Oxford is a city steeped in literary history. After living there for a year, I was able to fully immerse myself in its literary history and culture. Some of the biggest names in literature have come from the quaint university town. Walking down the cobbled streets you can almost see the city as it was decades ago when great authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis derived their inspiration from and wrote their great works there.
A great thing to do when visiting Oxford is to simply walk through the town and ramble past its great buildings and to the timeless pubs where many an author stopped for a pint and imagined the great novels we now love coming to life. Walking up High Street, you’ll come upon a small side street leading into the heart of the University. Emerging from the darkness of the alley, you’ll first see the magnificent Bodleian Library. The dome-shaped building has been a staple of Oxford University for hundreds of years and is one of the oldest public libraries in the world.
The next cross street we come to transports lovers of literature to Thomas Hardy’s famous novel, Jude the Obscure. In the novel, Hardy calls his fictitious town, which is based on Oxford, Christminster. Here at the junction of Broad Street and what is called Parks Road is the Martyr’s Cross. This serves as the meeting point for Jude and Sue Brideshead in Jude the Obscure.
Next we will go to one of Oxford’s busiest streets, St. Giles. By going west on Broad Street and down a few zigzagging alleyways we will find ourselves on St. Giles. Our goal is to see one of the most famous literary sites in history, The Eagle and Child pub. This blessed ground once graced the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. From around 1933 through 1963 Tolkien (a professor at Merton College) and Lewis met with a number of other authors every week at Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen College to discuss and read aloud their unfinished work. Here, they formed the society known as the Inklings. The group had a standing lunch date on Tuesday afternoons at the Eagle and Child, or as they liked to refer to it, the Baby and the Bird. Every week the group met in the back room of the pub, called the Rabbit Room.
As luck would have it, I have actually had the chance to take a meal in this very room. One year while I was living there, a group of friends decided to celebrate our friend’s birthday there in honor of his aspirations to be a famous writer someday. When you enter the pub the first thing you notice is how very small and packed together it is. The narrow hallway leading to the main room from the door barely fits one person at a time. Lining the hallway are a number of rooms with small tables for groups to sit and drink at. Coming out of the hallway and into the main room is like emerging from a dark cave. You already feel as if you’ve passed through some unknown portal into a new world. If you keep going straight, you will eventually come to the Rabbit Room. It is a quaint little dining area with room for about five people at most. My friends and I sat at the very table the Inklings sat at a lifetime ago and celebrated our good friend Aaron’s twenty-first birthday. It was a magical experience to put it lightly.
Now, there are many other sites related to different famous authors, but the last one I would like to share is the regal Exeter College, renowned for its brilliant students. You may recognize it from Phillip Pullman’s series His Dark Materials. The story is partly set in a fictitious college called Jordan, which is based on Exeter College. It is a site well worth visiting.
You never know what you may run into walking down the winding alleyways of Oxfordshire.
I could literally go on and on about different places to visit in Oxford related to literary history, but, alas, this is where I must stop for today. If you want to be transported into some of the most famous novels in history or walk in the footsteps of those great artists, Oxford is the place to go. You never know what you may run into walking down the winding alleyways of Oxfordshire.
For a full map to explore Oxford, go here.
Do you have a hankering to visit Oxford? What other famous authors do you know of that have connections to this beautiful city? Sound off below…
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