Book Snakes and Library Ladders: a trainee plays the Bodleian board game

 

The board includes 6 libraries and paths between them divided into squares, against a background of a map of Oxford. On it are placed chance cards, catalogue cards and five coloured game pieces.
The game board during play.

Back in 1988, the Bodleian created a truly ingenious piece of merchandise: The Bodleian Game, an incredibly niche board game for those who feel they just don’t quite spend enough time in the Bodleian Libraries in real life. Sadly, it is no longer available to buy new, but when one of my housemates managed to procure a second-hand copy, we were all very excited. (Getting excited over a library-based board game is very normal, actually.)

You begin the game by picking a research subject – we went for Women in Society – and are given the first book you need to read on that subject. The premise is then that for each book, you need to first visit the Old Bodleian; consult one of three catalogues there in order to determine which library your book is housed in; journey across Oxford to the relevant library; locate the book in that library’s catalogue; “read” the book and use the references to determine what you need to read next; and roll the dice to determine how useful the book was to your research. Highest score at the end of the game wins, so there is an incentive to reread if you don’t score highly.

Three cards. They read "Book misfiled - find it next turn"; "Book in place" and "Caught eating and have your reader's ticket confiscated - go to Admissions to reclaim it".
Different cards you might face before you can read your book…

 

Sound like a convoluted process? It was! We’ve never been so grateful for SOLO and the fact that it is accessible everywhere. Impressively, the books in the game were all real items held by the Bodleian, which we were of course able to check from the comfort of our kitchen table.

The fun of the game came from seeing how the mechanics had been created to replicate the true Bodleian Libraries experience. For example, chance cards could banish you to the starting spot for getting caught eating in the library, or delay your reading due to your book being already on loan. By the third time one of us drew the card that says you have left your Bodleian card at home and need to go to Admissions, and had to trek back across the board, I was feeling a distinct twinge of guilt for all the readers I have said the same thing to. And if you landed on the same square as another player, you both had to head straight off to the King’s Arms together – I’ll leave our readers to confirm or deny the accuracy of that one.

 

Two score cards with columns of Reference, Shelfmark, Title and Score. One is significantly more filled out than the other.
Two of our score cards by the end of play – I didn’t get as much reading done as my housemate!

Gameplay was not particularly rapid, and was based more on luck than strategy; think Monopoly or Ludo. We ended up setting a time limit to mark the end of the game rather than work our way through all fourteen suggested books, and elided a couple of rules to speed things up a little. But at times, knowledge was rewarded: at one point my housemate deduced (correctly!) that as she was looking for a letter, she could head straight to the John Johnson collection rather than return to the Old Bodleian to consult the catalogue there.

 

Would I play The Bodleian Game again? If I had time to spare on a relaxed game, then absolutely. Am I glad that in real life the Bodleian Libraries function differently in 2024 than they did in 1988? Very much so.

 

 

Bodley Medal: Sir Philip Pullman

The prestigious Bodley Medal has been awarded since 2002, in its current iteration, to recognise outstanding contributions to the worlds of books and literature, libraries, science, philanthropy and other fieldsPrevious recipients including include novelists Colm Tóibín, Zadie Smith, and Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, among others. Earlier this month, on a chilly November evening, the Bodley Medal was awarded to author Sir Philip Pullman under the baroque ceiling of the Sheldonian Theatre.  

The evening opened with a panel discussion about Pullman’s work, chaired by author and critic, Erica Wagner, along with children’s author and former Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell MBE, Dr Philip Goff, author, philosopher and professor at Durham University and Dr Margaret Kean, the Dame Helen Gardner Fellow in English and Tutor in English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford.

A screen at the front of a lecture theatre with a picture of en engraved circular medal on the left hand side. Philip Pullman and Richard Ovenden stand on a stage in front of the screen looked on by a crowded audience.
Philip Pullman presented with the Bodley Medal by Richard Ovenden in the Sheldonian Theatre.

Each of the panellists keenly recalled their own experiences of encountering Pullman’s works for the first time, whether as teenage readers desperately grappling with Pullman’s exploration of dark matter, multiple universes, and philosophy, or as adults: parents, critics, or fellow authors. Amongst the varying accounts of each of the panellists’ initial encounters with Pullman’s work, there were commonalities too: an insistence on the deep visual impressions left, the richness and abundance his prose summons, and the expansivity of the works. Erica Wagner, the panel’s chair, noted “the way in which [Pullman] has created a whole cosmology, a whole universe […] for us to enter.” [1] 

The panel discussion was followed by Sir Philip Pullman in conversation with Richard Ovenden, Head of Gardens, Libraries and Museums at the University of Oxford and Bodley’s Librarian. During their conversation, Richard Ovenden described Pullman as “a great friend of libraries”, which was more than evident from the clear reverence with which Pullman described his experiences of both public and academic libraries. The first library ticket one owns, he suggested, is an “enormous gift, a key to open a wonderland.” The loss of approximately 1000 branches of public libraries in the last 12 years, and the cuts to funding which have both prompted and accompanied this, Pullman described as a “a slow, quiet, subtle, well-concealed disaster.” In the earlier panel discussion, Cressida Cowell exalted Pullman’s aptitude for storytelling itself, explicitly identifying one of the great qualities of Pullman’s work to be its power in creating generations of readers. Pullman charted his own experience of the Bodleian Libraries from his days as an undergraduate English student (a discipline which didn’t allow him to read the texts he was drawn to). Instead, Pullman found himself magnetically pulled to the public library in Oxford. This roving between the public library and the academic spaces of Oxford’s Bodleian libraries is still evident in Pullman’s account of the power of libraries. Pullman added to this with a resounding defence of the role of the school library, and, particularly, he stated, the need for a school library to be cared for by a qualified librarian. This is an especially desperate requirement at a time when the National Literacy Trust has recently published new research suggesting that children’s enjoyment of reading is at its lowest level in two decades. [2] 

 

A reading room of the Old Bodleian with book shelves on hte left and right side of the image under an ornately decorated wooden panelled ceiling. In the centre of the image in the distnace there is an ornate arched stained glass window, with someone sat a desk studying in front of it.
Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Old Bodleian, known in Pullman’s works as Bodley’s Library. photo (c) John Cairns

Whilst rooted in the city of Oxford itself, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy expands our perspective outwards to a consideration of a multiplicity of universes. Oxford echoes through the series like a palimpsest, resounding throughout Pullman’s created worlds. The Bodleian Library itself appears in a mirrored form throughout Pullman’s work as Bodley’s Library. It is, perhaps, excellent symmetry then, for Pullman to receive the Bodleian’s most prestigious award, the Bodley Medal itself. The honour, and the event accompanying its bestowal, are both a celebration of libraries and the work done by those who love and promote them. 

For more history on the Bodley Medal, see here.  

[1] Wagner, Erica, “Bodley Medal: Sir Philip Pullman”, Event. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. November 9th 2023. All following quotes unless otherwise stated are transcribed from this event.  

[2] https://literacytrust.org.uk/news/childrens-reading-enjoyment-at-lowest-level-in-almost-two-decades/ Accessed: November 28th 2023. 

 

Astronomy at the Old Bodleian: The 1769 Transit of Venus

When you’re working at the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Old Library, you sometimes end up fielding questions about the history of these establishments from curious readers, and so a colleague advised me early on to do a little bit of reading on the subject. We even keep a helpful printout of the Wikipedia page for the Bodleian Library at the Proscholium (the main entrance), and as I was looking through this a sentence caught my attention:

“The astronomer Thomas Hornsby observed the transit of Venus from the Tower of the Five Orders in 1769”. [1]

Interesting, I thought – having studied astrophysics at university, I’m a little bit of a space nerd. So, I started diving deeper into the topic.

What is the transit of Venus, and why was it important to observe?

Venus appears as a small black dot visible against the Sun, which appears large and orange.
The transit of Venus as photographed in 2004.

The transit of Venus simply refers to Venus crossing directly between the Earth and the Sun, like the moon does during a lunar eclipse. Since Venus is significantly further away from us than the moon, it appears much smaller, and so during its transit we would see a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. The last two transits of Venus occurred in 2012 and 2004, and the next one won’t be until 2117. [2] Nowadays, an event like the transit of Venus is interesting to watch, and is a good way to get people interested in astronomy, but back in the 18th century, it was also of real scientific significance.

Edmond Halley (1656-1742), of Halley’s Comet fame, was the one to suggest that the 1761 and 1769 transits of Venus would be the perfect opportunities to take some measurements which could be used to calculate the distance of the Earth from the Sun, a question that became known as “the most noble problem in Nature”. [3]

But how would this be done? The answer lies in a phenomenon called parallax. [2] The simplest demonstration of parallax is to hold a finger a little distance in front of your nose, and close one eye, then the other. You should notice that your finger seems to move, because you’re now looking at it from a different angle. If you experiment with holding your finger at different distances from your face, the size of this effect will change. Similarly, if you watch the transit of Venus from multiple places on Earth, it will cross the edge of the Sun at very slightly different times, and if these times are measured accurately enough, you can work out the distances involved.

The 1769 transit

To get the best results, observations need to be made as far apart as possible. James Cook and his crew were to journey to Tahiti to observe the phenomenon there [4], and many scientists and keen amateurs planned to make their own observations all around the world [3]. As Bridgerton fans may recall, even King George III observed the transit.

The phenomenon really captured the public imagination. Lectures were held in the lead up to the event, and a wide range of prints and instruments were sold [3].

