Review: Terror and Wonder ~ The Gothic Imagination (British Library Exhibition)

I love looking at old books – really, really OLD books – and original handwritten manuscripts covered with scribbles.  The British Library does this sort of exhibition well.  I’ve previously enjoyed the Sci-Fi exhibition (back in the days when entry was free) and while this one was less entertaining, it was still immensely interesting.

I was surprised to find how many of the books I’d already read, mostly without realising they were part of this genre.  By chance, I’m currently reading Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, one of the grandmothers of Gothic fiction and much ridiculed by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, so it was easy to immerse myself in the world of creepy castles, towering architecture, mountainous landscapes and terrifying forests.  I far preferred the earlier styles, the origins of the genre, rather than the sensationalist horror that it turned into in Victorian times, not helped by the lurid fascinations of Jack the Ripper.

The exhibition wound its way around glass cabinets (oh, look, a giant book full of tiny little books – no wonder they all went blind reading teeny tiny print) to the chilling sound of a woman screaming.  By the time we got to the film clip on an eternal loop, I wanted to throttle Frankenstein’s bride, the one with the zigzag hair.  It was also deeply evocative hearing Gillian Anderson as Lady Deadlock in Bleak House – you could practically feel the murk coming off the scary streets.

There was a lot to see, a lot to read, and far, far too many people (what happened to the timed entries?) which means I missed at least half of it and yet was still on my feet for an exhausting two hours.  Books, paintings, movies, a long white dress worn by virtually every screaming, fainting heroine/victim and even some post-punk gloom boom which took me back several decades to my preferably forgotten late teens.

Utterly worth seeing but avoid Sundays – it’s crowded and there’s nowhere to have lunch.

The link below will take you there….–the-gothic-imagination


About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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