Friday, January 9, 2015

Gothic Horror at the British Library

From "Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination" at The British Library

The British Museum has a fascinating exhibit going on through the 20th of January. The curators have culled over 200 artifacts from the 250 years of Gothic tradition and put them on display. What a fantastic thing! It's a shame I'm not in England (for more reasons than this). Among the items for the viewing pleasure of those interested in the macabre are handwritten drafts of both Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula. 

Gothic literature began with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto and has been delightfully frightening readers ever since. Walpole published his novel in the 18th century and turned the morals of the time upside down. He postulated horror and gave the public the ability to visualize it right alongside his characters.

I've been entranced with Gothic literature since I stumbled upon it some 19 years ago. Many people find it cumbersome and downright obnoxious. And it's true: Gothic writers tend to be flowery, over the top, long in explanation and take an ETERNITY to get to the point. Some -Lovecraft comes to mind- never really do. The appeal of Gothic literature is that it appeals to the dark reaches of the soul. It challenges reality and asks the hard questions: what IF? What would you do? Is it possible? Gothic literature pulls our horrors from our nightmares and thrusts them into our faces.

It also shows us that our fears are nothing new; they've been recirculated (and in some instances, regurgitated) for centuries. The ghosts change, the werewolves have different names, but the fact remains: the supernatural is just beyond the grasp of human understanding. And we are all guilty of fearing that which we do not understand.

But there's something else Gothic (and all horror) literature does. It reveals to us the true nature of ourselves and other humans. It tears down the walls of what goes bump in the night and shines a spotlight on the issues that plague us. Horror skirts the obvious and goes for the jugular ( ba-dum) forcing us to take a long, hard look at what WE have done to OURSELVES.

The horror writer may not come out and say he is writing about abuse or neglect or loneliness or abandonment. She may not directly confront famine and disease and crimes of war or governments which refuse to take care of ALL of its citizens. The topics are there, however, for the discerning reader. They may take the form of vampires, chainsaw wielding murderers or aliens from Venus but the demons are all too real.

Check out the exhibit description and the fun video. Go to and read Walpole's classic tale of Gothic suspense. Listen to the Library's podcast which gives us an idea of where the vampire and zombie came from. Spend hours of your important time wondering what the CRAP Twilight has to do with any of this.  Please. I don't like being confounded alone.

Go read some Lovecraft!

1 comment:

  1. Yes! I'm going to have to check that out (sadly, only online). I do appreciate the underlying themes of Gothic horror though I don't tend to read very much of it. Maybe I'll change that this year...


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