Image copyright: Tony Antoniou

Review of The British Library exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’

Last week The British Library opened a major new exhibition on the Gothic imagination. Running until 20 January 2015, it marks 250 years of the supernatural in literature and film, starting with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764.

'Terror and Wonder' by Dave McKean, 2014

‘Terror and Wonder’ by Dave McKean, 2014

With fluttering black curtains and dark walls, the setting is perfect to pay tribute to the Gothic. I thought it was fantastic that the Library gave a nod to many authors in the last three centuries who wrote in a Gothic style, showcasing not just their books but portraits, models of their Gothic residences, audio recordings of letters and more. The amount of effort put in by the staff to present an engaging multimedia experience is evident.

Model of Fonthill Abbey, owned by author William Beckford. Image copyright: Tony Antoniou.

Model of Fonthill Abbey, owned by author William Beckford. Image copyright: Tony Antoniou/The British Library

Counting down to death: An alarm clock from 1840-1900 loaned from the Science Museum. Image copyright: Tony Antoniou/The British Library

Counting down to death: An alarm clock from 1840-1900 loaned from the Science Museum. Image copyright: Tony Antoniou/The British Library

The highlights for me were seeing Ann Radcliffe’s handwriting (Jane Austen was a fan of hers), a section on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and how that came about, a letter from Edgar Allan Poe, and a darkened room dedicated to Dracula with a vampire-slaying kit! Though I must admit it’s a bit scary reading a graphic letter in red ink which was believed to be penned by Jack the Ripper himself.

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Image copyright: Tony Antoniou/The British Library

I would have loved to have seen more on the Bronte sisters, as well as Gothic fashion, though I did admire this fabulous fabric from the Alexander McQueen black lace dress on display:

Image copyright: Tony Antoniou/The British Library

Image copyright: Tony Antoniou/The British Library

The Library has also published a paperback book, edited by the University of Stirling’s Dale Townshend, that features essays from leading Gothic scholars and details the 150 objects that make up the exhibition, as well as a spooky 2015 calendar.

So go see it! You can book tickets here or in person at the Library.

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