The Beach in the Long Twentieth Century


Prof. Dr. Virginia Richter (PI)

Virginia Richter was born in a country that famously has no coasts (Bohemia), and today lives in a landlocked country that is sometimes referred to as an island (Switzerland). Perhaps because of this lack of proximity, her relationship to the beach is one of longing, nostalgia, and projections of elegance and dolce vita. However, her intellectual interest in littoral space is directed at exploring its contradictions: the beach as a vacation site and a danger zone, a space of liberation, not least for women, and a heavily regulated area, a site of social mixing and of segregation, an erotic space and a thanatoscape. In a long-standing collaborative partnership with Ursula Kluwick and in her own research, Virginia Richter has contributed since 2008 to the emerging fields of maritime and littoral studies. Ursula and Virginia co-edited the volume The Beach in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures (Ashgate 2015) and, more recently, published a chapter on the beach as heterotopia (“Of Tourists and Refugees: The Global Beach in the Twenty-First Century”, 2020). During her stay as Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), University of Edinburgh, in 2018, Virginia conducted research – also in the shape of long walks along the Firth of Forth and the North Sea shore – into littoral space, resulting in several articles and the current project The Beach in the Long Twentieth Century.

Research Interests
British literature and culture in the 19th and 20th centuries; maritime and littoral studies; literature and science; literary animal studies

Beach, Shore, and Coast: A Field Guide to Littoral Studies

White sand, blue sea, holidays – but also sand theft, plastic garbage, and rising sea levels: the beach has become a highly contradictory and contested site. As a fragile ecotone, a contact zone between different social groups, and a culturally liminal but dynamic space, the beach has received increasing critical attention in recent literary and cultural studies. The aim of this short monograph is to offer a ‘field guide’ to the new, burgeoning field of Littoral Studies: a survey of the most important theories, methods, and concepts as a starting point for researchers and advanced students. The field guide will propose three main routes through the shifting and transformative terrain of the beach and shore: hydrocriticism, new epistemological concepts based on New Materialism and Material Ecocriticism; the ecogothic, a conjunction of environmental and aesthetic approaches to the dangerous and endangered shore; and the beach as a vacationscape, tracing historical and contemporary constellations of the seaside. Each of these theoretical chapters will be followed by a case study of a contemporary novel, showing the relevance and applicability of the proposed approaches.

The Beach in Modernist Literature: Embodied Practices and Banal Geopolitics

If human character changed in or about December 1910, as Virginia Woolf famously claimed, one of the sites where this change took place and became most conspicuously visible was the seaside. In modernism the seaside became a privileged space for experimental practices that marked a break with the preceding era. Changing social conventions put gender relations and views of sexuality on a new footing. The seaside became a laboratory of this transformation: as a heterotopia in which the rules of everyday life were temporarily suspended, it enabled new modes of physical pleasure and different technologies of the self. Swimming, beach sports, sunbathing and nudism were devices of performative identity construction which contributed to a new view of the human body. Material objects, such as changing bathing fashions and beachwear, postcards and souvenirs, shaped the affects invested in the seaside and thus constituted its ‘politics of value’. As artists, writers, youth groups, but also middle-class families flocked to the beach and interacted with the local, labouring population, the sense of living in a new era found expression in artworks and literary texts that broke with the aesthetic regimes of the nineteenth century. In my monograph, it is my aim to analyse the seaside as an important meta-geography and heterotopia of European modernism. The corpus will include novels, tales, diaries, letters and memoirs by authors from the modernist canon – James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Christopher Isherwood, Thomas Mann, Eduard von Keyserling, and others – but also by authors with a wider popular appeal, such as Daphne Du Maurier, Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. These authors chose the seaside as a recurring setting to explore a specifically modernist mobility that is both literal and figurative, encompassing bodily movement, travel, the erosion of class and gender boundaries, sexual transgression and violence, and modern (wo)man’s ‘metaphysical homelessness’ (Lukacz). The seaside is also a setting that encapsulates creativity and transformation, as well as aesthetic innovation. However, my study will also include the dark side of littoral space: the transformation of the seaside, in the late 1930s, from a site of pleasure to a fortified border area, an endangered departure zone – for the refugees desperately waiting for their transit visa in Marseille and other ports – and, ultimately, a potential site of invasion on the eve of the Second World War.

Publications in Littoral Studies


Edited Volume

The Beach in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures: Reading Littoral Space. Ed. with Ursula Kluwick. Farnham/Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015.


