It is difficult to think of another city that has been the backdrop to such a plethora of novels over the years.

Whether it's the winding River Thames and sprawling back alleys that inspires authors, or the sheer depth of history and prestige this city is steeped in - one thing rings true, Oxford is the returning home to many authors both past and present. 

With the country in lockdown visiting different parts of our city is not the best idea with everyone being told to stay at home. 

However, that shouldn't stop you from  exploring Oxford through literature with one of these top class novels: 

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

Set in the golden pre-war era of Oxford, Brideshead Revisited captures the dreamy essence of Oxford. 

Oxford Mail:

Image - Pixabay

The first third of the book is set in Oxford and makes for the definitive expectation of undergraduate life at the University. 

The novel delves into the realms of duty and desire set amongst the decadent faded glory of the English aristocracy in the run up to the Second World War. 


It tells the story of Charles Ryder's infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.​

His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman

The world famous trilogy by Philip Pullman follows the coming of age of two children as they find their way through a series of parallel universes. 

His Dark Materials has been adapted into a popular BBC series featuring Dafne Keen and James McAvoy. 

Oxford Mail:

Lyra (Dafne Keene) with her daemon Pantalaimon (Bad Wolf/BBC/PA)

The fictional Jordan College is heavily inspired and based off New College. 


These thrilling adventures tell the story of Lyra and Will—two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds. They will meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living—and the dead—will rely on them.

To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis

Hugo  award-winning romantic comedy, To Say Nothing of the Dog uses time travel to pay homade to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

Trying to keep the awful 'Lady Schrapnel' at bay protagonist Ned travels back in time to nineteenth century Oxford to escape. 


Ned Henry is a time-travelling historian who specialises in the mid-20th century - currently engaged in researching the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral. He's also made so many drops into the past that he's suffering from a dangerously advanced case of 'time-lag'.

Unfortunately for Ned, an emergency dash to Victorian England is required and he's the only available historian. But Ned's time-lag is so bad that he's not sure what the errand is - which is bad news since, if he fails, history could unravel around him.

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

Set in the fictional 'Christminster' this iconic Thomas Hardy is actually based around Oxford. It is widely discussed that many of his observations about the city still remain highly relevant today. 

Oxford Mail:

Image - Unsplash

The novel made such an impression on the area that there is a pub named after it in Jericho. 


Jude Fawley dreams of studying at the university in Christminster, but his background as an orphan raised by his working-class aunt leads him instead into a career as a stonemason. He is inspired by the ambitions of the town schoolmaster, Richard Phillotson, who left for Christminster when Jude was a child.

The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

Set  in a dystopian Oxford, The Bone Season is a compelling and imaginative read created by Shannon in her stellar debut  - it is the ideal book for those looking to get lost in another world. 


The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.

It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L Sayers

Described as the 'first feminist mystery novel' Gaudy Night considers the role of women in society and their right to education.

Oxford Mail:

Image - Pixabay

First published in 1935 the main tropes of the novel still ring true today leading to Sayers being lovingly referred to as the 'godmother of feminist detective fiction'.


Harriet Vane has never dared to return to her old Oxford college. ... At first she thinks her worst fears have been fulfilled, as she encounters obscene graffiti, poison pen letters and a disgusting effigy when she arrives at sedate Shrewsbury College for the 'Gaudy' celebrations.

What is your favourite novel set in Oxfordshire? Let us know in the comments. 

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