‘Exquisitely Blended’ – Beauty, Literature and Depression, and the Hunt for Inspiration

‘Oxford still remains the most beautiful thing in England, and nowhere else are life and art so exquisitely blended, so perfectly made one’ – Oscar Wilde

Beauty inspires great art, and great art is a refuge from depression and darkness. Sometimes the beauty and words themselves are dark, and depression uses them to hide inside like a soft fleece blanket. Depression inspires imagery of escapism and beauty, which are recorded in literature and art. It is a great chain, and these three things are the links.  

River Cherwill beside Magdalen College

I began this blog to explore three things – beautiful places, literature, and depression. They may seem like strange bedfellows, but to me they are all connected in so many ways.  

For me, the desire to write is intrinsically linked with my depression. For as long as I can remember, words have been a cozy fortress to hide inside, building worlds and dreams that only I control. My best writing has come from painful, dark places, but at the same time the doing of it brings me joy. 

Magdalen College

‘Look for a long time at what pleases you, and longer still at what pains you,’ said the writer, Colette.

As a teenager, I thought I understood what those words meant. I quoted them a lot. But now, in early middle age, I have a wealth of experience that could fall into either category, and there is a lot of fear in looking back on any of it.

The River Cherwill in the heart of Oxford

Some things I want to write about are too personal to revisit, and I worry about the floodgates they may open, even though I know it is my strongest work. I’m not talented enough, and too egotistical, to write fiction that means nothing to me.  

I have played a lot of different roles in life, and all those girls, with all those hopes and fears and stories, still live inside me. So where to start?  

Magdalen College

I am living in a literary hub of the UK, a city that has inspired Oscar Wilde, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Philip Pullman, and many, many others. 

If I can’t write here, then where? 

Christ Church College

I have no education past high school – I dropped out of college three times out of boredom – and so university living is an enticing mystery to me. Visiting incredible and famous colleges like Magdalen and Christ Church is every bit as inspiring as I imagined they would be, yet my own emotional baggage is a pointless block to any kind of creativity. 

Duke Humphrey’s Library

On my birthday this week, I had a tour of the Bodleian library, including the original 16th century private library above the Divinity School. Another literary connection is that several Harry Potter scenes were filmed here.

Divinity School at the Bodleian Library

(Not that I am a fan of the little wizard, but it inspires yet another childhood fantasy I always had – escaping to boarding school in an old gothic building. The first book I ever wrote when I was 12 was about just this. It was called ‘Seacliff Castle School’, and was a formulaic mix of Mallory Towers and the Worst Witch).

There are many more Harry Potter connections at Christ Church, which is a Mecca for fans from all over the world.

The Great Hall at Christ Church

The Oscar Wilde fan in me prefers his old stomping ground, Magdalen, which is far more picturesque (and where he had an easy ride, having already completed the exact same course in Ireland).

I feel very lucky in that my job allows me free access to all colleges and libraries. I can actually go into these places and sit and write! Such a privilege! So why don’t I feel like I’m good enough to do so?  

I have a million ideas, and dozens of stories inside me. The problem is the beginning.  

Magdalen College Gardens

‘There is left some loveliness of environment, and the dullness of tutors and professors matters very little when one can loiter in the grey cloisters at Magdalen, and listen to some flute-like voice singing in Waynfleete’s chapel, or lie in the green meadow, among the strange snakespotted fritillaries, and watch the sunburnt noon smite to a finer gold the tower’s gilded vanes, or wander up the Christ Church staircase beneath the vaulted ceiling’s shadowy fans, or pass through the sculptured gateway of Laud’s building in the College of St. John’ – Oscar Wilde

All I can really do is immerse myself in the beauty of my surroundings, continue to keep my little dark demons at bay, and wait for the words to arrive.  

Christ Church Meadow

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