Wednesday, December 15, 2010

College Envy

You can't underestimate the seethings and manoeuvers within the Oxford system. It is not enough that everyone has made it here; there are secret loyalties, secret glees, secret shames: colleges and their status anxieties.

I'm not afraid to say that we are conscious of our position as being slightly outside the ordinary Oxford experience: as mature students, even in our twenties, we stand out among teenagers. And HMC is the newest and smallest college, with a modest endowment and a humble JCR, though we do make much of the prettiness of the buildings, the few illustrious college members (Joseph Priestly, James Martineau, William Gaskell) and dissenting heritage, the Burne-Jones window in the chapel, the central location, and the food. We are only one humble step above the Permanent Private Halls, which HMC left behind when becoming a constituent college in 1996.

But when you come up against the older, formidable colleges, the well-endowed institutions, the Grandes Dames - you have to raise your hat. Gerard and I went to Christ Church last week to see the icon exhibit at the picture gallery. (The icon exhibit was disappointingly small, but I did see some Dürer woodcuts, including his 1514 woodcut of St. Jerome in his study.) Before the doors opened, we wandered the ground, sniffling.

The late Norman Cathedral is gorgeously rich. The Jonah window, with its sixteenth-century stained and painted glass.

Came upon this bust, and as I'd just remembered that Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, was librarian here, I wondered if we'd run into him. And here he is, memorialized as Democritus, his pseudonym in his Melancholy.

The altar and the ceiling above it were particularly fine, a collision of shapes, arcs, and details.

Best of all: the cobwebs in the sunlight windows, out of reach, aesthetic spiders spinning their webs near the music of the choir and the colors of the windows.


Willa said...

Loving those pictures!

Krystal said...

I remember being so proud as a college student going to University College for a semester (the one where you'll find Percy Shelley's creepy tomb) but when I visited Christ Church I had major college envy too! Hope you got to see the dining hall - it's kind of weird to see the mini-version of Hogwarts grand hall in use :-)