Gothic literature and the library

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Yesterday I took a trip down to London to go to the British Library. On the 20th the current exhibition, Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, closes and I’m rather fond of certain aspects of the Gothic so I took a trip (also, I like old books).

This particular exhibition has been a resounding success. It was sold our on Saturday; buying a ticket online a week in advance was the most sensible thing I’d done for a while. When I got in to the exhibition everyone was dutifully queuing around the edges, looking at each book, picture, film etc. After the first fifteen minutes I started wandering about looking at the exhibition in a less formal manner.

For me personally, the highlights of this exhibition was the collections of books and manuscripts from the 18th and 19th centuries, and then, moving in to the films and gothic culture generally that has developed in the last century.

The first part of the exhibition focuses on Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, published anonymously in 1764, and considered the first Gothic novel. The collections of books and artifacts belonging to Horace Walpole, including John Dee’s scrying glass of polished volcanic glass and a St Thomas Beckett reliquery, give the visitor a real insight into the author.

A small segment of the early silent film, Nosferatu, was playing in a purple and black draped room, the space that housed half the ‘Decadence and Degeneration’ section, a Victorian vampire slaying kit the centrepiece. I found this quite intriguing, but alas I was running out of time and there was still the ‘Modern Horrors’ section to see.

The visitors were a mixed bunch, and as I said, it was very popular. There were literature students, Goths (with some fantastic hair dos and boots), kids, and elders, all completely fascinated by the many manifestations of the Gothic aesthetic.

This exhibition was well worth the trip, and the six hours I spent on trains yesterday (which will be the subject of my first assignment for my creative writing course). If you can get to the British Library in the next couple of days you might be lucky to get a ticket. If you can, do.

5/5

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