Michael Beloff

That sweet city

What do they know of Oxford who only Oxford know? Justin Cartwright, a raw colonial from South Africa, arrived as a prospective law student at Trinity in the mid- Sixties. Now, a prize-winning novelist, he has contributed to a series ‘The Writer and the City’ and succumbed for a second time to charms which he found irresistible on first and fresh acquaintance.

What do they know of Oxford who only Oxford know? Justin Cartwright, a raw colonial from South Africa, arrived as a prospective law student at Trinity in the mid- Sixties. Now, a prize-winning novelist, he has contributed to a series ‘The Writer and the City’ and succumbed for a second time to charms which he found irresistible on first and fresh acquaintance.

What do they know of Oxford who only Oxford know? Justin Cartwright, a raw colonial from South Africa, arrived as a prospective law student at Trinity in the mid- Sixties. Now, a prize-winning novelist, he has contributed to a series ‘The Writer and the City’ and succumbed for a second time to charms which he found irresistible on first and fresh acquaintance.

He makes his apologies at the outset. This is a book about the University, not the urban environment in which it finds itself fortuitously located; gown trumps town. His eye is critical but he does not criticise. An American who spent a year in Oxford in the same era as his undergraduate years wrote a book

entitled These Ruins are Inhabited; Cartwright, by contrast, relishes the stone of Oxford, ‘mostly a sort of washed-out russet like the skin of an obsolete apple’. It is consoling for those who still consider Oxford one of England’s glories that in seeing it again he does not claim to have seen through it.

There is in Broad Street a kitsch exhibition called ‘The Oxford Experience’, advertised with effigies of such modern icons as Mrs Thatcher and Rowan Atkinson. The author recognised a need for an Oxford experience of his own. He attended freshers’ night in his old college, underwent a tutorial on various poetic gobbets with a young English don, attracting the judgment that if he were a first-year student he would be admonished, ‘Must read more attentively’; toured the four Oxford museums and the Bodleian Library, happy to find himself still on the roll of readers; wandered through quads and gardens, and

travelled the towpath by Port Meadow, Oxford’s verdant perimeter.

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