Dark academia – a subculture quite wonderfully concerned with higher education, the arts, writing, poetry, the pursuit of self-discovery, and Greek and Gothic architecture – seems to have taken over my Pinterest and YouTube feeds over the last couple of years. Whilst this largely appears to be focused on the aesthetic side of the culture, I wanted to make the genre applicable to The Literary Sisters. I have therefore put together a list of eight books – many of which are my favourites – which I would classify as Dark Academia, for your perusal.
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
‘Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last—inexorably—into evil.’
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
‘Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard.
But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?’
3. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
‘Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it ﬁrst appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting inﬂuence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.’
4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
‘Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.’
5. The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood
‘Bright, bookish Oscar Lowe has made a life for himself amid the colleges and spires of Cambridge and yet is a world apart from the students who study in the hallowed halls. He has come to love the quiet routine of his job as a care assistant at a nursing home, where he has forged a close relationship with its most ill-tempered resident, Dr Paulsen.
But when Oscar is lured into the chapel at King’s College by the ethereal sound of an organ, he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a beautiful and enigmatic medical student. He follows her into a world of scholarship, wealth, and privilege, and soon becomes embroiled in the machinations of her older brother, Eden.
A charismatic but troubled musical prodigy, Eden persuades his sister and their close-knit circle of friends into a series of disturbing experiments. He believes that music — with his unique talent to guide it — has the power to cure, and will stop at nothing to prove himself right. As the line between genius and madness blurs, Oscar fears the danger that could await them all.’
6. Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
‘Obsessed with creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life with electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear. Mary Shelley’s chilling Gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley near Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. It would become the world’s most famous work of horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits of human creativity.’
7. The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
‘In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate – a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance – to his family’s modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried – until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.
Rich with Hollinghurst’s signature gifts – haunting sensuality, delicious wit and exquisite lyricism – The Stranger’s Child is a tour de force: a masterly novel about the lingering power of desire, how the heart creates its own history, and how legends are made.’
8. Atonement by Ian McEwan
‘Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.
On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses the flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.’