Observations in Oxford

Thomas Hornsby, the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at the time, chose to make

The Tower of the Five Orders. It is built of pale stone and is ornamental pilllars and statues decorating it..
The Tower of the Five Orders today.

his observations from the top of the Tower of the Five Orders at the Bodleian Library [5]. He described his reasoning as follows, in an article published by the Royal Society:

“I proposed to observe the transit of Venus and the Sun’s eclipse in the upper room of the tower of the Schools, which, though the floor of it be very unsteady, yet from its elevated situation afforded me the clearest view of the north-west part of the horizon, and is indeed the best place for making occasional observations in different parts of the heavens, and at different altitude, which this place at present affords.” [5]

Others made their own observations in locations including New College Tower and “an unfurnished room of the Hospital”. [5]

Hornsby described that although initially “the wind sometimes blew so hard as to incommode the observer”, the weather conditions soon became favourable to observe the transit. [5] However, he encountered the same problem as all the other observers: a phenomenon known at the time as the black drop effect, whereby Venus appears to stretch out and become pear-shaped as it meets the edge of the Sun’s disk. This, combined with the fact that the edge of the Sun’s disk appears darker than the centre, makes it very difficult to accurately judge the time at which Venus crosses the edge of the Sun. [2]

The results

Thomas Hornsby was one of several scientists who combined some of the data from different locations to attempt to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun. I found it fascinating that in his paper he does discuss ideas about errors and accuracy, albeit not in the quantitative way that a modern scientist would:

A series of drawings entitled "Appearances of Venus by Capt. Cook" showing Venus as a black circle with a grey halo around it , with the lower edge of the planet seeming to spread out as it crosses the edge of the Sun's disk.
Cook’s drawings of the black drop effect. [4]
“From the near agreement of the several results before found… and affected only by the necessary error in observing, the accuracy of the observation… is abundantly confirmed”. [6]

I also enjoyed the following sentence, which I can’t imagine ever seeing in a modern scientific paper, in which he explains an alteration he has made to the data gathered by the French astronomer Pingré:

“And Mr. Pingré… will probably be of the opinion, that an error of one minute was committed in writing down the time of his observation, as was conjectured by many persons, as well as myself; a mistake to which the most experienced observer is sometimes liable”. [6]

By the end of his calculations, Hornsby arrived at a figure of 93 726 900 miles [6] as the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Remarkably, there is only a 0.8% error in this compared to the modern value of 92 955 800 miles. [2]

However, different astronomers produced a wide range of different values [7], meaning that unfortunately, what we now know was a highly accurate result for Hornsby was a lucky fluke. Astronomers realised there were large errors in their data: instead of timings being precise to within a second, as they had hoped, there were uncertainties of about a minute, due to the black drop effect and the dark appearance of the edge of the Sun’s disk. [2] The final verdict was that the problem remained disappointingly unsolved. [7]

Final remarks

Despite the lack of a conclusive answer, I think this remains a fascinating part of the history of astronomy. The worldwide nature of the observations to my mind echoes modern enterprises such as the Event Horizon Experiment, which combines radio telescopes all around the world into effectively one huge telescope and so was able to take the first photo of a black hole in 2019. [8] Furthermore, the story of transit observations continues today as a key way in which astronomers are able to discover planets orbiting stars outside of our Solar System. [2] And all of this, to me, makes the connection to our own Bodleian Library site all the more exciting.

References

[1] Bodleian Library – Wikipedia Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[2] Transits of Venus | The Royal Astronomical Society (ras.ac.uk) Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[3] “The Most Noble Problem in Nature” (ox.ac.uk) Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[4] Cook, James, and Charles Green. “Observations Made, by Appointment of the Royal Society, at King George’s Island in the South Sea; By Mr. Charles Green, Formerly Assistant at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and Lieut. James Cook, of His Majesty’s Ship the Endeavour.” Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), vol. 61, 1771, pp. 397–421. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/106113 Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.  https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/44OXF_INST/ao2p7t/cdi_jstor_primary_106113

[5] Hornsby, Thomas. “An Account of the Observations of the Transit of Venus and of the Eclipse of the Sun, Made at Shirburn Castle and at Oxford. By the Reverend Thomas Hornsby, M. A. F. R. S. and Savilian Professor of Astronomy in the University of Oxford.” Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), vol. 59, 1769, pp. 172–82. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/105821 Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.  https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/44OXF_INST/ao2p7t/cdi_jstor_primary_105821

[6] Hornsby, Thomas. “The Quantity of the Sun’s Parallax, as Deduced from the Observations of the Transit of Venus, on June 3, 1769: By Thomas Hornsby, M. A. Savilian Professor of Astronomy in the University of Oxford, and F. R. S.” Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), vol. 61, 1771, pp. 574–79. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/106123  Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.  https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/44OXF_INST/ao2p7t/cdi_jstor_primary_106123

[7] “The Most Noble Problem in Nature” (ox.ac.uk) Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[8] Press Release (April 10, 2019): Astronomers Capture First Image of a Black Hole | Event Horizon Telescope Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

 

The Extraordinary Life and Overlooked Death of C. S. Lewis   

 

A row of books is visible. The front book reads: "The Magician's Nephew : By C. S. Lewis". The front cover shows a brown, winged horse with two children on its back – a boy in brown clothes and a blonde girl in a blue dress – flying over a mountainous valley.
The Oxford Union C.S. Lewis book display

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis, therefore it seemed fitting to write a little about the man who is held so dear by the city of Oxford.

C. S. Lewis attended University College,[1] Oxford, and was a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings books. Both writers were members of the Oxford Union Society, or “Ugger” as it was called by many a student at the time.[2] Lewis often met with friends in the Union Library and this group of literature enthusiasts became known as ‘the Inklings’. They discussed various writings and, in true Oxford University style, went drinking at the Eagle and Child.[3]

Although C. S. Lewis was himself an extraordinary man and renowned for his stories, most famously his Narnia series, his death went almost unnoticed. “Never!” I hear you cry. How could such a famous man’s passing be so trivial to the world? The answer, sadly, is that Lewis died (at the age of 64) on the 22nd of November 1963 – the same day that American President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.[4]

A row of books is visible. The front book reads: "The Last : By C. S. Lewis". The front cover shows a range of animals, prominently a bear, badger and satyr, battling armoured people.
The other end of the Oxford Union C.S. Lewis book display in case you had a burning desire to see it.

If the extraordinary life of C. S. Lewis has interested you, perhaps it has also rekindled a desire to read his literature; a collection of non-fiction works by, and about, C. S. Lewis is available for loan across the Bodleian Libraries and associated colleges. Additionally, Lewis’ works of fiction are available for loan from the Oxford Union Society Library. Alternatively, for a wander through nature you may like to visit the CS Lewis Nature Reserve, in Risinghurst, which was once owned by the man himself.[5]

Bibliography: 

[1] C. S. Lewis. 1955. Surprised by Joy : The Shape of my Early Life. p.186

[2] Humphrey Carpenter. 1977. J.R.R. Tolkien : a biography. p.54.

[3] Humphrey Carpenter. 1978. The Inklings : C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends. p.122

[4] Simon Usborne. 2013. ‘Eclipsed in death: We remember JFK, but what about Aldous Huxley, or CS Lewis?’. Independenthttps://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/eclipsed-in-death-we-remember-jfk-but-what-about-aldous-huxley-or-cs-lewis-8957192.html

[5] Berkshire Buckinghamshire & Oxford Wildlife Trust. N.d. CS Lewis Nature Reserve. https://www.bbowt.org.uk/nature-reserves/cs-lewis-nature-reserve

Celebrating Female Authors: Golden-Age and Detection Club Crime Writers

I have long been an avid reader of detective novels, psychological thrillers, crime fiction and cosy bibliomysteries. In anticipation of National Crime Reading Month in June, this week’s blog post in the ‘Celebrating Female Authors’ series celebrates female authors from the Golden-Age of crime fiction and Detection Club Crime Writers.

The 1920s and 30s mark the era of Golden-Age fiction, which saw the prolific publication of classic murder mysteries and detective novels, most of a similar style and genre. Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers are only a few of the many well-known detective writers of the time.

It was during the 1930s that the Detection Club was founded. This club consisted of a group of detective and crime writers including Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, G. K. Chesterton, A.A. Milne and Agatha Christie. To join the club, new members had to follow a very particular initiation ceremony [1] which required solemnly promising to adhere to the Knox’s Commandments in their writing [2]. Some of the themes members of the Detection Club were forbidden to include in their novels were: ‘divine revelation, mumbo jumbo, jiggery-pokery, feminine intuition, coincidence or acts of God’ [3].

Mavis Doriel Hay

Biography

Very little is known about Mavis Doriel Hay. She was born February 1894, in Potter Bar, Middlesex [1]. While much of her work revolved around handicrafts, which she published under her married name, Mavis Fitzrandolph, Mavis Doriel Hay is also known for her three highly-praised detective novels which were published during the Golden Age of British detective fiction [2]. She died at the great age of 85 years on the 26th of August 1979 in Gloucestershire [1].

Literary Career

Mavis Doriel Hay wrote Murder Underground (1935-34) (which received high praise from Dorothy L. Sayers in an article in the 5798th issue of the Sunday Times, May 27th 1934), The Santa Klaus Murder (1936) and Death on the Cherwell (1935) [1], with the latter possibly being the most well-known of her three detective fiction works. Her detective novels have been reprinted in the British Library Crime Classics series [2].

