Our Haunted Shores

If Dover’s white cliffs remain indelible markers of England – and Englishness – they do so as figures in a far larger debate around the political meanings of the coasts, beaches, and coastal waters of Great Britain. In recent years alone these spaces have featured prominently in debates and anxieties around migration, Brexit and the UK fisheries, and coronavirus lockdown restrictions (and their transgression).

In this talk, Dr Jimmy Packham explores a British literary tradition that has, at its heart, an abiding preoccupation with the coast.

Examining in particular the important work undertaken by gothic fiction in articulating the rich, yet fraught, cultural history of this region: Britain’s literature of terror is a literature not of haunted castles or ruined abbeys but of shorelines. The coast is repeatedly used as a means of meditating on pressing questions of national identity and belonging – from the late eighteenth century, when gothic fiction emerged simultaneously with the rise of the beach as a site of pleasurable recreation, to the proliferation today of gothic fiction concerned with coastal spaces, mirroring renewed political exploitation of the metaphorical porousness and vulnerability of the British coastline.

00:00 Introduction
01:58 The first novel in English – Daniel Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’
09:52 Why thinking about shorelines matters now
13:13 The threat of Climate Change
16:16 Jane Austen’s ‘Sanditon’
17:32 The emergence of Gothic Literature – Horace Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto’
21:00 The Gothic response to the horrors and terror of the French Revolution
21:56 Fanny Burney’s ‘The Wanderer’
22:30 Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’
24:05 Contemporary Britain – Helen Oyeyemi’s ‘White is for Witching’
28:20 Andrew Michael Hurley’s ‘The Loney’
36:38 Daisy Johnson’s ‘Fen’

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