Adventures with Alice

BRITISH LIBRARY - ALICE IN WONDERLAND POP UP SHOPEveryone knows the story of Alice, who fell down a rabbit hole and discovered a strange land crammed with kooky characters and potential for mishaps.

This winter at the British Library a special exhibition and pop-up shop marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The exhibition opens on 20th November 2015.

Illustration of Alice from the Arthur Rackham illustrated edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907) (c) The British Library Board

Illustration of Alice by Arthur Rackham © The British Library Board

Exhibits on show include Carroll’s original manuscript, along with exquisite illustrations by the likes of Salvador Dali, Mervyn Peake, Arthur Rackham, Ralph Steadman, Leonard Weisgard, and others, including Carroll himself.

A drawing of Alice by Lewis Carroll's manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, written between 1862-64 (c) The British Library Board

A drawing of Alice by Lewis Carroll © The British Library Board

Carroll’s rollicking story has entranced readers, artists and other creatives for decades, and understandably so, with so many fantastical creatures and curious situations to contend with! From the baby who becomes a pig to the Cheshire Chat who becomes a smile, not to mention the Mad Hatter and his guests, these are figures that have become embedded in our cultural identity.

The Wonderland postage stamp case designed by Lewis Carroll (1889-1890) (c) The British Library Board

The Wonderland postage stamp case designed by Lewis Carroll © The British Library Board

As part of the celebrations, part of the British Library has transformed into a whimsical space, with Arantxa Garcia (described rather fabulously as a visual merchandiser), using larger than life illustrations from the original Alice in Wonderland book to capture a sense of the bizarre and boundless possibilities that eke from the pages. “Alice shrinks and grows around the shop space amongst tables piled high with teatime themed treats and wondrous gifts.”

To draw even more originality into this space, the British Library teamed up with Etsy for a competition inviting contemporary designers to create wares inspired by  Alice’s 150th birthday. The winning designs were chosen by a panel of both representatives from Etsy and the British Library as well as independent judges Emma Mawston, Head of Design Interiors at Liberty, and designer Michelle Mason.

The shop and exhibition combine to become an immersive journey into the imaginative whirrings spilling out from Carroll’s tale – dip in a toe and you may find yourself inspired to create something new, and decidedly eccentric, of your own.

Find full details of the Alice In Wonderland exhibition (on until 17 Apr 2016) and pop-up shop (open until 31 January 2016) at www.bl.uk/events/alice-in-wonderland-exhibition.

Gothic Frights at the British Library

Newly discovered Ann Radcliffe letter, 31 August, London, p2. Photography (c) British Library Board

© British Library Board

With Halloween just a couple of weeks away, this feels like the perfect time to tell you about a special exhibition currently creeping out visitors to the British Library.

Terror and Wonder – The Gothic Imagination is on until 20 January 2014, celebrating all aspects of the unnerving genre. Astonishing to think now that it was all launched by one sensational piece of literature – Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto – which was published 250 years ago.

The exhibition will showcase rare manuscripts on display including Gothic classics such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde alongside the work of contemporary writers influenced by the genre, including Angela Carter and Sarah Waters.

Fuseli's suitably Gothicized image of the ghost of Hamlet's father in Boydell’s Shakespeare. Photograph courtesy of the British Library

Fuseli’s Gothicized image of the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Boydell’s Shakespeare. Photo courtesy of the British Library

The eerie imaginings of the earlier spawned a whole artistic genre, encompassing every medium from painting to photography, fashion to film, and you’ll be able to see artwork by Henry Fuseli, William Blake and Philip James de Loutherbourg, contrasted against modern art and photography – including the brilliant brand new artwork created by  artist Dave McKean especially for the exhibition, shown below.

Artist Dave McKean's artwork for Terror and Wonder

The overall question will be: “Why are we so fascinated by the dark and the monstrous?”

Look out for literary, film and music events accompanying the exhibition, with input from the likes of Susan Hill, Sarah Waters, actor Reece Shearsmith, comedian Stewart Lee and musician Brian May. Find more details on the library’s What’s On pages.