Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination


London – an unique journey through the dark secrets of British Gothic arts.
Halloween is upon us and the British Library has discovered an alternative way to keep us on the outrageous darkness of imagination.

The British Library offers a mystical experience, meandering through Gothic literature and the deepest corners of the macabre and mysterious and shows the influence on the current era of Goth subculture, in an ethereal journey from its genesis in 1794 with Walpole’s masterpiece to the perturbing work of Kubrick, the film-maker.

The exhibition leads us through the different Gothic periods, with a detailed display of paintings, manuscripts, baroque illustrated editions, disturbing films and useful vampire slaying kits, because…you never know.
We are shown the first edition of The Castle of Otranto, now considered the first example of the gothic novel, which is accompanied by a number of drawings of the interior of Walpole’s house, Strawberry Hill, examples of a number of facets of Gothic in XVIII century .

Don’t miss the attempt to transfer Walpole’s novel to the screen and the original editions by Ann Radcliffe whose The Mysteries of Udolpho inspired Nathaniel Grogan in Lady Blanche Crosses the Ravine.

terrore1Virginal heroines, scheming monks, crazed laughter and ruined castles allowed Mary Shelley to create one of the great myths of literature, Frankenstein and we see the first handwritten drafts with an original letter from Lord Byron where he praises Mary Shelley as ‘a wonderful work for a girl of nineteen’.

A curious video-clip from 1935, The Bride of Frankenstein, introduces us to a new landscape of
horror, inspired by novels such as Dickens’ Oliver Twist with the narrow streets and Victorian houses of London and the works of Wilkie Collins, as well as the American, Edgar Allan Poe.
If you feel your interest flagging in the dense detail of manuscripts and drafts, it is soon restored by the plunge into the new era of gothic and horror of the final decades of the 19th century. The moral and physical decay are expressed in the era of decadence and degeneration by Dorian Gray and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but what seems to catch the attention most is the wild and mysterious landscape of Dracula in the ancestral castles of Transylvania.
What is the connection between the bloody vampires’ crosses and the modern Goth culture?
There is no doubt that the crucial push was given by the modern age of visionary film. But the original concept of horror survives in the technological reinterpretation of vampires, witches, monsters which make the Goth appear as a perverse lifestyle symbol of the new era, yet inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, first published in 1897 and realised in film over 200 times. In 1996 Alexander McQueen designed Dante, a whole collection based on the theme of dark and Goth.
terrore2A series of fascinating photographs from April 2014 by Martin Parr provide a greater understanding of modern Goths that adds further interest.
So why is the exhibition unmissable?
Despite first impressions that could lead the visitor to expect a large number of manuscripts and images, the exhibition steps up with a rapid alternation between enchanting film clips, interesting artefacts and scary illustrations, letting visitors feel both interested and scared, exactly how it should be.