Exeter College in the 1920s

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In 1920 a young French man, Jean Fayard, arrived at Exeter College Oxford to study English Literature. He left without taking his degree, and went on to become a writer and journalist, winning the Prix Goncourt in 1931.

Exeter College Library has his second book ,Oxford et Margaret, which was published in 1924 with a second illustrated edition four years later.

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Oxford et Margaret by Jean Fayard

The novel shows Oxford college life from the position of an outsider. The hero, Jacques Dolent, arrives at Exeter College from the Lycee Janson-de-Sailly (coincidentally the same school as Jean Fayard), full of quaint notions about Oxford (the medieval architecture, Dickensian inns, students parading the streets in gowns etc.) – and finds them all to be true!

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View from Exeter study

He arrives at Exeter after a series of attempts to go elsewhere: Magdalen and Christchurch ( too grand and his parents disapproved ‘Le snobbisme est une des basses forms de l’orgueil’), Merton (not accepted), Queen’s (ditto). Despite not being his first choice he grows fond of his college with its peaceful enclosed  garden overlooking Radcliffe Square.

Many aspects of Oxford life are touched on in the novel:

The river, the barges and boathouses :

The city, its buildings and institutions:

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Magdalen Bridge

 

And above all, College its manners and mores:

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Dons

 

This novel is a useful alternative to Brideshead for readers interested in Oxford at that period.

In Exeter’s copy of the first edition  Fayard has written an inscription on the title page:

‘La distance ou Oxford se trouvait de tout prejuge, son amour du tres beau et sa repugnance aux enthousiasmes faciles faisaient de cette ville une chose passee et un peu indifferent aux efforts inutiles de generations vers le “Progres”. J. Fayard’.