However, her stint at writing detective novels was brief. Mavis Doriel Hay devoted her later career to the publication of books relating to crafts in Britain. These included: (1) Rural Industries of England and Wales (1929) (2) 30 Crafts (1950) (3) Traditional Quilting: Its Story and Practice (1954) (5) Quilting (1972) [2].

Links to Oxford

Sthildas south building.JPG
St Hilda’s College, Oxford

Mavis Doriel Hay was one of the first women to study at the University of Oxford – having matriculated at St Hilda’s College in 1913 [4] and studied there until 1916 [2]. Unlike her fellow male students at Oxford, however, she would not have received a degree from the University. Indeed, the University of Oxford only formally recognised female students in 1910 (only three years before Mavis Doriel Hay matriculated), and women were only first eligible for degrees in 1920, four years after Mavis Doriel Hay had left the university [3]!

A large willow tree where Tolkien used to walk
The River Cherwell, Oxford

Hay used St Hilda’s College as inspiration for the setting of ‘Persephone College’ in her book, Death on the Cherwell – not unlike Sayers’ Gaudy Night which was published later in the same year and similarly set in an imaginary Oxford college of a different name: Shrewsbury College [5]. In Hay’s book, students from Persephone College meet near the River Cherwell and discover the body of the unpopular college Bursar. Along with members from a neighbouring all-male college, these undergraduates attempt to investigate the suspicious death of the Bursar and find the culprit for this murder [6].

Death on the Cherwell tackles the important topic of women and their relationship with higher education in the early 1900s [5]. Like other female writers who use Oxford as a setting for their murder mysteries, such as Dorothy L Sayer’s as well as Gladys Mitchell, Mavis Doriel Hay no doubt used her experience attending a women’s college in the 1910s to inform her literary work and examine attitudes towards women who went to university [5].

References:

  1. http://carolwestron.blogspot.com/2015/08/mavis-doriel-hay.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mavis_Doriel_Hay
  3. https://www.st-hildas.ox.ac.uk/content/pictorial-timeline 
  4. https://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.firstwomenatoxford.ox.ac.uk%2Ffiles%2Fstudents1878to1920-allcollegesfinalxlsx&wdOrigin=BROWSELINK
  5. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09574042.2020.1723334
  6. https://happinessisabook.com/fridays-forgotten-book-death-on-the-cherwell-by-mavis-doriel-hay/

Gladys Mitchell

Gladys Mitchell.png
Gladys Mitchell

Biography

Gladys Mitchell, or ‘Great Gladys’ as she was called by her friend and novelist Philip Larkin, was an English writer best known for her detective fiction, featuring characters such as Mrs Bradley, Laura Menzies and Timothy Herring. She was born in Cowley in Oxford on the 21st of April 1901 [1] to Annie Simmons and James Mitchell — her father having worked from age 13 as a scout at Oriel College [5].

Gladys Mitchell studied at Goldsmiths College where she received an Education Teacher’s Certificate in 1921. She then went on to study at University College London whereupon she received a diploma in English and European History in 1925 [11]. Following her education, Gladys Mitchell taught History, English and on occasions coached hurdling, while also writing numerous books alongside this [1].

She was an early member of the Detection Club, as well as the British Olympic Association [2] and the Crime Writer’s Association [1].

She died on the 27th of July 1983 in Corge Mullen, Dorset [1].

Literary Career

Gladys Mitchell was highly regarded as a detective writer throughout the 1930s. Her debut novel, Speedy Death, was the first crime novel of 66 featuring Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley [1], a consultant psychologist for the Home Office [4].

Gladys Mitchell subsequently wrote many more books under the pseudonyms of Malcolm Torrie (for her historical novels) and Stephen Hockaby (for detective stories featuring an architect named Timothy Herring) [1]. She also wrote children’s novels, and many of her novels have been made into radio adaptations and television series by the BBC [1].

Her books explored themes of witchcraft, the supernatural, occult, archaeology, myth and folklore and incorporated Freudian psychology, topics that were of interest to Mitchell and which she had been encouraged to continue researching by her close friend and fellow novelist Helen Simpson [1, 4, 11].

East range of First Quad
Oriel College, Oxford

Links to Oxford

Gladys Mitchell was born in Cowley in Oxford, and her father worked as a scout at Oriel College when he was only 13 years old [5]. Before that, he had received his education from the Cowley Fathers, an old male religious order of the Anglican Church in Oxford [6, 10].

The Weston Library holds Gladys Mitchell’s manuscript draft of one of her novels: The Greenstone Griffins [7]. It also has a correspondence between Gladys Mitchell and her friend and fellow author, Philip Larkin, in which she congratulates him on his text: The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse [8].

References:

  1. Gladys Mitchell – Wikipedia
  2. Gladys Mitchell: A biography
  3. Forgotten authors No 10: Gladys Mitchell | The Independent | The Independent
  4. Mitchell, Gladys (Maude Winifred) – Oxford Reference
  5. Gladys Mitchell: The Last of the Golden Age Writers
  6. https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cowley-fathers
  7. Collection: Manuscript draft of The Greenstone Griffins by Gladys Mitchell | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (ox.ac.uk)
  8. Correspondence between Gladys Mitchell and Philip Larkin congratulating him on the final version of the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse – File. Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse – Subject files – Second Deposit – Papers of Philip Arthur Larkin – Archives Hub (jisc.ac.uk)
  9. http://gadetection.pbworks.com/w/page/7930445/Detection%20Club%2C%20The
  10. https://archive.org/details/the-armchair-detective-v-18-n-04-1985-fall/page/352/mode/2up

Dorothy L. Sayers

Biography

Dorothy L Sayers 1928.jpg
Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers was a celebrated poet and world-renowned crime writer [2], best known for her series of detective novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey [3]. She was born on the 13th of June 1893 to Reverend Henry Sayers and Helen Leigh [1] at Christ Church Cathedral School in Oxford, where her father was Cathedral Chaplain [3].

Following her education in Cambridgeshire, Dorothy L. Sayers won a scholarship to study at Somerville College in Oxford. She was one of the first women to study and graduate from the University of Oxford with a First in Modern Languages in 1915 [3]. Her qualification was not formally awarded, however, as it would take another 5 years for women to receive degrees [3].

Before turning to writing full-time, Sayers worked in publishing at Blackwell’s before then moving to London and coming up with the slogan ‘Guinness is good for you’ while working at S.H. Benson’s [4].

She died in December 1957 and was buried in Soho beneath St Anne’s Church, where she had worked as a warden in her later life [1].

Literary Career

Dorothy L. Sayers was an accomplished writer and is most well-known for her work in detective fiction. Following the publication of her poems in her 20s, she published her first novel in 1923, ‘Whose Body’, which featured Lord Peter Wimsey, a recurring amateur detective who appeared in over a dozen novels and short stories [8]. It was her early success in detective crime fiction that ultimately allowed Dorothy L. Sayers to financially support herself [8]. She became one of the original members of the Detection Club, and became President of the “secret” group between 1949 to 1957 – a position also held by other Golden-Age crime writers such as G. K. Chesterton and Agatha Christie during the 1940s [8].

As well as detective novels, Dorothy L. Sayers wrote plays, articles and completed numerous highly-praised academic translations [7]. In the 1930s and early 1940s, she wrote ‘The Zeal of Thy House’, a play performed at the Canterbury Cathedral at the then Dean’s request, which follows an architect, William of Sens, and explores themes of Christianity, religion and pride. Sayers subsequently wrote the controversial drama ‘The Man Born to Be King’, which depicts the life of Christ [7]. The latter received many objections as a result of Jesus being played by a human actor, and who spoke in modern English [7]. In her later career, following correspondences with writer Charles Williams, Sayers devoted much time and energy to the translation of Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’, which has been considered by some as Dorothy L. Sayers’ greatest accomplishment [7]. Sayers’ completed ‘Hell’ and ‘Purgatory’ in 1949 and 1955 respectively, however, died quite suddenly from a heart-attack before finishing the last volume ‘Paradise’.

Somerville College Hall
Somerville College, Oxford
Dorothy L. Sayers’ blue plaque in Oxford

Links to Oxford

For fans of Dorothy L. Sayers, or for those who enjoy walks with a literary twist, there are a few sites in Oxford that are linked to the author:

  1. Brewer Street: Dorothy L Sayers was born at Christ Church Cathedral School in Oxford, where her father was Cathedral Chaplain [3]. If you visit No1 Brewer Street, you will be able to see a commemorative blue plaque about Dorothy L. Sayers on the wall.
  2. Sommerville College: Dorothy L. Sayers received a scholarship to study at Sommerville College in 1912. It is one of the first two colleges in Oxford for women, founded in 1879.
  3. Balliol College: Dorothy L. Sayer’s fictional detective, Peter Wimsey, studied at Balliol College. It is possible to visit the college.
  4. St Cross Church: This church situated between St Cross and Manor Road is significant in Dorothy L. Sayers’ detective novels with Lord Peter Wimsey.

