Saturday 27 December 2014

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination - British Library

The British Library's biggest Gothic exhibition to date traces the development of the genre over 250 years. What better starting point than Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, an essential catalyst for the Gothic revival of the mid-eighteenth century? In the exploration of the origins of this novel and the life of its author we are introduced to some of the settings and plot devices common in the literature of the genre. Progressing through the eighteenth century we arrive at the nineteenth century and the added psychological dimension developed by some of the great novelists of the age twinned with the absorption of contemporary concerns in to the portrayal of the Gothic horrors.

The latter part of the exhibition focuses on modern Gothic with its continued obsession with current concerns - now manifesting themselves in anxiety around psychological and bodily trauma and an obsession with the fragility and eventual decay of the body. It is shown that the same strong themes have permeated the genre from early novels through to modern film and fashion as well as highlighting ongoing concerns over the damaging effect of the exposure of young people to such horrors, fears which were so prevalent back in 1796 with the publication of Matthew Lewis's The Monk. 

A broad exhibition which never loses its focus, and successfully shows how modern manifestations of the genre are firmly rooted in tradition. Whether you're drawn to it because of a love or literature, film, or all things Gothic there'll be something to satisfy your desires. I certainly came away with a long list of books and films to explore further. The labyrinthine feel to the design of the exhibition space with its semi-opaque black curtains creates a somewhat mysterious feel leading to a more immersive experience. 

The exhibition runs until 20th January 2015 and is definitely worth a visit.