One of the best literary news sites is without a doubt the Guardian Books section. So I thought I would pick a story from this rich repository of essays on books and writing. In Fatal attraction – Writers’ and Artists’ Obsession with the Sea, Philip Hoare talks about the symbol that starts with the womb we swim in, the strange mystery of life beneath the sea, storms, cetaceans and death by drowning. He cites the relationship that writers like Wilfred Owen, Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch and Herman Melville have with water. The sea has all the components that a novel breathes on- vastness, mystery, life, death, dream; little wonder that it remains a fascinating metaphor for authors throughout history.
“In Woolf’s most elegiac work, The Waves, which weaves together six characters’ internal monologues, the sea is borne into the city itself. In the tube station under Piccadilly, Jinny feels the trains running “as regularly as the waves of the sea”. Neville reads a poem and “suddenly the waves gape and up shoulders a monster” (an image which would be replayed in Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea, with its own Tempest-inflected story and its cracked actor, Charles Arrowby, who sees a sea serpent rising out of the Channel). And in a passage auguring her author’s own fate, Rhoda imagines launching a garland of flowers over a cliff, to “sink and settle on the waves” and her body with it, like the suicidal Ophelia. “The sea will drum in my ears. The white petals will be darkened with sea water. They will float for a moment and then sink. Rolling me over the waves will shoulder me under.” Those who have survived drowning speak of euphoria as the panic leaves them. “Methinks he hath no drowning mark upon him,” as Shakespeare wrote.”