    The Eagle and Child pub off St. Giles Street, Oxford
  5. Christ Church College: The college archive at Christ church has a baptismal register on which Dorothy L. Sayers’ name appears [6]. And, a fairly tenuous link, however one of the characters from Sayers’ Gaudy Night, Lord Saint-George, was depicted as being a student at Christ Church.
  6. The Eagle and Child: The Eagle and Child is a pub in Oxford where members of the literary group, the Inklings (which included J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield and others), met on occasion in the 1930s and 40s to read aloud and receive feedback on their work. Although not a part of this group, Dorothy L. Sayers was friends with some of its members, including both C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. Sayers attended the Socratic Club at Oxford while Lewis was president, and she read papers to this group. C.S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers corresponded on occasion, and some of these letters can be found in Letters of C.S. Lewis and S. Lewis: A Biography. Having both known Charles William, Sayers and Lewis wrote a letter together to commemorate the 10th anniversary of William’s death [5]. The Eagle and Child, also known as ‘Bird and Baby’ can be found near Pusey Street in Oxford. Unfortunately, the pub shut during the COVID-19 pandemic.

References:

  1. https://www.sayers.org.uk/biography
  2. https://somethingrhymed.com/2015/04/01/agatha-christie-and-dorothy-l-sayers/
  3. https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/blog/dorothy-l-sayers
  4. https://www.some.ox.ac.uk/eminent/dorothy-l-sayers/
  5. https://dc.swosu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1478&context=mythlore
  6. Dorothy L Sayers | Christ Church, Oxford University

Val McDermid

Val McDermid best-selling crime fiction novelist pictured at St Hilda's
Val McDermid

Biography

Val McDermid, born June 4th 1955 in Scotland, Fife, is a well-known crime novelist [2]. Another St Hilda’s College alumnus, Val McDermid studied English there and was one of the youngest and first student’s from a Scottish State School to be admitted [2]. Following her graduation, Val McDermid became a journalist, training in Devon and then moving to Glasgow and Manchester to work for national newspapers there (returning to Oxford only to captain and win the Christmas University Challenge in 2016) [2]. When in Manchester, she was reportedly one of only three women at a firm with a total of 137 journalists [7]. In a recent talk at the Sheldonian (that I was lucky enough to attend) Val McDermid spoke about the blatant misogyny women experienced in the workplace, highlighting how women were often tasked with reporting topics to do with ‘women’s issues’, and that it was only in the late 1970s that women were allowed to do night shifts and wear trousers like their male colleagues. It was during this time, working as a journalist, that Val McDermid published her first successful novel in 1987, Report for Murder [2].

Val McDermid has subsequently won various accolades for her contribution to crime writing, including the CWA Diamond Dagger and the LGBTQ Saints and Sinners Hall of Fame. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in 2011 by the University of Sunderland, and elected as a Fellow to both the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Society of Literature, and became a member of the much acclaimed Detection Club in 2000 [1].

For those who enjoy literary festivals (in particular, ones that solely revolve around crime writing!), Val McDermid also co-founded the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival [5], which this year takes place between the 20th and 23rd of July. During Val McDermid’s talk at the Sheldonian, I was also surprised to learn that Val McDermid is part of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers band who played at Glastonbury a few years ago. In fact, Val McDermid is the lead singer of the group, and their band will be playing at the Agatha Christie Festival this year!

Literary Career

detective novels typical of the 1920s and 30s, like Agatha Christie’s ‘Body in the Library’. Indeed, Val McDermid has described her writing to fall within the ‘Tartan Noir’ genre [8], a genre particular to Scottish crime writers [9] characterised by darker and grittier storylines, and an exploration of Scotland’s people and landscapes [10].

My first introduction to Val McDermid novels was the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, which follows a forensic psychologist and detective working together to solve what tend to be increasingly grim cases. However, Val McDermid has written many other standalone books, as well as four more ongoing series following characters such as detective Karen Pirie, journalist Lindsay Gorden, Kate Brannigan and Allie Burns [2]. She has sold over 16 million novels, and these have been translated into over 40 languages [3]. Her Karen Pirie and Carol Jordan and Tony Hill books have both been adapted for television [4].

View of the Radcliffe Camera Library in Oxford
The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

In addition to her crime fiction, Val McDermid has written a children’s book as well as a few non-fiction novels – some to do with forensic science but others to do with Scotland – its landscapes and how she used them as inspiration for some of her novels [2]. As well as books, Val McDermid has also written plays, TV series, drama series and documentaries over the radio [2].

Links to Oxford

Like other crime writers Mavis Doriel Hay and P.D. James, except over 40 years later, Val McDermid attended St Hilda’s College to read English, which she thoroughly enjoyed [6].

Attending Val McDermid’s talk at the Sheldonian as a library trainee, it was also nice to learn that Val McDermid loved using the libraries in Oxford, with the Radcliffe Camera being one of her favourite study spaces [6]. McDermid has even used the building in a “very final, dramatic scene” in a book, in which the characters have an “unconventional use for the Radcliffe” – hopefully this “unconventional use” of the library does not include the characters bringing in any food or drink!

References:

  1. Val McDermid – Wikipedia
  2. Welcome to the official website of the celebrated and best selling Scottish crime writer Val McDermid…
  3. Val McDermid: ‘To survive, you had to be twice as good as the guys’ | Val McDermid | The Guardian
  4. Val McDermid – Literature (britishcouncil.org)
  5. Val McDermid – Royal Society of Literature (rsliterature.org)
  6. VAL MCDERMID (ST HILDA’S, 1972) | Oxford Alumni
  7. Val McDermid: a life in writing | Books | The Guardian
  8. Val McDermid on the Remarkable Rise of Tartan Noir ‹ CrimeReads
  9. BBC – Tartan Noir: A very strange beast
  10. Wanner2014.pdf (ed.ac.uk)

Agatha Christie

Black and white portrait photograph of Christie as a middle-aged woman
Agatha Christie

Biography

Of course, the list about Golden-Age crime writers would not be complete without celebrating the great Agatha Christie. Born in Torquay in 1890 to Frederick Alvah Miller and Clarissa Margaret Boehmer, Agatha Christie was, and still is, the best-selling detective novelist of all time [1, 2] (and after reading texts like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or The ABC Murders, it is not surprising as to why!).

A blue circular plaque outside St Martin's Theatre in London, with white lettering. It reads: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, the world's longest running play had its 50th anniversary performance at this Theatre on November 25 2002
Blue plaque outside St Martin’s Theatre in London

Billions of copies of her books have been sold worldwide, in a range of different languages [1]. And, her play ‘The Mousetrap’, which opened in 1952 in London’s West End, is the world’s longest-running play [1].

Like Gladys Mitchell, Val McDermid and Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie was a member of the Detection Club. In fact, alongside other successful detective novelists, such as Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers and Freeman Wills Crofts, Christie was one of the founding members of this society [9]. She even became president of the club but only after she had received absolute confirmation that someone else would be in charge of delivering public speeches as she was quite shy.

After a long and very successful career, Agatha Christie died on the 12th of January 1976 at age 85.

Literary Career

A black and white photograph of a large three-story house poking up from behind a few trees.
Ashfield, Agatha Christie’s family home

Although her mother did not want her daughter to read until aged eight, Agatha Christie taught herself to read by age five and began writing poems when she was still only a child [1] (her first piece of writing was a poem called The Cow Slip) [10]. She received no formal education until she was sent to finishing school in Paris in 1906, where she became an accomplished pianist [1, 6]. By this time, at 18 years old, Christie enjoyed writing short stories and novels which remained unpublished (including Snow Upon the Desert and The House of Beauty), and received feedback from family members, friends, as well as the author Eden Phillpotts who lived close to Ashfield, Agatha Christie’s family home (Peril at End House is dedicated to Phillpotts).

A black and white photograph of Agatha Christie in the uniform she wore as a nurse and dispenser when working as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment. The uniform consists of a white hat and a white apron with a cross on the front.
Agatha Christie in her VAD uniform

It was not until the 1910s, during the First World War working in a Red Cross hospital in Torquay, that Agatha Christie turned to writing detective stories after, rather fortunately for all Agatha Christie fans, being dared to do so by her older sister, Madge [11]. Using her knowledge of poisons, which she had gained while working as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse and as a dispenser (for which she passed several exams to qualify as an apothecary’s assistant), Agatha Christie wrote her debut novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ which was published in 1919 [5] and featured the now world-renowned Belgian moustached-detective: Hercule Poirot [1]. Initially, the denouement happened in a courtroom, and it was Christie’s publisher John Lane who insisted that the final chapter be reworked. This culminated in the much-loved final chapters in which Poirot, or another detective, gathers all the suspects in one room and dramatically reveals the true murderer (or murderers), an ending typical of many of Christie’s novels.

Peter Ustinov as Poirot in the adaptation of Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun. He has grey hair and a grey moustache. He is also wearing a grey suit with a black bow-tie. He his holding his hands up palms facing forwards, and his eyes are looking to his left.
Peter Ustinov as Poirot in the adaptation of Evil Under the Sun

Incidentally, John Lane was one of the founders of The Bodley Head, a publishing house founded in 1887 which, perhaps unsurprisingly, took its name from a bust of Sir Thomas Bodley (founder of the Bodleian Library) which sat above the shop door [14].

While at the hospital, Agatha Christie also wrote, alongside friends with whom she worked, articles for their handmade and light-hearted hospital magazine kept at the Christie Archive Trust in Wales. The group called themselves ‘The Queer Women’. For those interested, BBC iPlayer currently has a series of brilliant documentaries about Agatha Christie, in which Lucy Worsley flicks through pages from the magazine (about 30 minutes into the first episode) [12].

Following the war, Agatha Christie and her husband and daughter, Archie Christie and Rosalind Christie, moved to Sunningdale and named their house ‘Styles’ [3]. Agatha Christie continued to write and publish novels including ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’, ‘Murder on the Links’ and ‘The Man in the Brown Suit’, among others [14].

