Vacation blues: what to read when you’re missing Oxford

Laura Hackett offers a fictional fix of Oxford nostalgia to see you through the vac

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My first week at home was bliss; my own bed, a warm fire, home cooking, old friends. But round about now, two weeks into vacation, it all becomes a bit stale. Mum asking a million questions about your plans to go out, extended family forever asking, “How’s uni going?” – not to mention the inconvenient detail that you need to walk more than 15 minutes to get to your nearest pub, club, restaurant, library and Tesco. In short, we begin to miss Oxford. But how to return to the beauty of the dreaming spires when your college is probably renting your room out for conferences? Aside from taking patriotic refuge in the varsity meme war, there have been so many books written about and set in Oxford that you needn’t buy a train ticket. We all know the obvious ones; Brideshead Revisited, Inspector Morse, His Dark Materials, but here are some other literary treats I’ve enjoyed to remind you of the beauty (and insanity) of Oxford.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

Oxford isn’t Hogwarts, as much as we wish it was. But even if you don’t go to Christ Church, re-reading Harry Potter as an Oxford student certainly introduces some parallels. The acceptance letter arriving in the post, being planted in a totally new and strange world, getting used to the lingo, your first formal hall. J.K. Rowling’s first novel will bring back all the ups and downs of your first term.

Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain

I know this is a huge English student faux pas, but I was drawn to this book after seeing the film a few years ago (and crying intermittently for several weeks). It’s a wonderful and heartbreaking true story of a girl from a provincial family who decides (much to her father’s horror) to apply to Oxford. The book tells of her acceptance and arrival at Oxford on the eve of the First World War. She finds and loses love, drops out to work as a nurse on the front line, and loses so many male friends from Oxford. Full of tenacity, bravery and perseverance, Vera became a role model to me (and made my decision to apply to Oxford over Cambridge).

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Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

Granted, this book doesn’t have festive cheer written all over it. The story of an Oxford hopeful, Jude, and his failed attempts to penetrate the elitism that looks down at his self-taught education, and his cousin-lover Sue, does not lift the spirits. However, it gives an outsider’s view of the city, and the perspective of someone who lives and works there (yes, people live in Oxford who aren’t students). What’s more, you’ll have great fun trying to identify the different pubs and buildings that Jude describes. If you read the Penguin edition, the notes will tell you (who knew that Jude’s reunion with Arabella took place in Turf Tavern?!).

Your vacation reading list

It has to be done, and it will remind you why you were so ready to come home after eight weeks. Trawling through Ulysses and remembering you’ll need to write an essay on it next term is enough to make anyone put up with anxious mothers, nosey grandparents, and the competitive undertone amongst your school friends as you all gush about how fantastic uni has been. Good luck getting through it and having time to read any of the aforementioned novels!