Since pretty much every train in the country has stopped running, every shop is in crisis and people now shuffle through the streets wearing furs, I’m inclined to think we’re going back towards the Middle Ages. I know that England categorically Cannot Deal With Weather (we don’t have air conditioning because we don’t need it, but then during the two weeks a year when the weather’s hot, all our pensioners die and offices cart out huge buzzing a/c units that smell of wet horse), but the email I just got from Jenny (‘I am not coming back to Oxford until the cold lifts’) surely indicates a new low. Actually, it’s probably not the Middle Ages because someone said in a lecture once that when Chaucer was alive, there were thriving vineyards in the Midlands.
I spent the afternoon in Magdalen Archives, the college looking grimmer and lovelier than ever in the snow. The room itself is freezing and accessible only via 49 spiral steps of medieval tower. Since I can’t stand on a chair without feeling I might be compelled to chuck myself off it, it was only with great self-control that I bypassed suicidal ideation (proper vertigo is when you head somewhere high and think, ‘it would just be easier were I to die now‘) to get to the top. Magdalen has just published its College History, apparently, and the Trainee Archivist was using it to navigate several hundred papers of some Victorian Magdalen Classicist with an unusual predilection for coats of arms. At one point a letter from Bloxam (no, I didn’t know, either – I wanted to ask if this was the same Bloxam who edited – and contributed the most shocking piece to – Bosie’s incredibly gay 1894 undergraduate magazine The Chameleon, but felt this might be frowned upon) was found, to the delight of the archivist. When I asked who, the archivist explained enthusiastically that he was John Rouse Bloxam, ‘liturgically high as a kite’ and ‘camp as a row of pink tents’ and that Magdalen rewarded these altitudes with a College living (I would like a college living. I’d make a really good Victorian vicar) somewhere that sounded like Bude but probably wasn’t.
Amongst other things, I was looking at a kind of ‘interview’ Oscar Wilde gave in 1877, when he would have been 22/3. In a variation on the autograph book, people answered 40 questions on their likes, dislikes & aspirations. Wilde said that, while his idea of misery was ‘living a poor but respectable life in an obscure village’, his idea of happiness was ‘absolute power over men’s minds , even if | accompanied by chronic toothache’.
Oxford is slowly filling up again; the libraries are getting fuller. post-Admissions, I always think that the start of Hilary never quite knows what to do with itself.
And, talking of gay & hilarious journalism, read this (from the Guardian): I went to my ex-lover’s funeral as his son. My favourite part is the Ford Cortina.
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.