Towards the later stages of her career, Agatha Christie re-married and travelled extensively with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, to watch and support archaeological digs. One such excavation site that she visited was Howard Carter’s in the Valley of the King’s in 1922, while Carter and his team were working on the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb [16].  Agatha Christie’s interest in archaeology and the Middle-East is evident when reading her books, including ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’, ‘Death on the Nile’ and many more.

A black and white photograph of Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan in 1950, leaning over a desk. Max Mallowan is smoking a pipe and Agatha Christie is looking at a paper with two photographs on it.
Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan

Although mainly known for her detective novels, Agatha Christie wrote different types of novels under pseudonyms including: Mary Westmacott (a combination of her second name and the surname of distant family relatives) and Agatha Mallowan (using her married name) [17]. Completely anonymous as Mary Westmacott, Agatha Christie had the freedom to write novels of a different genre to her expected detective fiction [18]. Christie wrote 6 novels as Mary Westmacott: Giant’s Bread (1930), Unfinished Portrait (1934) Absent in the Spring (1944), The Rose and the Yew Tree (1947), A Daughter’s a Daughter (1952) and The Burner (1956), and these were often described as ‘romantic novels’ at the time. Nevertheless, Agatha Christie’s daughter and grandson label these more as biographical novels, dealing with human psychology, relationships and love [18, 19]. Unfortunately, in 1946 it was discovered by readers that Agatha Christie and Mary Westmacott were one and the same [1], and Christie no longer had the opportunity to indulge in the freedom of writing anonymously as Westmacott.

Following Agatha Christie’s second marriage to Max Mallowan, Christie occasionally wrote under her married name, Agatha Mallowan. Most of what she published as Agatha Mallowan had to do with archaeology and the archaeological digs she visited while accompanying her husband.

Links to Oxford

A photograph of Winterbrook House in Wallingford. The house has a large white door, and it is sitting behind a small black gate and large hedges.
Winterbrook House in Wallingford
A photograph of the Wallingford Museum. Light grey stonework with brown-red roof tiles.
Wallingford Museum

Agatha Christie lived in Winterbrook House in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, with her second husband, archaeologist and All Souls fellow Max Mallowan, for 42 years [21]. He and Agatha Christie met in 1928 at an archaeological site she visited at Ur. Two years later, she and Mallowan were married in Edinburgh at St Cuthbert’s Church – Agatha Christie had a few reservations about the age gap between them (she was 39 years old and her husband was 26), and so their marriage certificate states that Christie was 37 and Mallowan was 31.

For those who are Agatha Christie fans, I would highly recommend the Agatha Christie-themed walking tour in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. Below are a few places you can visit on this self-directed tour (as listed on the helpful Agatha Christie trail guide):

  1. Wallingford Museum: The Wallingford Museum has a small Agatha Christie exhibition, with photographs of Christie, handwritten letters, and quotes from those who met Agatha Christie while she lived in Wallingford. You can pick up a leaflet for the Agatha Christie trail guide, and (for Midsomer Murders fans) you can collect a leaflet for the Midsomer Murders trail in Wallingford.
  2. A photograph of the Corn Market - a beige building with two columnsm 4 large rounded windows and a black door with railings outside.
    Corn Market

    Market Place: In the Market Place you will be able to see the Corn Exchange which was built in 1856 and now hosts the Sinodum Players. This drama group was of interest to Agatha Christie, and in 1951 she became their President. This was only under the condition that she did not need to attend official functions. When she attended the plays, the same two seats were reserved for Agatha Christie and her husband Max Mallowan, and a complimentary box of chocolates was also offered to her. She asked for her attendance not to be announced [23].

  3. Winterbrook House: This is where Agatha Christie lived with her husband Max Mallowan for 42 years. It is privately owned now, but it is possible to glimpse the blue plaque stuck beside the front door to the house.
  4. St Mary’s Church: After a half-hour (ish) walk through the country, you’ll find St Mary’s Church where Agatha Christie is buried. Her gravestone has a quote from the Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. Agatha Christie is buried with her husband. Unfortunately, his title as ‘Archaeologist’ was misspelt on the gravestone!
    A photograph of St Mary's Church
    St Mary’s Church, Cholsey

    Colour photograph of a sandstone headstone marking the place where Agatha Christie is buried.
    Agatha Christie’s gravestone
  5. Mary Mead: About 10 minutes walk from St Mary’s Church, you’ll find a small road sign spelling out ‘St Mary Mead’ where, for those in the know, a certain literary character of the name Jane Marple resides.

Fun Facts

  1. Agatha Christie was the first British woman to surf standing up.
  2. Agatha Christie wrote N or M? during World War II, a wartime novel featuring a certain ‘Major Bletchley’. Christie’s choice of ‘Major Bletchley’ as a name for her character in the novel, led to a small investigation by MI5 to ensure that Christie had not guessed what truly was going on at Bletchley Park. She later revealed that she named her unlikeable character ‘Bletchley’ as a revenge for when her train from Oxford to London got stuck at Bletchley for a considerable length of time [22].

References:

  1. About Agatha Christie – The world’s best-selling novelist – Agatha Christie
  2. Agatha Christie – Wikipedia
  3. ‘I just wanted my life to end’: the mystery of Agatha Christie’s disappearance | Biography books | The Guardian
  4. When the World’s Most Famous Mystery Writer Vanished – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
  5. How Agatha Christie’s wartime nursing role gave her a lifelong taste for poison | UK news | The Guardian
  6. How Agatha Christie’s Terrible Experience As WWI Nurse Helped Inspire Hercule Poirot (warhistoryonline.com)
  7. How Agatha Christie Became an Expert on Poison | Time
  8. https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/1lj314/TN_cdi_proquest_reports_2722240220
  9. The Detection Club – Martin Edwards Books
  10. http://wdhg.org.uk/presentations/Agatha%20Christie%20in%20Devon.pdf
  11. https://www.agathachristie.com/en/about-christie#christies-life
  12. https://www.ft.com/content/4ba2d16d-2dce-49d8-bae6-625f18c3a0f1
  13. https://www.agathachristie.com/en/news/2016/book-of-the-month-the-mysterious-affair-at-styles
  14. https://collections.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/collections/the-bodley-head-ltd-publisher/
  15. https://www.agathachristie.com/en/about-christie
  16. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson; Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley; and Egyptian Dawn by Robert Temple | History books | The Guardian
  17. access_points_and_headings.pdf (cambridge.org)
  18. Mary Westmacott, the real Agatha Christie – Peter Harrington Journal – The Journal
  19. Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case by Agatha Christie – Agatha Christie
  20. How Agatha Christie’s Terrible Experience As WWI Nurse Helped Inspire Hercule Poirot (warhistoryonline.com)
  21. Max Mallowan | All Souls College (ox.ac.uk)
  22. Agatha Christie was investigated by MI5 over Bletchley Park mystery | Agatha Christie | The Guardian
  23. http://www.wallingfordmuseum.org.uk/ 

Celebrating Female Authors: Diana Wynne Jones 

Diana Wynne Jones was one of the most exceptionally prolific, beloved, and influential British children’s writers of the twentieth century. Born in 1934, she published more than 40 children’s fantasy books over the course of her career. She would have written more had cancer not caught up to her: at the time of her death in 2011, she was in the middle of writing a novel and already planning another.

 

An elderly white woman with curly grey hair looks towards the camera with blue eyes. She wears a pale blue sweater and a black leather strapped watch on her right wrist. She is resting her chin on her right arm which is propped up on a table. Her left arm rests horizontally on the table near a piece of paper and a pen.
Dianna Wynne Jones, photographed in ‘The Times’

 

When she passed away, a flurry of obituaries celebrating her life and work appeared in the nation’s newspapers. Writing in the Guardian, Christopher Priest described her fantasies as ‘of seminal importance for their bridging of the gap between “traditional” children’s fantasy, as written by CS Lewis or E Nesbit, and the more politically and socially aware children’s literature of the modern period.’ The Telegraph noted that ‘[her] 40 or so books maintained a remarkably high standard in both inventiveness and the elegance of their prose.’ Charlie Butler, writing for the Independent, goes so far as to say ‘that Jones never won either the Carnegie Medal or Whitbread/Costa Award is both a mystery and, in retrospect, a scandal.’

Diana Wynne Jones’s work combines a wonderful originality in concept with well-considered execution, regardless of her chosen subject matter. Many writers who produce in anything like the sort of volume she did manage it by sticking to a winning formula, but Jones continued to experiment throughout her life. She wrote mainly for children, but also for adults; she wrote stories set in our contemporary world, and stories set in fantasy worlds; she wrote her own versions of Arthurian tales, and even wrote about schools for witches and wizards before they took the world by storm. She did all this informed by a keen understanding of human nature and a clear sense of how stories are constructed.

