On Sunday I had a day trip down to London to see a couple of literary exhibitions – the cultural opportunities are definitely one of the things I miss about living in the capital, although I can do without exorbitant rent and packed public transport. Anyway!
The first exhibition was Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die at the Museum of London near Barbican. I’ve seen a few exhibitions at the museum, and while they’ve occasionally varied in their ability to capture my interest (for example, their exhibitions on Jack the Ripper, Captain Kidd, and Resurrectionists were more interesting than the Cheapside Hoard) I’m always curious what they’ll do next. I’ll be honest, I’m more aware of Sherlock Holmes through his film and television incarnations than I am the original literary source material, although I’ve finally started reading one of the ‘complete collections’ on my Kindle as a result of seeing the exhibition. Still, I’m fascinated by the concept of the character, and the way that he continues to capture the cultural imagination even now – he’s also an interesting character in that contemporary versions work just as well as period-set ones. I think my favourite version of Holmes is that of Peter Cushing, but then he’s essentially a celluloid god who can do little wrong.
It’s a strange exhibition, in that in almost seems divided into three parts. The first, and smallest, section is about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, featuring portraits, audio snippets of him talking, and early illustrations from the stories. It’s somewhat heartening to know that even he had work rejected early in his career. One of the images featured is the Christmas annual cover for ‘A Study in Scarlet’. Part Two is photographs, drawings and paintings of late Victorian London. They’re beautiful, and give a wonderful insight into the fog-bound metropolis, but have little, if anything, to do with Sherlock Holmes as a character. Luckily I’m a fan of art and photography exhibitions. Part Three features props and clips from the films and television programmes, as well as replicas of items that appear in the stories. One of the props is the coat worn by Benedict Cumberbatch, although sadly the man himself was not inside it at the time. The clips give a useful means of comparison between performances, which just means Robert Downey Jnr does not fare well alongside Cushing, Cumberbatch and Basil Rathbone.
It is a fascinating exhibition, and I did enjoy it, but I couldn’t help wondering what was at the root of the complete and utter lack of anything relating to Elementary, the CBS detective show featuring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes, and Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson. I don’t know if it was a licensing issue, or the curator just didn’t like it, but as a fan it seemed a rather obvious oversight. Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die runs until 12 April 2015.
I had a short jaunt back across to Euston, to see the Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition at the British Library. I’m of the opinion that the British Library host some of the best exhibitions in London, and I’m particularly pleased because my student discount means I often only have to pay a fiver, which is a bargain given everything they have on display. The Gothic as a notion is a large component of my PhD thesis, and I figured that it would be useful to see how the British Library had presented it.
The exhibition largely follows a chronological journey through the concept of the Gothic, from architecture through to its debut within literature (largely ascribed to Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in 1764), and then cinema, with heavy focus placed on Universal’s 1931 version of Frankenstein. Famous novels such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Monk get a lot of focus, with sections dedicated to MR James, Edgar Allen Poe and even Charles Dickens, and the cinema section is largely a trip through twentieth century horror, with the inclusion of films such as Night of the Demon, The Haunting, The Wicker Man and even Hellraiser. The exhibition finishes with an exhibition of photographs taken at the Whitby Goth festival but I’ll be honest, I was disappointed at the relative lack of Gothic fashion and design, beyond a couple of cases about Bauhaus.
It was a fascinating exhibition, and I enjoyed it more than Sherlock Holmes, but I would have enjoyed it more if the British Library didn’t insist on placing their title cards below eye level, meaning other visitors often end up casting shadows across them – or simply standing in front of them. The exhibitions often end up quite busy, and the last entry on a Sunday was a lot busier than I was expecting. It does take at least an hour to see everything, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys anything even remotely Gothic. It runs until 20 January 2015.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day trip to London, although I possibly could have done without sitting on a train home for over three and a half hours. As ever I find myself wondering why such exhibitions can’t go on tour to allow other parts of the country to enjoy such cultural wonders since not everyone can afford excursions to the capital. If you get the chance to see either of them, then take it because they’re both interesting, and intellectually stimulating. They certainly got me wanting to write more Gothic fiction!