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Exploring Literary Oxford beyond the Tour

People all over the world associate Oxford with the literary giants and their books, Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland, J.R.R Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’s, The Chronicles of Narnia. Any tour of Oxford will point out the tree that Lewis Carroll sat under and imagined the Cheshire Cat; the carving of a lion’s face that sparked the idea of Aslan, the lion in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe; and The Eagle and Child pub where the group of author-academics including Tolkien and C.S Lewis met to exchange ideas and discuss literature. I’ll wait for you to come to Oxford and see those for yourself – I want to introduce you to a few other authors and their works from throughout the ages, which have connections to the beautiful city of Oxford, but which may not be so familiar to you.

Julia Golding

Currently lives in Oxford

Recommended Book:

The Diamond of Drury Lane, Winner of the Nestle Children’s Book Prize Gold Award and the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2006

Catherine ‘Cat’ Royal is a 13-year-old girl, orphaned and living at the Theatre Royal, after which she is named. One night she overhears a discussion about a valuable diamond, hidden in the very theatre that she knows so well. Cat befriends Pedro, a violinist, Johnny, a political cartoonist and the aristocratic Avon family as she adventures through 18th-century London, having run-ins with the local gangs and the officers of the law, all in search of this mysterious diamond that could bring untold wealth…

Thomas De Quincey

(1785-1859) , attended Worcester College

Recommended Book:

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821)

De Quincey was all set to attend Oxford University by the age of 15, because of his incredible intelligence. However, while studying at Manchester Grammar School with the aim of gaining a scholarship to Oxford he ran away from school and lived for several months wandering the roads and paths of England and Wales, ending up in London where he lived on the point of starvation. Completely by luck, friends found him there, brought him home, and he was sent to Worcester College.

After leaving Oxford without graduating he got to know the major literary figures of the age, including William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Throughout his life, despite his achievements as a writer, he suffered with an opium addiction and was weighed down by debt. It is this profoundly difficult life that is described and expressed in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater, a vivid, beautifully written, and moving account of the terror that the drug and physical and psychological pain can wreak on somebody’s life.

Evelyn Waugh

(1903-1966), attended Hertford College, Oxford

Recommended Book:

A Handful of Dust (1934)

A country gentleman called Tony Last lives in his ancestral home, Hetton Abbey with his wife and son. He is oblivious to the fact that this idyllic family life is actually falling apart, with a suffocated and dissatisfied wife. When things do reach an unavoidable head for him and he finds himself on the point of bankruptcy…he decides to go travelling in the Amazon rainforest, accompanied by an entirely incompetent explorer. Oscillating between hilarity and tragedy, this book satirises the complacency of the well-off British man at the beginning of the 20th-century.

An incredibly successful author, anything by Waugh is definitely worth picking up and giving a go!

Monica Ali

(1903-1966), Bangladeshi-born British writer, attended Wadham College, Oxford

Recommended Book:

Brick Lane (2003), shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, film adaptation 2007

Monica Ali’s first novel is a detailed portrayal of Nazneen, arriving in London to meet her husband of an arranged marriage, and struggling to make a life for herself as part of the East End community. Her domestic environment is a complex place that can be comic, tragic and deeply political, while every character we meet is precise and complex – nobody is easy to dismiss as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as various motivations and psychologies come to light. Alongside this portrait of British life are glimpses of life in Bangladesh, shown through letters from Nazneen’s sister, who faces similar uncertainties and choices, as both women attempt to survive and create a sense of themselves.

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Discover Oxford's literary giants like Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis. Explore lesser-known authors tied to the city, such as Julia Golding, Thomas De Quincey, Evelyn Waugh, and Monica Ali.

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