Tuesday 12 November 2013

A Victorianist's Guide to Oxford

‘Towery city and branchy between towers’ – the opening line of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem ‘Duns Scotus’s Oxford’ has always summed up for me the appearance of England’s first university city on a sunny morning. One of Oxford’s greatest attractions is this sense of continuity with the past – the idea that the city looked much the same over a century ago and even further back than that. So for any Victorianists looking to take a trip to Oxford in the near future, I’ve compiled a list of attractions which could help you feel even closer to the Oxford of Hopkins and his contemporaries:

Print of Merton College, Oxford
Have a pint in Hardy-named pub: Jude may not have made it into a Christminster college but you can visit his namesake pub in Oxford – Jude the Obscure in Jericho. There’s also a Far from the Madding Crowd more centrally.

The library at the Oxford Union
Admire the pre-Raphaelite murals in the Union: The Oxford Union, Oxford’s student debating society (founded 1823), boasts beautiful buildings, as well as an illustrious history. Commissioned by John Ruskin, the library murals depict scenes from Arthurian myth (think Tennyson) and were painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.

Visit Keble College: Contrasting strongly with many of the older colleges, Keble (founded 1870) is every bit as grand, but strikingly different with its neo-Gothic red brick buildings, designed by William Butterfield.

Watch a play in Ancient Greek: The Oxford Greek Play has a tradition going back over130 years (you can read my post on the history of the Cambridge Greek Play here). The next production will be in Autumn 2014 at the Oxford Playhouse (and don’t worry, there are surtitles!).

Take a peek in Max Beerbohm’s room: Essayist, theatre critic and parodist Max Beerbohm (also known for his Oxford-based novel Zuleika Dobson (1911)) was at Merton College in the 1890s. A small set of rooms appended to the college’s Old Library now hold many of his satirical drawings and other items of interest.

Do you know of any other top spots for Victorianists among the dreaming spires? Let me know here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist!


  1. "the pre-Raphaelite murals in the Union"
    "Take a peek in Max Beerbohm’s room"
    and a link between them: