Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

I first heard about the British Library exhibition a few months ago, when I saw a poster advertising it on the underground. “Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination,” it said, above a slightly unsettling image of a vampire casting a misty red shadow onto a wall behind him. Immediately, my eyes were drawn to it! The poster looked intriguing, showing exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy going to. I made up my mind to google the exhibition when I got home. But then, being me, I forgot to. However, I did see the poster many more times after that, each time remembering to look it up, and each time forgetting a few minutes later. I was aware that the remaining dates for the show were slowly diminishing. Hurry up, me.
About two months after first seeing the poster, I finally got round to googling it. The tickets would be FREE for me (Hurray for being under 18!) and five quid for my mother. Well, that was all fine. I mentioned it to my mum and sent her a link. We had until January the 20th to go, which was a bit more than a month. After a bit of pestering – on my part – and a bit of forgetting – on both of our parts, we made up our minds to go. Yes! I was actually excited. I forced my sister to come along.
I don’t think I’d ever been to the British Library before; I’d actually imagined the exhibition to look sort of like an actual library with shelves of books. It was nothing like that. Walking in, I found myself in a kind of dark room with a looping video clip projected onto the wall, and glass cases protecting old books. Oh, and pictures on the walls. There was one that I found fascinating because it was designed to have a light positioned behind it, which would shine through and make the picture glow.
Some months prior to finding out about the show, I’d watched a handful of documentaries about gothic literature, architecture, art etc. which was where I’d heard about most of the books I recognised in the exhibits. It was cool whenever I saw a book there that I knew, a bit like how you perk up whenever someone mentions a band you like.
If there’s one book-name in gothic fiction that you should know, it’s,”The Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole. The novel was mentioned several times in the exhibition, since it’s what kicked off the movement of gothic literature in the 1700s. Apparently, Horace Walpole at first passed the book off as “a translation of an Italian medieval manuscript,” only admitting a few years later that it was his own work. And that’s the main reason The Castle of Otranto got so famous.

Probably the most exciting bit of the exhibition was when I saw the ORIGINAL THOMAS CHATTERTON MANUSCRIPTS. I could not believe it. The original Thomas Chatterton manuscripts! I stopped and looked at them closely, not believing they were real. The coolest thing about having them in front of me was that I’d seen a presenter on a documentary examining them, so it was kind of like seeing someone from TV… in real life. Even though I was seeing the manuscripts, not the presenter. Now I better explain a bit about Thomas Chatterton instead of just leaving you there wondering what I’m on about. Thomas Chatterton was a teenager in the 1700s who forged medieval manuscripts (Sound familiar?) under the name of Thomas Rowley, an imaginary monk he created. Chatterton committed suicide at 17 and became famous after his death (typical :(). I’d really like to read the Rowley poems someday. I still haven’t read The Castle Of Otranto though! I have a really long list of books to read… Anyway, now you can see why I was so excited to see the Rowley/Chatterton documents.

 The exhibition was huge. At least compared to the last gothic exhibition I’d been to. Oh dear, I think I owe you another detour to explain about that.

A few days before I went to Terror and Wonder: The Art of Gothic, my mother took me to the Royal Academy to see Black and White Gothic. The exhibition was tiny. It was literally one small room with even smaller drawings. They were pretty good drawings, actually. Well, obviously they were good otherwise they wouldn’t have been in the Royal Academy; They were a collection of ink illustrations by Charles Stewart, drawn for – surprise, surprise – a gothic novel, called “Uncle Silas.” My problem with them was that there were so few of them that they weren’t worth displaying.

That’s why it was such a relief to see the exhibits at the British Library. The space felt huge, and there were so many things to look at. The show was made up of books; movie clips; documents; pictures; authors’ and artists’ notes; photos; clothing; posters and a vampire slaying kit. It finished off with photos taken at the biannual Whitby Goth festival.
Oh my god, you should have seen the vampire slaying kit! It was made up of small wooden stakes – presumably to drive into a vampire’s heart -, a crucifix, a gun, some potions, and other such things that our vampire friends would find rather disagreeable. It was incredible.

I was also delighted to find one of my favourite bands mentioned, along with a few others that I listen to. Oh, and there was a book by my favourite author, Patrick Ness. If you have time, check out his work.

I totally LOVED the exhibition! In fact, I returned to it the day before it closed to see it for the last time. Unfortunately everything in the exhibition shop was super expensive: Imagine the usual high museum merchandise prices, then multiply them by ten to account for the fact that these were gothic items. Black lipstick, antique doorknobs, dark classics. Did they really need to be that expensive? I didn’t buy anything.

 Do you have a favourite gothic novel, piece of music or film? If so, leave a comment about it! Thanks for reading this. If you have any questions, go ahead and ask them below!

4 thoughts on “Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Jamila!
    I wish any of my kids asks me to go to an exhibition. I miss it!!
    And sorry, I’m not into Gothic anything (but I own a very dark nail polish (it’s not even black!! :D)

    Liked by 1 person

      • Dark blue and purple (the only make up I use is nail polish for my toe nails :D)
        I have 5 kids, 4 boys (almost 14, 10, 7 and 2) and one 5 years old girl.
        I think I’ll have to wait to see a nice exhibition again. The last one we saw was “High Tech Romans”. If you like Roman history and ever have the chance to see, don’t miss it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, five kids! That’s way more than I have… LOL. Ok, I googled High Tech Romans, I’ll find out more about the exhibition in a minute! I don’t really know much about Roman history, but I guess that is a good reason to go.

    Ages ago I bought this really bad quality black nail polish for one pound. I still have it, it is TERRIBLE and really gloopy and sticky. It is sooo messy and looks awful. I’m going to throw it away. But I have some black CRACKLING nail polish, which is really cool.


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