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Cartwright, Justin, This Secret Garden: Oxford Revisited (London: Bloomsbury, 2009).

Oxford is many things. But it has a symbolic meaning well beyond its buildings, gardens, rituals and teaching. It stands for something deep in the Anglo-Saxon mind – excellence, a kind of privilege, a charmed life, deep-veined liberalism, a respect for tradition.

Cartwright has spoken to many leading figures, looked at favourite places in Oxford, subjected himself to an English tutorial - he performed very poorly - attended the Freshers’ dinner in his old college, studied various works of art and museums, investigated the claim that dons like detective novels, and reread many Oxford classics. At the same time he has looked at some of the great debates which made Oxford what it is, as well as the most recent debate about funding, which ended in a resounding defeat for the reformers.

He depicts the beauty of this historic city, the landscape of enclosed quads and gardens, and the astonishing collection of buildings. Cartwright concludes that the Oxford myth, while outstripping the reality, is as powerful as ever. This is an enchanting and highly original look at Oxford, indispensable reading for anyone interested in the myth and reality of Oxford.


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Studies in Travel Writing (journal)
Centre for Travel Writing Studies (Nottingham Trent University)

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