By Ellie May
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Terror and wonder exhibition – a terrific look into the dark heart of our society

This article is over 9 years, 7 months old
Issue 2426
Vampire slaying kit

Vampire slaying kit

This exhibition marks the 250th anniversary of Horace Walpole’s 1764 The Castle of Otranto, regarded as the first gothic novel.

With fluttering black curtains and dark walls, it’s perfect to explore the gothic literary genre and its influence on our culture and imagination. 

The exhibition features more than 200 exhibits from the 18th century to the present.

In times of great social up upheaval gothic literature explored horror and the supernatural, often by harking back to a decaying past. 

The exhibition includes Mary Shelley’s annotated Frankenstein manuscript, William Blake’s art and Martin Parr’s photographs of contemporary goths in Whitby, north Yorkshire.

And, one of my personal favourites, the Victorian vampire slaying kit! 

The Dear Boss letter is a must see. It was allegedly written by Jack the Ripper, mocking police attempts to capture the Whitechapel killer—and promising to cut the next victim’s ear off. 


It also features many gothic authors. Most notably, it includes manuscripts and rare editions of classics such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

What’s impressive about the exhibition is that it links to real events.  Old ruins always played an important part in gothic literature. 

But Charles Dickens’ tales played out in the urban labyrinths instead of abbeys and castles. He used gothic imagery to highlight the plight of the poor. 

Dracula played on the fears and prejudices at the Victorian end of the era. 

Modernity was calling into question long held beliefs around sexual morals. The tensions between old Europe and the new bourgeois order also underlies the novel.  

The exhibition’s depth is impressive, with film, art, photography, sound, crafts, books, diagrams and original props all used. 

Even if literature’s not your thing, it worth the visit. It will excite your dark side, tempt your curiosity and play upon your deepest fears.

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination at  The British Library, London NW1 2DB. Until 20 January 2015. #BLGothic 


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