 

A black and white image of two young white girls. The younger girl wears a white dress and has light curly hair, she's crawling on the floor and smiling. The older girl also in a light dress and boots with curly fair hair has one hand on her sister's head and the other to her own. The girls seem to be in a doorway and the room behind them has a patterned carpet and various other pieces of low furniture.
Diana and her younger sister Isobel, 1937 (Diana Wynne Jones, Reflections on the Magic of Writing)

 

In autobiographical material, Jones’s childhood casts a long shadow. She describes a childhood disrupted by war, and complicated by parental neglect and emotional abuse. Writing in 1988, she said ‘I write the kind of books I do because the world suddenly went mad when I was five years old.’[1]  Although born in London, Jones lived for a time with her father’s relatives in Wales after the outbreak of the Second World War, and later in the Lake District. There she met both Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome, though she was impressed by neither (according to her, they both hated children). Nonetheless, she was impressed to learn that books were something real people wrote, and she was determined from a young age to be a writer.[2]

Perhaps echoing her difficulties growing up with her parents, her child protagonists often have complicated relationships with their parents. She resorted to writing her own stories when her father denied his daughters books and other reading material;[3] and her relationship with her mother never recovered from their time apart during the war.[4] In her books, these women may be loving, but distant and wrapped up in their own lives or careers, or perhaps subtly cruel. In The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988), for example, the eponymous protagonist’s mother is ambitious, but more interested in her social life than in her son.

Other family members are sometimes obstacles or villains, or good in appearance yet tarnished underneath. In Cart and Cwidder (1975), a boy’s family has revolved around his charming, larger-than-life father, who turns out to be both an underground freedom fighter and utterly without care for his wife’s individuality. So, is he a good person? That is left for the reader to decide.

Diana Wynne Jones does not condescend to her young readers and writes about the sorts of problems they face with respect and compassion. Often her plots are small dramas writ large. In Dogsbody (also published 1975), a girl’s unhappy life with her foster family is disrupted—and brightened—by the addition of a dog. The dog turns out to be the star Sirius, sent to earth in punishment. The everyday struggles of a child are contrasted, and yet wholly enmeshed, with a cosmic struggle.

 

A black and white image of a small room lined with bookshelves. Interspersed between the shelves and below large windows are desks with seats for six people and a reading lamp. The room has pale walls and parquet flooring.
The Library at St Anne’s College, 1952
Six people are gathered outside the entrance to St Ann's college. Two, a white man and woman both with dark hair are sitting on the back of a scooter. The woman is in a floral dress and the man a matching suit. He is reaching his hand out towards another young man standing beside the scooter. He has dark hair and wears a light jacket and dark trousers and holds a tabby cat in his arms. Behind them Two men and a woman stand watching with smiles on their faces. The men both wear light jackets and dark trousers, one has dark curly hair and the other paler straight hair and wears a bow time. Between them stands the woman with light curly hair she wears a pale shirt and dark skirt and has her arms crossed,
St Anne’s students in 1957

 

(Photos courtesy of St Anne’s College)

The fantastical was having a resurgence around the latter half of the twentieth century owing, in part, to renewed interest in medieval works as pieces of literature. Indeed, when Diana Wynne Jones came to Oxford to read English at St Anne’s College in the early 1950s she found her curriculum full of dragons.

Jones very nearly didn’t make it to Oxford. She had applied to Somerville, her mother’s old college, and not been accepted, so she made a late application to St Anne’s in December 1952 and was accepted for the following autumn. Her headmistress had recommended her as ‘an exceptionally able girl’ and ‘probably the most original girl in the school’. At Oxford, her tutors universally praised her imagination, liveliness, and originality, all while lamenting her lack of effort. Rather unfortunately, her father had passed away unexpectedly during her first term, which seems to have set the tone for her university career. It was not a happy time for her, and she found it difficult—and sometimes dull—to get on with her work.[6]

Nonetheless, it was at Oxford that she encountered Beowulf, Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, and Langland’s Piers Plowman, among other medieval classics, and attended lectures by both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who had both had a hand in setting this medievalist curriculum. [7] Diana Wynne Jones’s fantasies clearly show this influence, though perhaps not as one might expect. She eschews the overt popular signifiers of medievalism—castles, serfs, noble kings—while deliberately incorporating its stories and aesthetic qualities.

Diana Wynne Jones felt that children, more than any other kind of person, looked to the future and not to the past. Children, she thought, would relate better to tales set in a ‘story time’ that was identifiable as their own, like medieval people did in their own imagination.[8] Just as artists and writers in medieval Europe reimagined the stories of their past as happening in something like their own time, so could fantasy literature in the twentieth century be set in a world recognisable to its readers. For example, in Eight Days of Luke (1975), Diana Wynne Jones reimagines mythological figures in a small English town. The protagonist befriends the trickster god Loki, here present in the guise of another young boy, and over the course of a week successively meets other Norse gods and gets involved in their disagreements.

While many fantasies, including those by Tolkien and his imitators, look to the Middle Ages as a period of unique heroism and to a medieval hierarchical order as the rightful mode of organisation for society, Diana Wynne Jones´s work rejects this proposition. In her Dalemark series (1975-1993), which is at its core set in a pre-modern fantasy world, she openly challenges medievalist nostalgic notions of the past. Her protagonists, though imbued in a mythic past where the undying figures of folk religion wander the land, are recognisably human and flawed.  In the land of Dalemark, the weight of history makes itself felt, but substantial technological and societal innovations are also welcome: the land is going through its own industrial revolution, with uprisings resulting in better conditions for workers; and the ancient roads which connect the country´s historical sites are brought to life as the foundations for modern railways.

Nonetheless, several of Diana Wynne Jones´s novels are in direct conversation with the medieval literary tradition. For instance, her 1993 novel Hexwood weaves in Arthurian myth into a twisting story set in a contemporary English wood off a housing estate, which turns out to be partly a supercomputer-generated environment under the control of a galactic empire. Jones’s reimagining of myth is a far cry from historicist narratives which place King Arthur in a version of the real past, as in the works of Rosemary Sutcliff or T.H. White. Neither do her novels present themselves as didactic, and they do not come with a neat moral at the end. Instead, they are a mirror for the world in which her readers live, raised in understanding: not an instructional manual but an opportunity for reflection.

 

Cover art for ‘Eight Days of Luke’
Cover art for ‘The Crown of Dalemark’

 

Although Diana Wynne Jones started publishing in earnest in the 1970s and had become well-respected by the 1980s in fantasy circles—and was widely-read by school-aged children—she did not achieve worldwide success until the turn of the millennium. Following a resurgence of interest children’s fantasy as well as the popular anime adaptation of her 1986 novel Howl’s Moving Castle by Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki in 2004, many of her novels were reissued, introducing them to new audiences. They were reprinted in the UK, and published in translation in Spain, France, Germany, and Israel, among other countries.

Diana Wynne Jones’s work has been foundational for many children’s and fantasy authors writing today. Children’s author and 2019-2022 UK Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell named Jones’s The Ogre Downstairs (1974) as one of the most important books she had read as a child. Katherine Rundell, recent winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, was inspired to become a writer like Diana Wynne Jones, and believes she is underrated, as ‘infinite estimation is what she deserves’.[9] Frances Hardinge, the only children’s writer to win the Costa Book Award besides Philip Pullman in 2001, named Jones´s The Time of the Ghost (1981) as one of the stories to have shaped her.

Fantasy author Neil Gaiman, who was her friend and protégé for several decades, considers her ‘the best writer for children of her generation’[10] and fondly remembered Jones’s feedback on his early work. Megan Whalen Turner, whose novel The Thief was runner up for the 1997 Newberry Medal, admired Diana Wynne Jones’s power of invention and referred to her Dalemark novels as an example for the kinds of stories she wanted to write. UK-based Malaysian writer Zen Cho, whose fantasy is part of a wave of young writers decolonising genre fiction, remembers Diana Wynne Jones as one of the great British fantasists of her childhood. There are countless more examples.

It’s hard to quantify the impact of a writer such as Diana Wynne Jones. As writer Marcus Sedgwick said in his introduction to the Folio Society’s lushly illustrated 2019 edition of Howl´s Moving Castle: ‘The seeds of Jones´s work can be seen in myriad other writers. […] We pass the tools of storytelling from generation to generation.’ I do not believe fantasy writing would look the way it does today without her contribution.

 

Selected Works by Diana Wynne Jones

The Ogre Downstairs (1974)

Eight Days of Luke (1975)

Dogsbody (1975)

Dalemark series:

Cart and Cwidder (1975)

Drowned Ammet (1977)

The Spellcoats (1979)

The Crown of Dalemark (1993)

Time of the Ghost (1981)

Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)

The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988)

Hexwood (1993)


[1] Diana Wynne Jones, ‘Something About the Author’, in Reflections on the Magic of Writing (Oxford: David Flicking Books, 2012), p. 210.

[2] Jones, ‘Something About the Author’, pp. 216-17.

[3] Jones, ‘Something About the Author’, p. 230.

[4] Jones, ‘Something About the Author’, p. 214.

[6] For this information I am grateful to St Anne’s College, who allowed me access to Diana Wynne Jones´s student file from her time as a student in 1953-56.

[7] For a discussion on the English curriculum at Oxford at this time, see Maria Sachiko Cecire, Re-Enchanted: The Rise of Children’s Fantasy Literature in the Twentieth Century (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019).

[8] Diana Wynne Jones, ‘Inventing the Middle Ages’, in Reflections on the Magic of Writing (Oxford: David Flicking Books, 2012), p. 165.

[10] Neil Gaiman, ‘Foreword’, in Reflections on the Magic of Writing (Oxford: David Flicking Books, 2012), viii.

Celebrating Female Authors: Jan Morris

I first knew of Jan Morris as a name attached to several ‘travel’ books while I was working as a bookseller – as much as she herself resisted the label of being a travel writer. Not very much later in that same role, an elderly gentleman told me about how she had publicly transitioned as a woman, some time after her account of the ascent of Everest. Both these facts suddenly illuminated the figure behind the very beautifully but impersonally published perennial titles of hers that we stocked: Oxford, Venice, Spain etc.

