October 3, 2014
The British Library goes gothic
by Zeljka Marosevic
As the nights draw in and you begin planning this year’s Halloween costume, the British Library has curated a new exhibition to celebrate all things dark, bloody and frightening. ‘Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination’ launches at the Library’s exhibition space today, and promises to be “the UK’s biggest ever Gothic exhibition”, which will exhibit “Two hundred rare objects [that] trace 250 years of the Gothic tradition, exploring our enduring fascination with the mysterious, the terrifying and the macabre.”
The exhibition marks 250 years since the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, which sparked a vogue for gothic literature in Eighteenth Century England. From there it ranges across the history of the genre, encompassing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the fashion of Alexander McQueen (see this perfect Tim Walker portrait of the designer, with skull), the films of Stanley Kubrick, and ending where all explorations of the gothic must end: with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series.
As with all British Library exhibitions, the greatest thrills will be found in the wealth of original manuscripts on display. Visitors will be able to view the first handwritten drafts of Frankenstein, and the manuscripts of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. Also on offer will be the not-so-fictional but equally macabre Jack the Ripper letter which begins “Dear Boss” and promises that “The next job I do I shall clip the lady’s ears off and send to the police just for jolly wouldn’t you”. The letter is proof that England has never needed to rely on only its authors to ignite a sense of the morbid in the public imagination.
Speaking to The Guardian, the show’s curator Greg Buzwell said:
I hope the show brings home to our visitors just how much inspiration we owe to the dark side of our imagination, and the enduring and beautiful impact it has had on our lives. In the right circumstances, fear is a delicious sensation.
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.