The British Library is a fairly unimpressive building from the outside, I was expecting it be old and grand (like the nearby St. Pancras station) but it actually looks like a 1970's fire station, a square building pained a ghastly shade of red.
Unfortunately the library doesn't allow photography in either the exhibition or the main library, so I'm going to have to turn to my old friend google to illustrate my points.
Terror and Wonder is set out chronologically, from 1764 the year in which the first gothic novel was published, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Oranto, right up to contemporary alternative fashion and teenage-vampire fiction, Twilight.
Early gothic literature in 18th Century Britain was inspired by a renewed interest in Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser. Shakespeare's ghosts (Hamlet) and witches (Macbeth) and the pastoral landscape of Spenser's Faerie Queen had an impact on Walpole and his contemporaries. Writers and painters were also influenced by the medieval period, castles, knights and damsels all feature in fiction and art of the time, and sparked both Gothicism and Romanticism.
|Chivalry, Frank Dicksee|
The French Revolution became an inspiration for the more gory novels. The very real fears of the aristocracy, the upheaval of social order and blood in the streets was re-imagined in a supernatural and fantastical way.
During the Victorian era, Gothicism moved from a pastoral, rural landscape to an urban environment. Slums, criminals and the infamous Newgate prison replaced the castles and villainous counts of ealier work. Penny dreadfuls, serialised stories became increasingly popular, and introduced vampires, murderous barbers and seances to the working class. Springheel Jack, was a well received character, developing from a devil-like character, to an anti-hero.
Key authors in this section of the exhibition include Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
The downside of the exhibition is that there is an assumption that the visitors already have some knowledge about the subject. The information could have been expanded on. It would have been good if something could have been included about modern analysis and theories about gothic fiction, for example the rise of female vampires came during a time when women were gaining more independence. Or for example, Dracula can be read as a fear of female sexuality, Lucy and Mina represent the whore/virgin dichotomy and Lucy is punished severely for her flirtations.
Also, whilst I do love books, I admit they can be not the most visually diverse of dynamic items. Just looking at displays of illegible handwriting didn't really do anything for me.
I did enjoy seeing what books I'd read and
Still, I'm glad I went to the exhibition and feel like I cam away with a refreshed knowledge of Gothicism (I did a bit about it in Uni). I think it costs about £9 for an adult ticket, and me and mum spent about an hour and a half there. We could have stayed slightly longer, we had to rush the last bit as we were meeting my sister for lunch.