the health resorts was cheaper than life in the city. It is because to save money that the Eliots, the heroes of Jane Austen's Persuasion move to Bath.

Persuasion is an interesting reservoir of topoi and early 19th century attitudes towards the seashore. For example, we find the old idea of sending the mentally deranged to sea represented in 'the Musgrove's son' Dick, whom his parents had 'sent to sea because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore' (see Austen: 41). Captain Frederick Wentworth, the object of Anne's affections, is a man of the sea as well. Wentworth represents the passionate part of Anne, which she so carefully levels. When Anne and Henrietta go for a walk on the beach 'to watch the flowing tide', they discuss the beneficial effect of living at the coast. Henrietta is 'quite convinced that, with a few exceptions, the sea air always does god.' (85) The beach is 'the happiest spot' - the place for 'sitting in unwearied15

contemplation' (85). The coastal area in the 19th century is not only physically healthy but now a remedy for all indispositions of mind. Henrietta in fact considers it 'melancholy' not to live at the shore (85). More importantly, the seaside in Jane Austen is a place, were characters may or may not transcend social spheres, to transform oneself. There were strict rules, which prohibited any kind of intemperance or lustful splashing in the realm between the spheres. Bathing machines were used to make the public bath as private as possible. A bathing machine was a four-wheeled carriage, which was, according to an 1805 travel-guide

‘Covered with canvas, and having at one end of them an umbrella of the same materials which is let down to the surface of the water, so that the bather descending from the machine by a few steps is concealed from the public view, whereby the most refined female is enabled to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy' (Oulton 1805: 254).

In the middle of the 19th century the English people (and following them the French and the Germans) converted their coastal areas to fully functional heterotopias1. In the course of the nineteenth century the reasons for visiting the seaside changed. By the end of the century emphasis was laid on pleasure, not anymore on health. Some of the old practices had disappeared quickly like the recommended drinking of salt water; other customs remained active but gradually lost importance. Bathing machines were not used frequently anymore in the first decade of the 20th century (Walton 1983: 41).

The new appreciation of the seaside cannot be understood without reference to romanticism. The Romantics thought, wrote about and painted the seashore in concordance with the traditional ascriptions I have discussed in the preceding chapters, but they added a distinct symbolism to the picture. 'They renewed the meaning, and enlarged the significance of practices that were already solidly established' (Corbin 1994: 164).

The shore became a place in which the individual was confronted with the elements and had to redefine itself in that presence. The fourth Canto of Byron's Childe Harold illustrates how the presence of the sea could put one's self-perception in place:

There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar;16

I love not man the less, but Nature more From these our interviews, in which I steal From all I may be, or have been before,

To mingle with the universe, and feel

What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.1

The individual places itself in the context of nature and becomes aware that it is in fact part of a larger entity. The shore is the place where the experience 'to mingle with the universe' becomes explainable. The 'music in its roar' is the audio-visual representation of the melting of opposed elements. Land and sea become one, just as the self merges with its surrounding and becomes full. The placement is so absolute that time itself vanishes ('all I may be, or have been before') and leaves a necessarily incomplete (can ne'er express) but irrevocable redefinition of the self.

Corbin adverts to the fact that the romantic idea of the dialogue with the elements, which is apparent in Byron's lines, is a 'literary experience' (Corbin 1994: 166). The individual interprets the text that the sea provides for him and redefines itself through coastal hermeneutics. In Heinrich Heine's Die Nordseezyklen the poem 'Seegespenst'17 offers another description of a reading of the sea. The narrator is looking into the depth of the ocean in which he finds the whole world and all his longings represented in form of a 'dutch' city and his lover on the bottom of the ocean. His lover has not changed in any way, neither has anything else in that underground city, while he wandered the earth, searching for her 'for centuries'. Time can be erased totally as in Byron's case or be foregrounded as in case of the Heine poem in which the maritime sphere of eternity clashes with the terrestrial vanitas.

