Originating in the huge land mass that is the United States, I’ve seen a few worthwhile and wonderful literary landmarks: Edgar Allan Poe’s Cottage stuck in the middle of an urban park in the NYC Bronx; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home he lovingly called The Wayside in Concord, Masachusetts and Louisa May Alcott’s home (Orchard House) and setting for Little Women just next door; the Old Manse (again owned by Hawthorne) and the house next door where Emerson lived; Walden Pond; Carl Sandberg’s home in North Carolina; and many many more scattered across the southern, eastern and midwest US… a general build of around 20 years of literary sightseeing and travel interest.
Now, compare that to Oxford. I can step outside my house and pass more literary landmarks in a day than I could ever see in the US in the same timeframe.
In my opinion, Oxford is just a perfect setting for literature. The University (dating back to the 11th century) is the basis for this kind of work with education, free thinking and philosophy. The landscape is green, the Thames flows lazily through the city, the architecture is inspirational… well, I don’t really need to go on. You can see the effect of literature on the city for yourself.
In addition, Oxford is pushing itself into the future by looking to schools to improve reading and literacy rates. The city has a number of amazing programs, museums and organisations that are working with younger generations to fill gaps in the city’s literary past and to look forward to the changes and transitions people all over the world are facing.
If that isn’t enough for you, here’s a (non-comprehensive) list of Oxford-based authors:
- Matthew Arnold, coined the famous phrase ‘city of dreaming spires’ in reference to the architecture of the city. Arnold, who studied at Balliol and later became a fellow of Oriel, often wrote about Oxford in his poetry.
- WH Auden, influential poet and critic, prestigious Professor of Poetry at Christ Church. There is a portrait of him in the Dining Hall in Christ Church.
- George Berkeley, one of Britain’s greatest philosophers, famous for his Principles of Human Knowledge
- John Buchan, author of The 39 Steps (later a film by Alfred Hitchcock), he won a prize for being the best writer amongst all Oxford undergraduates while at Brasenose College (the Newdigate Prize)
- Oscar Wilde, a nineteenth century poet and author who attended Oxford from 1874 to 1878. Wilde called Oxford ‘The capital of romance’ and was later imprisoned for homosexuality after falling for another Magdalen student whom he met through his cousin, the poet Lionel Johnson
- John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir attended Brasenose College. Best known for his The Thirty-nine Steps, authored 32 novels and many more volumes of history, poetry and essays
- Susan Cooper who is best known for her The Dark Is Rising Sequence
- Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Student and Mathematical Lecturer of Christ Church. There is a portrait of him in the Dining Hall of Christ Church.
- Colin Dexter who wrote and set his Inspector Morse detective novels in Oxford. Colin Dexter still lives in Oxford
- John Donaldson (d.1989), a poet resident in Oxford in later life
- Siobhan Dowd, Oxford resident who was an undergraduate at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
- John Fowles, novelist and essayist, some of his better-known works include The Magus, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Aristos
- William Golding, a graduate of Brasenose, was an English novelist, poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1983). He is best known for his novel Lord of the Flies
- Kenneth Grahame educated at St. Edward’s School, Oxford
- Grahame Green, prolific English novelist, playwright, short story writer and critic, and also a heavy drinker who could be found at all hours of the day at the Lamb & Flag pub on St. Giles’. His novels include The Quiet American, The Third Man, and End of the Affair, he studied at Balliol
- Mark Haddon, studied at Merton College
- Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure take place in Oxford, which he calls Christminster. For instance, the meeting point for Jude and Sue Brideshead is at the Martyrs’ cross on Broad Street, and another scene takes place at Fourways, which is Carfax
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of Britains most admired poets, his works include Duns Scotus’s Oxford, and To Oxford
- Aldous Huxley, writer of novels, poetry, screenplays, short stories, and children’s literature, Huxley graduated with a first from Balliol
- Michael Innes (J. I. M. Stewart), of Christ Church
- P. D. James who lives part-time in Oxford
- Henry James wrote about Oxford in his works entitled A Passionate Pilgrim, Portraits of Places, and English Hours. He lived in Oxford (15 Beaumont Street) while writing The Altar of the Dead
- Samuel Johnson, a critic, poet, essayist, biographer and lexicographer. He dropped out of college after little more than a year because he couldn’t afford the tuition. Later he returned to Oxford often to use the university libraries to work on his dictionary, and the University awarded him an MA in return.
- T. E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia”, Oxford resident, undergraduate at Jesus, postgraduate at Magdalen
- C. S. Lewis, Fellow of Magdalen
- John Locke, author of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Graduated from Christ Church in 1656 and is buried in Christ Church Cathedral
- Alex Ryan, formerly an Oxford resident for many years
- Ian McEwan wrote Atonement while living in Oxford
- Iris Murdoch, Philosophy Fellow of St Anne’s
- Iain Pears, undergraduate at Wadham College and Oxford resident, whose novel An Instance of the Fingerpost is set in the city
- Philip Pullman was an undergraduate at Exeter and based his fictional college Jordan on Exeter in the His Dark Materials trilogy
- Dorothy L. Sayers who was an undergraduate at Somerville
- PB Shelley, major English Romantic poets, Shelley’s works include Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, and The Masque of Anarchy. Shelley was expelled from Oxford (University College) after only one year after he published his pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism
- Adam Smith, author of Wealth of Nations, is widely regarded as the founder of modern economics. He studied as an undergraduate at Balliol College
- J. R. R. Tolkien, undergraduate at Exeter and later professor of English at Merton. Tolkien first shared his writing of The Hobbit as member of the Inklings – a regular group of writers (including C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams) that met weekly to discuss their works (often at the Eagle & Child pub on St. Giles’). He went on to achieve fame as the author of The Lord Of The Rings
- Charles Williams, editor at Oxford University Press
- Brian Aldiss who lives in Oxford