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This Secret Garden: Oxford Revisited (Writer and the City Series) [Hardcover]

Justin Cartwright
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Mar 2008 Writer and the City Series
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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This Secret Garden: Oxford Revisited (Writer and the City Series) + White Lightning (Sceptre 21's) + The Song Before it is Sung
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 1st Edition edition (3 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074757961X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747579618
  • Product Dimensions: 11.7 x 18.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 398,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'Seeking to define the university's greatness, Cartwright offers erudite meditations on everything from the solidity of its buildings to the fiercely individualistic lives of its students.' --New York Times Book Review

`Justin Cartwright looks to be one of the finest novelists currently at work.'

About the Author

Justin Cartwright's novels include the Booker-shortlisted In Every Face I Meet, the acclaimed bestseller The Promise of Happiness, White Lightning which was shortlisted for the 2002 Whitbread Novel Award, and the 1999 Whitbread Novel Award-winner Leading the Cheers. His most recent novel, The Song Before It Is Sung, was published by Bloomsbury in 2007. He was born in South Africa, and now lives in Islington, London.

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Oxford revisited 20 Jan 2014
By hubert
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My second purchase of this book, this time as a present for a friend. Would recommend to anyone with an academic or perhaps other connection with Oxford.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, poignant reverie and memoir of Oxford 27 April 2008
Justin Cartwright is one of the country's finest writers. This book is one in the A Writer in the City series, which has been graced by Peter Carey and John Banville among other. It offers distinguised writers a chance to let their hair down and speak personally and whimsically about a city dear to them. Cartwright's Oxford is the Oxford of his youth and his imagination, and the book ontains elements of autobiography and also a sense of how the Oxford myth is essentially to do with youth. With respect, Iam not sure some reviewers have undestood the delicate balancing act, between the Oxford of Cartwright's youth, and his gentle and self-deprecating realisation that both he and Oxford have changed. He finds that a lot of what he believed about Oxford proved to be distorted by his youthful callowness. At the same time he explores all sorts of interesting byways of Oxford life, including the astonishing Bodleian Library, and the Light of the World. And he tries to understand what it is that still make the Oxford myth so powerful. it is beautifully written, elegaic, sometimes sad, very personal and a fine, fine book for anyone who loves (or loathes) Oxford. This will be in Blackwell's for many years to come.
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6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A lot of Beloffs 10 Aug 2009
Justin Cartwright arrived in Oxford as a penniless student from South Africa, so poor that he had to borrow to afford his polo pony. Many houses in the more decorous streets of North London where he now lives belong to Oxford educated barristers, solicitors and journalists, he tells us. Those who blame Oxford because people from "sullen" council estates "rarely get there - or anywhere else - are labouring under an enormous delusion", he explains. Towards the end of the book, the author confesses how he was expelled from his lodgings, after burning furniture in the grate during an Oxford party.

As a former Oxford student born on a northern council estate and attending state schools, then achieving three A-levels at grade A, I find revealed by the writer one reason why affordable accommodation had been so hard to obtain. Mostly because of accommodation difficulties, I underachieved in my finals. I got to Oxford and took my degree but I doubt that my subsequent career path would count as "anywhere else" in Cartwright's opinion.

"After endless conversations, my own impression is that Oxford dons are very keen to get more state school pupils in" writes Cartwright. That's hardly surprising as Oxford University does depend greatly on state funding. As a state school entrant, I never felt nurtured by Oxford, and I suspect many others feel similarly.

This book, in "The Writer and the City" series, is Justin Cartwright's personal description of Oxford University. Try counting the number of times the author quotes the opinions of the former President of Trinity College, Michael Beloff. This is not an Oxford I remember, and the book seems to me largely an exercise in kissing up to the University's more conservative authorities.
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10 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An Outsider's View of Oxford 21 April 2008
By helen
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read an excerpt of this book in the Financial Times and really liked it. Having subsequently bought it, I was in for a massive disappointment. It is riddled with errors and sloppy research. The view of Oxford is so corny, it makes one groan. Like a tourist without a clue writing a really bad blog. It travels the yawn-inducing route of Maurice Bowra, high-table here and there, Zuleika Dobson and assorted characters from the Fifties. Rather terrible really.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
7 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What is this? 31 May 2008
By D. C. Carrad - Published on
Not at all what I expected or how the book is described. Meanders all over the map (and off it), into the author's school days (okay, I expected a little of that, but what we get is excessive) including quotations from his college essays and discourses on America, author's relatives would schedule an intervention after reading this. Too much Cartwright, not enough Oxford.
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