Cambridge Vs. Oxford: Author Wars

Charlotte Furniss-Roe 25 January 2014

Our two greatest universities have produced some of the best writers in the world. Understandably then, it is difficult to cover 800 years of literature in half as many words, and so I can only focus on my own favourites and try not to be biased. If my hands are shaking at the keyboard it's because I can feel the glare of my painted elders emanating from Trinity portraits.

I grew up accepting the mantra 'Oxford for Humanities, Cambridge for Sciences'. This was the way the two were distinguished for a long while, although in reality they are mostly even. Oxford's aura of a romantic literary atmosphere was clearly successful in bringing writers into its care, from Evelyn Waugh to Philip Pullman. The latter manages to memorably illuminate the dreaming spires of Lyra's city in a novel that is centred on far more fantastic places. Clearly the separate worlds that characterise these universities stick in the minds of their students, such as Nabokov's 'Glory', with an insight into the scholarly mind of Archibald Moon. Time spent here was also a great influence on Tennyson, whose happy hours with Arthur Hallam and subsequent despair poured onto a page and created the masterpiece 'In Memoriam'. I have been known to spout this out at my English friends to their great despair, since for me no other lines of poetry stick and circle in my mind quite like Section VII does. From friendships to love songs, Cambridge has had the fortune of witnessing great affairs, such as that of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Read individually their works are moving and brilliant; read together they are like magnets in space that spin and sing about each other. (I am not a physicist, don't quote me on that.) The lingering line 'In the morning they wore each other's faces' says it all. And makes up for the fact that I don't think I ever really understood 'The Iron Man.'

On the other hand, I think that Cambridge's proclivity towards Sciences has benefited its literary offerings. Who can challenge the offbeat humour and strange mix of normality and extreme strangeness that is 'The Hitchiker's guide to the galaxy'? The trilogy. In four parts. However, I consider Oxford's Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' equally brilliant in insanity, even the pinnacle of dystopian fiction, with prose that hums like poetry. Also, although often voraciously hated, Joseph Heller's 'Catch-22' is a masterpiece of the mad, doing to a storyline what pockets do to headphones.

On the whole, something about Oxbridge's hallowed halls means that most of my favourite writers have come from one place or The Other. Without wishing to sound like a sports teacher for the blind, the quality of all of these writers and many, many more seems to me the standout message, but I would choose Cambridge's smorgasbord of variety.