chapter  3
22 Pages

The seas imagined

Maps of experience It is mostly from the Romantic Age that we derive our mental maps of shoreline and seascape. Our preferred vision of the sea is not that of ordered patterns, the ‘level-seeking and consistent thing with a smooth surface’ of Dutch seventeenth-century paintings so despised by the great Victorian critic Ruskin, but of foam-capped, storm-chopped waves. As the French historian Alain Corbin has reminded us, the shore ceased to be a place of desolation towards the end of the eighteenth century, and became a stage from which to contemplate the natural world and to reflect upon ourselves.1 It also became and remains to the present day a place of leisure and recreation. The seaside and the coasts of northern Europe still attract holidaymakers in their thousands each year, from the sandy bathing beaches of the North Sea and southern Baltic to the secluded island-strewn rocky shores of Sweden and Finland.