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Littoral Space and Self-Discovery: Stanley Middleton’s Holiday, Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach
Published December 5, 2021

The point of departure of this essay is that seaside resort towns and hotels function as in-between, liminal spaces for visitors, while the unknown, boundless, and mysterious sea often acquires a metaphorical meaning as a symbol of monsters, madness, death, desire, and the unconscious. Thus, the liminal space of the seaside serves as an appropr...iate setting that facilitates self-realization. The three novels selected for study here are set in British seaside towns in the 1960s-1970s, and present their respective protagonists’ struggle with their past memories and traumas.
In Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach (2007), the newlyweds get a chance of self-understanding, however, they fail at communicating their fears and desires. Ultimately, the seaside remains a symbol of misunderstandings and trauma as well as the dividing line between the times before and after the sexual revolution of the 1960s. By contrast, the protagonists in Stanley Middleton’s novel, Holiday (1974), and Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea (1978) achieve self-awareness through either a time-travel that allows for re-living the past or a journey to the unconscious, respectively. Nevertheless, these novels also end on an ambiguous tone, and the question whether real self-understanding has been attained remains open. (EM)

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