Terror And Wonder: The British Library Goes Gothic

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 40 months ago
Terror And Wonder: The British Library Goes Gothic ★★★★☆ 4
Vampire Hunting Kit, Victorian ©Royal Armouries
Vampire Hunting Kit, Victorian ©Royal Armouries
Image taken from the series ‘Whitby Goths’ by Martin Parr, Magnum photos/ Rocket Gallery, 2014
Image taken from the series ‘Whitby Goths’ by Martin Parr, Magnum photos/ Rocket Gallery, 2014
Alarm clock, 1840 – 1900. Science Museum, London © Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Alarm clock, 1840 – 1900. Science Museum, London © Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Travelling library of Sir Julias Caesar from Strawberry Hill, acquired in 1757 by Horace Walpole. Photography courtesy of British Library.
Travelling library of Sir Julias Caesar from Strawberry Hill, acquired in 1757 by Horace Walpole. Photography courtesy of British Library.
Wicker Man, The (1973) | Pers: Christopher Lee | Dir: Robin Hardy | Ref: WIC007BM | [ The Wicker Man (1973), FILM Copyright © 1973 STUDIOCANAL FILMS LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ] | Editorial use only related to cinema, television and personalities. Not for cover use, advertising or fictional works without specific prior agreement
Still from The Wicker Man, 1973 © StudioCanal Films Ltd. All rights reserved / The Kobal Collection.

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Everybody knows a ghost story or has seen a film that's scared them witless, but how did this spooky genre first come about? The British Library has put on an exhibition which traces its history from the first ever Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, through classic horror movies right up to modern day parodies, such as Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

The evolution of Gothic literature is well covered, including the explosion during the 18th and 19th century with first and early editions of works such as Bram Stoker's Dracula and Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. The Victorian era experienced a surge in the genre's popularity owing much to the real life Jack the Ripper murders; and the genre's reach was also increased by the publication of cheap, sensationalist serials known as penny dreadfuls.

This exhibition doesn't just stick to literature and includes film clips from Bride of Frankenstein, The Wicker Man and other cinematic visions. There are also artworks on display, including one by the ever-evocative painter John Martin, and there is a vampire slaying kit from 1970 complete with holy water and stakes.

The show doesn't follow a fixed narrative or timeline but this actually works well as the large amount of information on display means it's easier for visitors to pick and choose the exhibits they wish to engage with. The only odd addition are the photographs of the Whitby Goth Weekend in a bright white-walled room that feels at odds with the rest of the show's lay-out.

This multimedia show is an example of what the British Library does best — an insightful, well researched and informative exhibition. Gothic influence plays a large part in today's culture and it's enlightening and absorbing to trace it back to its origins.

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination is on at British Library until 20 January 2015. Tickets are £10 for adults, concessions available.

Last Updated 07 October 2014