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Terror and Wonder – The Gothic Imagination

What is it about things that go bump in the night? Today, dark shadows lurking in the corner can be extinguished with the flick of a light switch. However, our collective fascination with the other-wordly shows no sign of abating.

This was evidenced by my recent visit to the British Museum’s Gothic Imagination exhibition.  The exhibition took me on a suitably supernatural trip through the world of the macabre. This is a place populated with ruined castles, young ladies dressed in white and sublime landscapes where thunderstorms crash through angry purple skies.

As a former English Literature student, following the history of the Gothic novel was probably my favourite aspect of the exhibition. The journey began with the pioneers of the form, Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe. There was a wonderfully waspish letter from Ann to her mother-in-law.

Original manuscripts ranging from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights through to Clive Barker’s first draft of Hellraiser were on display. It was wonderful to be able to follow the creative process involved with these iconic works. Seeing Shelley’s comments on Mary Shelley’s draft of Frankenstein transported me to that now legendary gathering on the shores of Lake Geneva where Byron challenged those present to come up with a ghost story.

If vampires were keeping you up at night, the exhibition also included a rather terrifying looking kit for their extermination. This rather gruesome object on loan from the Royal Armouries in Leeds included a stake and silver tipped bullets. It was not said whether it had been used in anger or not.

The exhibition is no longer. But in a suitable nod to the everlasting nature of some of the inhabitants of the Gothic world, a podcast lives on.