There ‘Where Earth Lies Exhausted’: The Spaces of Swinburne’s ‘By The North Sea’


  • Chris Wilbert Independent
  • Martin Spaul Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, England


Victorian poetry, Algernon Swinburne, littoral landscape, Suffolk coast, assemblage theory, tourism, seaside.


This study is set in the context of recent studies of the culture of littoral landscapes, and specifically nineteenth-century literary engagements with the coast of England. It examines the representation of the coastal landscape of Dunwich, Suffolk embedded in Algernon Swinburne’s 1880 poem By The North Sea; in doing so, it focuses on the means by which that representation is distanced from the modernity of the popular tourist destination which the site had become by the late nineteenth century. The study is framed as an exercise in the application of assemblage theory, and constructs three principal assemblages as a means of analysing the distancing effect mentioned above: the historic landscape of the Dunwich area, with its physical and cultural components; the tourist landscape of the Dunwich area, with its infrastructure, practices and culture; and the literary landscape represented in ‘By The North Sea’, with the extensive modification and interpretation of the topography mediated by a wide range of poetic genres, texts and cultural references. An outline model of the selective literary appropriation of such landscapes is derived from the case study.


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