The Cherwell Revisits Waugh’s Oxford

The Oxford student newspaper the Cherwell has an article by Altair Brandon-Salmon that compares the Oxford described by Waugh in Brideshead Revisited with that of today. He uses as his text the tutorial on Oxford manners provided to Charles Ryder by his Cousin Jasper. This appears in Book One, Chapter II “My Cousin Jasper’s Grand Remonstrance…” and is quoted at some length before being deconstructed by comparison with today’s standards:

Comparing now and then, what immediately becomes clear is how little store was set by academic work. Lectures are to be gone to for the general improvement of the mind, rather than whether they aid with a tutorial essay (and thankfully, the tradition of attending open lectures continues). There’s an idea that Oxford is fundamentally a social university, a space to meet other people—hence Jasper’s exacting recommendation to ‘[d]ress as you do in a country house’. Sartorial standards may have dropped in the intervening decades amongst the majority. Although a minority can still be reliably found in a suit and tie most days…There’s also the snobbery. The casual dismissal of Modern Greats (now known as PPE) betrays a mindset of subject rivalry which has mellowed but is still present and encouraged to some extent; on the other hand, the contention that ‘You want either a first or a fourth’ in an era of Gentleman’s and Ladies’ thirds has long since passed since the expansion of universities in the post-war era…Oxford has changed substantially in many respects since Waugh went here, yet one need only scratch beneath the surface to see an institution where it is possible to step back in time, even for those who have not been privately educated. Brideshead Revisited still tells us where to look when we want to peel back the layers of a university nearly a millennium old.

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