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Terror and Wonder at The British Library

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never seen a single dud exhibition at the British Library.

In my humble opinion, they’re always fascinating, with faultless attention to detail and lovely quirks, twists and turns to delight every visitor.


As an English Lit graduate and the president of a (booze-guzzling and sweary) book club (we’re called THE BOOKIE MONSTERS!), the British Library is about as good as it gets for me. This season their main exhibition is called ‘Terror and Wonder- The Gothic Imagination’ and examines the concept of ‘gothic’ throughout history. From its foundations to modern reincarnations and interpretations it’s all there!

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The BL may come across as a stuffy old place full of crusty academics and clear plastic bags but honestly, the exhibitions are so brilliant). I went with my Mum, another Eng Lit graduate who, as we crossed the forecourt confessed she’d never been to the British Library and was BLOWN AWAY by the range of goodies on offer.


If you’re reading this blog thinking, ‘GAH! I’m not really a reader!” then CHILL! This exhibition is literally for you! It expertly examines how the Gothic genre transformed from ideas to literature, taking side-roads at architecture and  fashion, leading onto cinema, TV, pop culture- it’s all encompassing. I took notes all the way around, because I am a happy little nerd with a notebook fetish and here’s some muddled notes to try and capture the things I saw, took in and learned!

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole residing at Strawberry Hill and onwards t’ward Edmund Spenser! Chinks of the Morte D’Arthur’s chivalry and romance (harking back to the term I spent studying Medieval Literature at University- quick crash course, Piers Ploughman is dull, the Wife of Bath is a babe.) followed by that interminable Faerie Queen.

recognise this toothy little devil? He's FANG-TASTIC! (sorry)

recognise this toothy little devil? He’s FANG-TASTIC! (sorry)


Hamlet and his deceased Dad are there, peeking out from under pointed archways and high flying buttresses. Thomas Chatterton gets a waggy finger for his naughty forgeries, whilst the Graveyard Poets have a wander down Cock Lane to see the ghost. Julius Caesar’s travelling library tours midnight pageants, whilst thunder and lightening strikes across Tintern Abbey! Blanche crosses the river, whilst the nuns bleed and spectres haunt crumbling old castles.

The Mysteries of Udolpho continue to be a troublesome matter, whilst the Romantics wage war against the Gothics. Shelley, Shelley, Byron and Poldari live it up in Switzerland whilst Boris Karloff grunts and moans with a bolt in his neck as Frankenstein. Dickens patters round the streets of London, whilst Wilkie Collins tells us of the Woman In White. Penny Dreadfuls mix with the Newgate Novels, a heady mix of Jack Sheppard, Oliver Twist and that unsolved mystery concerning Edwin Drood. Amidst the churchyards and coffins, you’ll spy Sweeney Todd swinging his razor high whilst further North, Heathcliff wanders on the winding, windy moors.


Lunatic asylums rival Transylvanian castles for plot settings, whilst Edgar Allen Poe scrawls his rhyme regarding that Raven that quothed, ‘Nevermore’. CLAP YOUR EYES on the SWOONY brooding men with bristling Bryonic charm and tip your hat to Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde and Alfred Hitchcock. The werewolves howl at the full moon, whilst Christopher Lee swaggers in a thousand Hammer Horrors. Henry James turns the screw and hey, guess what! Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again!


saucy vampires

saucy vampires

From Stephen King shouting ‘HERE’S JOHNNY!’ to Wallace and Gromit and that truly terrifying Were-Rabbit, from the Man made of Wicker to Sherlock and Watson solving the crimes the Gothic influence is still all around us. Alexander McQueen sent it storming down the catwalk, Siouxsie Sioux tore up the charts and later, thousands of teenagers fell in love with Edward Cullen (and thousands of adults simultaneously rolled their eyes and reached for the nearest sick bucket). We owe SO MUCH to those dark and dirty Brothers Grimm and this current exhibition is a total tribute to all who have contributed to the Gothic Tradition and canon. I simply cannot recommend it enough.

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Oh yeah, and the gift shop is totally bitching too.

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Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination runs at the British Library until 20th January 2015.
For more information and tickets, visit the website here.

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