Articles and book chapters

“Salt Taste of the Sea: The Multisensorial Beach in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Charles Simmons’s Salt Water”, Literature and the Senses. Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature, ed. Annette Kern-Stähler and Elizabeth Robertson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023 (in press).

“A Grave for Fish: The Haunted Shore in Wyl Menmuir’s The Many.” Gothic Nature 3 (2022), 93-116.

“Seaside Resort Blues: The English Seaside in the 1930s”, Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies (HJEAS) 27.1 (Spring 2021), 33-48.

“‘The whole China Sea had climbed on the bridge’: Oceanic Agency in Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon”. The Conradian 45.1 (Spring 2020): 21-37.

“Stranded. The Beach as Ultimate Destination in Joseph Conrad’s ‘Amy Foster’ and Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’”. Narrating and Constructing the Beach. Ed. Carina Breidenbach, Tamara Fröhler et al. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020, 57-81.

With Ursula Kluwick: “Of Tourists and Refugees: The Global Beach in the Twenty-First Century.” Heterotopia and Globalisation in the Twenty-First Century. Ed. Simon Ferdinand, Irina Souch and Daan Wesselman. London: Routledge, 2020, 116-130.

“‘Where things meet in the world between sea and land’: Human-Whale Encounters in Littoral Space.” The Beach in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures: Reading Littoral Space. Ed. with Ursula Kluwick. Farnham/Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015, 155-173.

With Ursula Kluwick: “Introduction: ‘Twixt Land and Sea: Approaches to Littoral Studies”. The Beach in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures: Reading Littoral Space. Ed. with Ursula Kluwick. Farnham/Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015, 1-20.

“Dystopia of Isolation: William Golding, Lord of the Flies (1954) and Alex Garland, The Beach (1996)”. Dystopia, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalypse. Classics – New Tendencies – Model Interpretations. Eds. Eckart Voigts, Alessandra Boller. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2015, 269-282.

“Strandurlauberin”. What Can a Body Do? Figuration des Körpers in den Kulturwissenschaften. Ed. Netzwerk Körper. Frankfurt/New York: Campus, 2012, 211-216.

“Under Cover. Victorians on the Beach”. Victorian Visual Culture. Ed. Renate Brosch. Heidelberg: Winter, 2008, 99-113.




Lectures and conference papers

„’Magnificent, yet most dreadful objects of nature’: Sir Walter Scotts gefährliche Küsten”, Wasser/Landschaften. Ökologien des Fluiden um 1800, Rhein-Main Universitäten, Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, Bad Homburg, Villa Reimers, 07.–09.07.2022.

with Ursula Kluwick: “Experiencing Aquatic Spaces”, 15th ESSE Conference, Lyon 2-3 September 2021, online (

“The display of decay: the aesthetics of zoology in Jim Crace’s Being Dead”. GAPS 2021 – Science, Culture, and Postcolonial Narratives, Oldenburg, 13-15 May, online (

“A Grave for Fish: the Haunted Shore in Wyl Menmuir’s The Many”, Haunted Shores: Coastlands, Coastal Waters, and the Littoral Gothic, online symposium, 2021.

With Ursula Kluwick: “The Beach in the Long Twentieth Century.” Invited Paper. The Ecological Imperative. University of Bern 2020 (online).

“Spiel und Tod am Strand”. Invited lecture, SFB 1015 Muße, Freiburg 2019.

“Spiel – Sand – Strand: Kindheit im Paradies”, Sprache Prep Paradies, Köln 2019.

“Bad Behaviour on the Beach”, Troublesome Modernism, BAMS-Conference, London 2019.

 “The whole China Sea had climbed on the bridge”: Oceanic Agency in Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon”, Postcolonial Oceans. Contradictions and Heterogeneities in the Epistemes of Salt Water, joint GAPS and IACPL conference, Bremen 2019.

“Crime, Coastal Anxiety and Archaeology in Anthony Rolls’s Scarweather”, 14th BSLS conference, Royal Holloway 2019.

“Banal Geopolitics: The Beach in Modernist Literature”, IASH, Edinburgh 2018.

“Banal Geopolitics. The Construction of the Seaside through Everyday Practices”, The Sea in the Twentieth Century, Lisbon 2018.

“Sandcastles and Beach Chairs: Banal Geopolitics in Modernist Literature”, keynote (parallel) lecture, 14th ESSE Conference, Brno 2018.

“Stranded. The Beach as Ultimate Destination”, keynote lecture, interdisciplinary conference Narrating and Constructing the Beach, Munich 2018.