By the time she passed away in 2020 I had seen several more of her memoirs and essays published, and I had a much fuller sense of this woman who had typified transgender identity for several generations of the reading public. I felt like I missed her for what she meant to many people, even if I had been perhaps too young, but mostly too ignorant, to have read her work in her lifetime.

 

Biography

Jan Morris was born in Clevedon, Somerset, in 1926. She was educated in Oxford first at Christ Church Cathedral School, where she was a chorister.1  After enlisting and serving in the British army in Italy and Palestine, she returned to Oxford to undertake a degree at Christ Church College.2 During this time she was also had a stint as editor of Cherwell, the student newspaper.

A Photograph of Tom Quad, Christchurch College Oxford: A gothic styled sandstone quadrangle, with lawn and statue set within.
Image credit: Dmitry Djouce (Distributed without alteration according to license: CC BY https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Her early career as a journalist was crowned by the report to the Sunday Times of Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Mount Everest in 1953, with later prominent reporting on the first proof of French collaboration with Israel in the Suez conflict, 1956.3

In 1974, her account of her gender transition, Conundrum, became a worldwide bestseller, and is an early example of a transgender narrative in the public eye. Reviews from the time are not altogether as hostile as might be expected, but some critics thought that Morris’ writing was incompatible with  womanhood, for example Rebecca West’s New York Times review.4 There seems to be an uncritical belief in an écriture féminine to which, they argue, Morris does not conform. This particular branch of feminist thought, that certain styles of writing are better able to express and demonstrate women’s perspectives, might be something that we find more problematic as an assertion today.

 

Favourite Book 

As a reader of fiction, especially science fiction, more than the genres Morris most often wrote in, I love Last Letters from Hav.5 I think it’s wonderfully uncanny, as a result of the sense of credibility with which Morris imbues a fictional place. The recent editions are accompanied by an introduction from Ursula K. Le Guin, which is a sensible publishing decision; fans of Le Guin’s novels, whose science fiction elements draw on imagined or speculative social systems, will find similar care taken by Morris to construct an imagined society in a moment of crisis.

 

Things to see in Oxford relating to Jan Morris

Morris’ connection to Oxford is obviously tied closely to Christ Church College. The Cathedral is publically accessible for services and prayer, with choral services on Sundays at 11am and evensongs Tuesday through Sunday at 6pm. Copies of Cherwell can be called up to Bodleian reading rooms, including volumes from Jan Morris’ tenure as editor.

Morris’ favourite places to see, for those wanting to follow in her footsteps, include the tomb of Dr. Richard Baylie, which can be viewed within the eponymous chapel on tours of St John’s. Morris noted that ‘he is dressed in his academicals, and is leaning with one knee cocked against a pile of books; his forefinger keeps his place in one volume, and he is looking preoccupied up into the sky, as if his train of thought has momentarily escaped the argument of the page, and true to the Oxford method, has soared away to more celestial syllogisms’.6

A photograph of the memorial to Richard and Elizabeth Baylie. A stone carving of Richard Baylie depicts him lying at ease, resting on a pile of books in academic dress.
Image credit: St John’s College, University of Oxford (Distributed without alteration according to license: CC BY-NC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

Morris’ writing on Oxford is certainly rooted in time; her description of Summer Eights seems farcical, where men rowed and women looked ‘vacuously’ on asking brothers to explain the crews, before retiring as  ‘happy little groups of people, white and blue and polka-dotted, strolling through the meadows’.7 This seems a far cry from Summer Eights today, the interspersed men’s and women’s crews, with onlookers of all varieties far too drunk on warm, fruitless Pimms to recognise all but the first boats in each division, all to the competing club music emanating from each boathouse’s gym.

One point on which Morris and I definitely agree is in the best treasure in Oxford: the Alfred Jewel. An enamel portrait (of Christ, most likely) in a gold setting, fronted by a thick piece of quartz, the jewel is on permanent display at the Ashmolean, and represents the energy with which Alfred sought to revitalise literacy during his reign. Modern scholarship is confident that the jewel is the end piece of an aestel, a rod for pointing to a text as it is read; several were donated to Alfred’s bishops alongside manuscripts of Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care, newly translated into Old English.8 As a symbol of Alfred’s intention to associate wealth, prestige and learning, it is a powerful and affective piece.


  1. Jan Morris, Conundrum. (London: Faber & Faber, 2018).
  2. Richard Lea, ‘Jan Morris, historian, travel writer and trans pioneer, dies aged 94’, Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/20/jan-morris-historian-travel-writer-and-trans-pioneer-dies-aged-94 [accessed 20th March 2023]
  3. Lea, ‘Jan Morris, historian, travel writer and trans pioneer, dies aged 94′.
  4. Rebecca West, ‘Conundrum’, New York Times. 14 April 1974, p. 5.
  5. Jan Morris, ‘Last Letters from Hav’ in Hav (Chatham: Faber and Faber, 2006), pp 1-187.
  6. Jan Morris, Oxford (Cary: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 161.
  7. Morris, Oxford. p. 133.
  8. Leslie Webster, Anglo-Saxon Art. (London: British Museum Press, 2012).

 

Celebrating Female Authors: Jane Austen

As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, the trainees have decided to highlight female authors with a connection to Oxford. We’re starting things off with Jane Austen, but watch this space for more posts to come!

An illustrated portrait of Jane Austen. She is sitting in a chair looking to her right with a neutral expression on her face. Her signature is below the portrait
Portrait of Jane Austen

Jane Austen, the seventh child of the Reverend George and Cassandra Austen, (née Leigh) was born in Hampshire in 1775. Her family, a large and lively community, shared a love of learning that encouraged Jane’s creativity, and she began writing at an early age. Her life amongst the landed gentry and a wide network of friends and family no doubt provided ample inspiration for her writing. The family lived in Steventon, Hampshire until Jane’s father retired, after which they moved on to various locations including Bath, London and Southampton. Jane died at the age of 41 from Addison’s disease, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. [1]

Connection to Oxford 

Jane had a variety of connections to Oxford. Her older brother James attended St John’s, as did their father, and their paternal grandfather was rector of All Souls College.  When Jane was eight, she was sent to Oxford with her cousin (another Jane) and her sister Cassandra to be educated by Mrs Cawley, the widow of Ralph Cawley, a former Principal of Brasenose. [2]

In 2022, the Friends of the National Libraries led a campaign to save the Honresfield Library, a huge collection of manuscripts and books by a range of British authors, including Austen. The campaign to raise over £15 million was a success, which has ensured continued public access to the collection. [3] The Jane Austen collection from the Honresfield Library has been donated to the Bodleian Libraries and Jane Austen’s House. It features first editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Northanger Abbey, as well as two letters from Jane to her sister in 1796. Letters from Austen are incredibly rare, as Cassandra destroyed or censored many of them. [4]

A red brick building with a white sign in the foreground that reads 'Jane Austen's House Museum'
Jane Austen House

Literary Career

Jane Austen wrote many short stories in her teenage years. Three surviving notebooks are held in the British Library and the Bodleian Libraries. These stories were often lively and action-packed, and not entirely dissimilar from what teenage girls might write about now – typically getting into trouble, romantic or otherwise. [5]. In the somewhat tumultuous years after her father’s death, Jane did not have as much time for writing. It was only once settled in Chawton on her brother’s estate that she began to edit Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for publication. The former was published anonymously in 1811, and the later in 1813. Mansfield Park and Emma were published in 1814 and 1815 respectively. Following Jane’s death in 1817, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published later the same year, and were the first of her books to identify her as the author.

After publication, her books were generally received favourably (although it’s interesting to consider if this would have been the case if it was known from the beginning that they were penned by a woman), and commended for their portrayal of everyday life. Alfred Tennyson wrote that “Miss Austen understood the smallness of life to perfection,” highlighting her skill for social observation. [6] Now, 200 years after her death, Jane Austen is celebrated as one of the most beloved British writers, whose works have been translated into multiple languages and adapted for the stage and screen.

Most Iconic Character  

Sometimes, the most obvious answer is, in fact, the right one. Elizabeth Bennet is a British icon in her own right, with her quick-witted nature and sharp tongue (perfectly encapsulated in one of the most savage insults in literary history: “I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world on whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”) Lizzie’s misjudgement of poor Mr Darcy is something I’m sure many of us relate to, and the changing nature of her opinion of him throughout the novel is what makes me return to it (and the iconic masterpiece that is the 2005 film version) time and time again.

Favourite Book  

My favourite Jane Austen novel is (unsurprisingly) Pride and Prejudice. The themes of the novel – love, social hierarchies and dealing with irritating family members offering “delicate little compliments” remain incredibly relatable to this day- the language may have changed, but our lives are not that dissimilar to the characters in Pride and Prejudice.

References

  1. Jane Austen | Biography, Books, Movies, & Facts | Britannica
  2. Mrs. Cawley and Jane Austen – Brasenose College, Oxford
  3. Contents of the library | Friends of the National Libraries (fnl.org.uk)
  4. Treasured Jane Austen letters donated to the Bodleian Libraries and Jane Austen’s House | University of Oxford
  5. Teenage Writings | Jane Austen’s House (janeaustens.house)
  6. Jane Austen | Jane Austen’s House (janeaustens.house)

 

A Day in the Life at the Oxford Union Library

10am – 12pm: Careers in Libraries

Tuesday (17 January 2023) started with an online conference organized by Emma from the Bodleian Staff Development Team. Open to public, the conference introduced various career paths in the field of librarianship. I gave a short talk as a current trainee, sharing my day-to-day experience at the Union Library. I was happy to see some familiar faces and listen to my colleagues describing the projects they had been working on. I appreciate the Bodleian team for organizing these career events. Last year, as a student, I attended a similar event during which three Bodleian librarians shared career tips and personal insights.