In all cases the seashore had become an aestheticised and aestheticisable place. Byron's poem is an appreciation of the contact of the elements. Byron himself was a 'great lover of sea-bathing. At the end of his life, he wrote of a lame man's revenge, declaring that he had covered more miles in the water by swimming than had all other living poets by boat' (Corbin 1994: 179).18

A prose text by Walt Whitman sums up pretty well the fascination that the romantic mind experiences in the presence of the shore. Furthermore, Whitman describes the interesting convergence of two very different - even opposite - perceptions. The shore is perceived as eternal, prehistoric and supra-human (natural as opposed to cultural) and at the same time culturally rendered: written and read.


1 From Walcott, Derek. The Star Apple Kingdom. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux: 1979.

2 The translator of the King James Version uses 'void' and 'water' in Gen. 1,1-2. In more recent translations one may also find 'watery deep' for void. The choice of words is evident from the Hebrew original. Some modern bible commentaries refer to. For example see <www.bible.org/netbible> Footnote 13. 'The arena is now the life-giving water and not the chaotic abyss-like deep. The change may be merely stylistic, but it may also carry some significance. The deep carries with it the sense of the abyss, chaos, darkness - in short, that which is not good for life' (access: 16.12.2010).

3 The text of the 1611 King James Version is especially vital with regards to the Renaissance interpretations. The KJV can be found here: http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org (access: 17.12.2010).

4 The first edition of 1691 was in Latin. In the following I cite the 1694 English edition which has been made available in digital form by the University of Wisconsin: <http://www.uwmc.uwc.edu/geography/burnet/burnet.htm> (access: 17.12.2010).

5 1 count 53 phrases of the above type in the Reportory. Of course it is not unusual in early modern times to refer to God, especially in situations of danger. However, the sources suggest an extraordinary relation between the maritime and the divine and substantiations of fate.

6 Steve Mentz discusses the function of Iago's nautical vocabulary and other aspects of the sea in Othello. See Mentz 2009:19ff.

7 Delumeau 1996: 52ff. discusses The Tempest in greater detail with respect to fear of the ocean.

8 Plato. Nomoi. IV, 704a-a705. Cited in Feldbusch.

9 Cicero. For Marcus Caelius. 35. An English translation can be found under the following web-address: <http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Pro_Marco_Caelio> (12.01.2011).

10 Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Moral Epistles. Translated by Richard M. Gummere. The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1917-25. 3 vols.: Volume I.: 337. (Epistle LI+) A digital version of this edition if provided by www.stoics.com. See <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_epistles_book_1.html> (12.01.2011).

11 Ovid. Metamorphoses. Translated by Rolfe Humphries. Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 1995: 125 ff. Electronic text provided by the Stanford University library: <http://www.chrysoun.com/www/portfolio/ovid/schema/book5.html> (12.01.2011) See also Lencek/Bosker 1998: 31.

12 Regrettably, Corbin does not give any reference for this (see Corbin 1994: 48).

13 Not unusually. Most of the historical medics believed in physical reasons for psychological diseases. It is interesting, though, that this is the case again today after a short intermezzo in which the mind was seen as independent from the body and treatable only in the non-physical form of words.

14 Please see the Introduction to the 1991 edition of The English Malady by Roy Porter.

15 Google Books provides a scan of a 1715 collected volume, which contains Floyer's History of Cold Bathing both Ancient and Modern. Also quoted in Corbin 1994: 64)

16 In a radio interview broadcast in 1966 and in a lecture, which was delivered the following year, Michel Foucault developed the influential concept of the heterotopia, the counter-site, or more literally: The other-site. Heterotopias are sites which have ‘the curious property' of being related to all other places simultaneously in the way that they ‘suspect, neutralize or invert' their meaning. (Foucault 1938: 231) In other words they reflect the rest of the world, and work like ‘mirrors'. They differ from utopias in that they are real.

17 Byron, George Gordon, Lord. Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, IV, CLXXVIII, 1595-1602, S. 187

18 Heine, Heinrich. Die Nordsee. Buch der Lieder. Die Nordsee. Erster Zyklus: Seegespenst.

Excerpt out of 85 pages


Writing the Shore
The Shore and the Self - the Floating Meaning of the Coastline in British and American Literature
University of Constance  (Literature / Anglistics)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Beach, Shore, Lotman, Space, Derrida, Deleuze, Guattari, The Fisherman and his wife, Footprints on the sea-shore, Robinson Cursoe, Alex Garland
Quote paper
Sebastian Stelzer (Author), 2010, Writing the Shore, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/172464


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