Thoughts on Surprised by Oxford

Something (Anything): A 21 Day Blogging Experiment, Day Two

I am nearly halfway through the memoir Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. It is one of those rare books that, thirty pages in, you know you will love. And I do. I am thoroughly enjoying Carolyn’s chronicle of her first year at Oxford and her corresponding journey to faith in Christ. Beautifully written  with both honesty and piercing insight (Carolyn is a literature professor from Oxford after all), Surprised by Oxford is a compelling read.

By no means is this a full-fledged book review, but here are a few of my initial reactions halfway into the memoir…

  • I want to visit Oxford. The storied history, the beauty of the city and the school so carefully described in Carolyn’s book, the rich tradition…all make me want to go and see for myself. I have always been something of a Anglophile (Hello? Jane Austen?) but now more so. Thanks to Carolyn’s account plus the gorgeous Oxford scenery of Masterpiece Theater’s Inspector Lewis series and I am so there. One day, perhaps!
  • I am no academic. Carolyn employs many literary and poetic references throughout her book, some I recognize and appreciate, most I do not. Who really quotes John Donne? Or John Milton? Or Samuel Coleridge? Who even reads poetry? And understands it? Poetry is one thing but the same goes for much of her allusions to various works of literature. I can’t decide if this revelation of my lack of literary prowess relieves me or shames me. This much is certain: Oxford material, I am not. Which, by the way, does not alter my appreciation of Carolyn’s book nor of her obvious scholarship. Quite the opposite! I love reading of the type of world and experience where ideas are considered and contemplated and weighed and questioned and deliberated and discussed and argued and pondered, which leads to my next observation…
  • Carolyn’s account of her introduction to Christianity and her ensuing exploration of matters of faith is refreshing. Growing up steeped in the religious culture of the Southern Bible belt, I sometimes forget that my faith is a thinking faith, a rational faith–one that wrestles with and confronts and radically changes the way we see life, our worldview as it were. Truth carries far reaching implications, something we who grew up going to VBS sometimes forget in our esteem for the “way we’ve always been taught.” For Carolyn, Christianity represents far more than a cultural way of life. It is a radical upheaval of all she has embraced and advocated, an upheaval that both unsettles and amazes her as she explores the implications of belief in Christ in relation to issues like feminism and fatherhood and forgiveness and love. It is a change that changes everything, she writes. Yes, indeed. How easily I take such change for granted. One reviewer has described the book as being for thinking Christians. Surprised by Oxford is thinking book, to be sure, a sharp, poignant, piercingly smart book and even as a sometime non-thinking non-academic I like it.


Author: Lisa Spence

Wife, mother, Bible teacher, bibliophile, occasional blogger

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Surprised by Oxford”

  1. Sounds like a great book! I'll have to put it on my wish list. Midwestern Bible belt culture is similar. There was such a backlash against intellectuals who attacked Christianity, that an anti-intellectualism often took over.

  2. I was on Amazon looking at this book and remembered you mentioned it on your reading list so I clicked over to see if you were reviewing it yet and you are! I'm so glad you like it because that means I'll probably like it too. I'll put it on my Christmas list!

  3. This does sound good. I'll admit I was inclined to write this book off (without having read it) as a flaky Christian memoir. Your review and others' have caused me to think twice.While I'm by no means an English scholar, I do love John Donne. The moment I saw his name, the words burst into my brain: "Batter my heart, three-personed God…" I had to rush downstairs for my copy of Donne's complete works to find the rest:"Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, youAs yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me and bendYour force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.I, like a usurped town, to another due,Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end,Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,But is captived and proves week or untrue,Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,But am betrothed unto your enemy.Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again.Take me to you, imprison me, for IExcept that you enthrall me, never shall be free,Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."Yes, I love, love, LOVE John Donne (particularly the Holy Sonnets, of which the above is the 14th.)

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