 

Poetry Room: a room with a view and lots of fiction, but no poetry

12pm – 1pm: Isherwood Lecture

Access to free lectures is a huge reason why I love working in a university environment. At the beginning of each term, I check out the courses offered by the English department, a habit/hobby developed during my undergraduate years. Since I work evening shifts on Tuesdays, I could rearrange my hours to create a 90-minute window in the middle of the day to attend a lecture on Christopher Isherwood and have lunch afterwards (will explain how this works in more detail below*).

Reading literature is, in a sense, my way of constantly reaffirming my decision to go into librarianship. The pay is okay for now, as I don’t have kids or other expensive hobbies (but every once in a while, I also want to go to London and re-watch The Phantom of the Opera!); the work itself is not stress free (as a kid I imagined librarians just sitting at the help desk with a cup of tea and reading novels all day. Very naïve). But every day working at the Union Library has proven that the company of books and book-loving people is just priceless. Isherwood, for one, was an author I encountered while shelving books. I love books—if I haven’t mentioned this already. I love wiping dusts off their covers, putting them back on shelves next to their cousins, discovering bookmarks (and all the weird things people use as bookmarks) between pages. Who left you there, little pack of contraceptive pills?

 

1pm – 1:30pm: (Almost) Free Lunch

As a Union employee, I receive a £4 lunch allowance at the Union bar every day, and lunch at the Union bar is priced at, yes, £4.50. The coronation chicken baguette is delicious though, definitely worth that 50p.

 

1:30pm – 2:30pm: Random Small Tasks

Emailing.

Sorting out paperwork for the library committee meeting. The library committee members meet every Monday to discuss new books they’d like to buy and old books they’d like to get rid of. I take notes during the meetings and write some reports and agendas afterwards.

 

2:30pm – 4pm: Book Display

Reading List Poster

The Union is, after all, a debating society. During term time, the students here organize a debate every Thursday evening. This Thursday’s motion is:

‘This House Believes that the Future is Post-gender’.

The library staff put a few books on display based on the topic every week. This week, I searched for books on gender studies and queer theory, trying to find relevant materials for both sides of the argument. To prepare a book display project or a reading list, I usually begin by brainstorming relevant books I know. In this case, Judith Butler’s theory of performativity proved to be a good start. Then, I’d search on Google and SOLO for key words – it turned out that Rutgers had a very comprehensive reading list on queer theory, thanks, Academia. To narrow down my choices, I’d read the abstracts of the books and sometimes skimming through those that seem particularly interesting. This time, I settled on the following:

  • Undoing Gender by Judith Butler
  • Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ by Judith Butler
  • Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
  • No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive by Lee Edelman
  • Invisible Women: Exposing the Gender Bias Women Face Every Day by Caroline Criado Perez

I also create a simple poster to go along with the books. Here on the right is a poster I am especially fond of, designed for the Winter Reading List last year.

My hope is that these reading lists will give readers a glimpse into an area that may be new to them. This is certainly true for me personally. I find library work to be, in a sense, the opposite of academic research: in the latter you end up knowing a lot about one particular area, while in the former you learn a little about a wide range of topics.

 

4pm – 5pm: Shelving

Fun and satisfying work for someone with an obsession for orderliness.

 

5pm – 7pm: Evening Shift

Apart from sitting at the help desk and answering reader enquiries, I was mostly working on a blog post (not this one). The Union is about to launch its own blog soon. The article I have been working on is about a fascinating episode that took place in the 1960s at the Union.

 

*Normally I work from 9:30am to 5pm with a 30-minute lunch break; on Tuesdays I have evening shifts, so I work from 11:30am to 7pm instead. On this particular Tuesday, however, I started 90 minutes early at 10am, so that I could take some time off at noon to attend the Isherwood lecture. This Tuesday is rather unusual, but I chose it for my ‘Day in the Life’ post so as to show the blog reader the variety of activities you can engage in as a Bodleian trainee.

 

Old Photo of the Union in 1909

 

Black History Month: Events in Oxford

Working at the University of Oxford gives the trainees access to a huge range of events, exhibitions and talks. While not directly related to library work, we wanted to take the time to highlight some of the events celebrating Black History Month that are taking place in Oxford and are open to the general public. There are a variety of lectures, talks and exhibitions designed to recognise the work of people of African and Caribbean descent, both globally and locally here in Oxford. For a full calendar, please visit this site.

 

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1FLLN4EXim5jveOIF5DIUFxU36bwBWMc&ehbc=2E312F&w=640&h=480]

 

Annan Affotey: Art Exhibition 

Date: October 1st – October 31st

Time: 10:00 – 18:00 daily

Location: St Hugh’s College (Hamlin Gallery)

Annan Affotey is an Oxford-based artist. He graduated from the Ghanatta College of Art and Design in 2007 with a degree in Drawing and Painting, and has had exhibitions in London, Los Angeles and New York City. His exhibition ‘My Complexion’ features his portraits of people of colour.

The exhibition is free and no booking is required. More details can be found here. On Thursday 20th October at 16.30, Annan will be giving a talk and providing a walk-through of the exhibition. Tickets are free and available here.

 

Black Women at Oxford: Exhibition

Date: October 3rd – October 31st

Location: The Hub (Kellogg College)

The University of Oxford began admitting Black female students in the 1930s. Kofoworola Ademola, the first Black African Women to graduate with a degree from Oxford University, is one amongst many Black women who feature in this exhibition curated by Urvi Khaitan. The exhibition features a variety of sources including photographs, biographies and other pieces of writing to explore the experiences of some of the first Black women at Oxford. For more information, please visit this site.

 

Paolo Scott: Reading and Q&A

Date: 19th October

Time: 14.00

Location: Colin Matthews Room, Radcliffe Humanities Building

In collaboration with the English Faculty, Brazilian author Paulo Scott will be giving a talk and answering questions on his work. After teaching law for ten years, he moved to Rio de Janeiro to focus on his writing. Scott has published four fiction books and four poetry anthologies. His latest book, Phenotypes, was longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize.

For more information, please contact the English Faculty.

 

Professor Kehinde Andrews: Sam Sharpe Lecture: ‘Bringing Down the House’

Date: 19th October

Time: 19:00 – 21:00

Location: The Mathematics Institute (or online)

The Sam Sharpe Project was founded to raise awareness of Sam Sharpe, an enslaved man who helped to instigate the 1831 Slave Rebellion. For the past 10 years, the University of Oxford has partnered with the Sam Sharpe Partners to offer an annual lecture. The 2022 lecture is being given by Dr Kehinde Andrews, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University. After the lecture, there will be a Q&A session facilitated by Dr Patricia Daley, Professor of the Human Geography of Africa at the University of Oxford.

Attendance is free, but due to limited places, registration is required- you can do so here.

 

Dr Victoria Showunmi, UCL: Sophisticated Racism: Navigating the Terrain:

Date: 20th October 2022

Time: 17.30 – 19.00

Location: Worcester College (or online)

Dr Victoria Showunmi is an Associate Professor at University College London’s Institute of Education. Her work revolves around education, identity, gender, empowerment and leadership. This year the Equality and Diversity Unit and the BME Staff Network at the University of Oxford, have invited Showunmi to give her lecture ‘Sophisticated Racism: Navigating the Terrain’ at Worcester College. Dr Victoria Showunmi’s talk will reference her co-edited book ‘Understanding and Managing Sophisticated and Everyday Racism: Implications for Education and Work’, which can be found at Mansfield College Library (shelfmark: 1055 SHO) or electronically via Bodleian Libraries reading room PCs.

This event is free, but you will need to register if would like to attend either in-person or virtually.

 

Black History Month Lecture – Decolonising EU Law: Purpose, Principles & Practice:

Date: 26th October 2022

Time: 17.30 – 18.45

Location: Kellogg College, 60-62 Banbury Road Kellogg Hub Oxford OX2 6PN

Professor Iyiola Solanke is the Jacques Delors Chair of EU Law at the University of Oxford. Her lecture ‘Decolonising EU Law: Purpose, Principles & Practice’ will be introduced by Shreya Atrey (the Racial Justice Fellow at Kellogg College who researches feminist theory, disability, poverty, and discrimination law) and the Decolonising the Law Discussion Group will co-host the talk.

This event is free, but you will need to register if you would like to attend – you can do so here.

 

Dr Machilu Zimba and Dr. José Lingna Nafafé: AfOx Insaka

Date: 28th October 2022

Time: 17.30 – 19.00

Location: Blavatnik School of Government (or online)

The Africa Oxford Initiative is a collaborative platform designed to promote connections between the University of Oxford and African universities through various means, including developing academic networks and increasing the number of scholarships for African students to study at the University of Oxford, as well as offering talks. This event features two speakers. Dr Machilu Zimba will discuss barriers to progression for international graduate students, and how they can be overcome. Dr. José Lingna Nafafé will present a paper on the Black Atlantic Abolishonist Movement.

This event is free. For more information, and to register, please visit this site. There will be a drinks reception after the event.