Originally posted October 17, 2011.
It’s funny for me to say that I have nostalgia for Dickens considering that before I arrived here at Oxford I had only read excerpts of his early work and Oliver Twist. And yet as I walked home tonight, I couldn’t help remembering my feelings when I read that first Dickens novel. I remember riding home on my bike from watching the Roman Polanski adaptation and feeling like Oliver Twist. It’s kind of ridiculous to think of that as I rode a bright blue cruiser bike through Rice campus. But, I was wearing the hat I’d bought in London, the streetlights were on, and it had recently rained. As I walked home tonight, I couldn’t help feeling the same way, except this time I was much closer to a Dickensian scene.
This weekend I’ve been alternately reading David Copperfield andGreat Expectations for my main tutorial. I should have just picked one, but being my usual indecisive self, I didn’t pick Great Expectationsuntil this evening. So after dinner I holed myself up in the quiet section of the Bodleian’s Upper Reading Room and plugged away at the last volume. I didn’t end up leaving until 9:45 pm, only five minutes before they start kicking everyone out. And when I got outside, I could tell by the dim puddles on the cobblestones that it had been raining. This wasn’t the first time that I’ve walked back from the city centre to my flat at night, but with the images of Pip and the convict trying to escape on the boat and Orlick silently tailing them up and down the streets of London, I couldn’t help but shiver a little when I looked up at the spires of the University church or walked through the Radcliffe Camera’s shadow. In just a minute I was out on High Street again, greeted with the lights and sounds of a bustling, modern city, but for those few moments, I was in the Victorian era.
Experiences like that are why I am in Oxford and why I am grateful for every experience I have here. This city is steeped in history. I walk across a bridge everyday that was built in Saxon times. I cut through Christchurch Meadows where Alice played and inspired Lewis Carroll to write his stories about her. I ate dinner last weekend at the pub where J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and where C. S. Lewis and the rest of the Inklings used to get together. And I eat lunch under the portraits of Thomas Hobbes, John Donne, and Jonathan Swift whenever I eat at the Hertford dining Hall, with the happy knowledge that they were once students there, just like me. With all of this greatness going on, I would think that I would be completely overwhelmed. At times I am, but surprisingly, usually it doesn’t intimidate me; it inspires me. So much greatness has come through this place that hopefully a little bit will rub off on me, even if it feels like I’m the biggest dolt in the world after I get out of lectures.
What I’m trying to say is that I am so grateful to be here and that even though it’s been a challenge to read Dickens—and it might addle my dreams tonight—I’m glad that it reminded me of the wonder of England, Oxford, and Hertford.