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Genre focus – dark academia

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

Dark academia is an aesthetic spanning several genres of literature: literary fiction, Gothic literature, SFFF literature and especially the fantastic & fantasy (I have yet to read dark academia science-fiction, but that sounds like something of interest). It deals with the pursuit of knowledge, often in an academic setting, the love for libraries and old buildings, classic literature and all periods of History. In this type of stories, there is often an intense mystery surrounding the object of study, a mystery which in its turn is often, but not always, tied to a crime.

As an academic-in-training myself, I’m often drawn to this atmosphere as a way to romanticise my own not-so-romantic studies. Reading about characters deeply passionate about their subjects rekindles my passion for studying in general, since I’m never short of passion for my subject but find myself not so motivated by the actual writing of my thesis.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is often credited as the book that coined the aesthetic, and it certainly ticks all the boxes. I found it a fascinating book, gorgeously written. It primarily deals with a passion for a research subject turning into an unhealthy obsession, and the equally unhealthy relationships forming between the students of an elite university under the tutelage of a less-than-commendable teacher.

The Secret History wasn’t born into a void, and so one can find traces of similar themes in older stories, but since it is an aesthetic turned towards the past, classic books are more often the focus of dark academia fiction rather than dark academia fiction themselves.

A bookstack next to a bunch of wild dried flowers
Please ignore the fact that the book by Patricia A. McKillip pictured here is The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and not Alphabet of Thorn, the latter being the dark academia one.

Books I’ve read and can recommend

Leigh Bardugo, Ninth House

A.S. Byatt, Possession

Marina & Sergey Dyachenko, Vita Nostra

Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches

Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian

Patricia A. McKillip, Alphabet of Thorn

Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials

Elif Shafak, Three Daughters of Eve

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

Classics I’ve read

Bram Stoker, Dracula

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Books on my wishlist or my To-Be-Read list

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, Ace of Spades

Naomi Alderman, The Lessons

Emily M.Danforth, Plain Bad Heroines

Tracy Deonn, Legendborn

Lev Grossman, The Magicians

Kasischke, Laura : The Raising

Kleinbaum, N.H., Dead Poets Society

Victoria Lee, A Lesson in Vengeance

Hermine Lefebvre, Cathédrale

Lisa Lutz, The Swallows

Alex Michaelides, The Maidens

Naomi Novik, A Deadly Education

M.L. Rio, If We Were Villains

Morgan Rogers, Honey Girl

Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night

V.E. Schwab, Vicious and its sequel Vengeful

Elisabeth Thomas, Catherine House

John Williams, Stoner

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