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The Intriguing Light of Dark Academia

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Fall has truly come and rolled around. And ‘tis the season for plaid, semi-formal outerwear and garb, cinnamon and pumpkin drinks galore, and all the warm, muted brownish colours that are also very much present in the current surroundings. There are many who would consider fall as their favourite season to dress up as it gives way to quite a specific aesthetic – one that we have no doubt seen on others or even ourselves. But this “fall aesthetic” also typically lends itself to another culture genre – one that has bled into the recesses of literature, cinema, fashion, and daily activities. It has been a staple on the internet and on the streets, and I am referring to the phenomenon of dark academia.

It has become more than a mere aesthetic on Pinterest or a mainstay in the ‘fandom’ culture. One might say that it is a movement in and of itself. There may not be an official scholarly definition as to what constitutes dark academia yet, but several ones are available for perusal on the internet. According to Aesthetics Wiki, “Dark academia is a popular academic aesthetic that revolves around classic literature, the pursuit of self-discovery and a general passion for knowledge and learning. It is one of several variations of academia aesthetic, each with a unique subject focus.” Its academic leanings focus on the humanities areas, such as Classics, History or English Literature. In this day and age, when it is might be more accepted to opt for a more lucrative field of study such as Business or Law, the revival of the humanities through dark academia presents a welcome escape for some – those who wish to be in pursuit of knowledge simply for the sake of learning.

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Some people may be more familiar with its associations with fashion or clothing, while others may be more acquainted with dark academia literature. After all, the inclusion of the descriptive term ‘dark’ pertains to a more sinister element in storytelling. This isn’t just characteristic of looks or aesthetic. Nevertheless, it can be agreed that this cultural trend is not confined to one genre. Its literary inspirations are mainly those set in the Oxbridge or New England boarding schools, and universities, involving an elite or secretive hub of individuals, who are equally in pursuit of the sublime or the macabre – or both. There is a sense of exclusivity and privilege that comes with indulging in the classic Greek works, novels by the likes Donna Tartt, Oscar Wilde and Evelyn Waugh, and music by Chopin, Schubert and their contemporaries. You no longer need to be in an Ivy League university in order to experience such delights, and to partake in the sentiments that they evoke. Being a part of the community of dark academia allows one to be a part of a world that they may not otherwise have been able to access. As Quiring (2021) aptly remarked, “You don’t need the Ivy League to read Ovid. In fact, reading The Metamorphoses with your online friends might be better, more joyful, than reading it at a top-notch school. The trend is, in effect, a hack: a shortcut to the trappings of a prestigious education with none of the expense, gatekeeping, or pressure from parents.”

Should you be inclined to explore the trappings of dark academia yourself, the internet is a rife source of references and recommendations. From books to playlists to outfits, you’ll find basically everything available, as with the neighbour aesthetics of dark academia, such as cottagecore or light academia. Heath (2021) listed some choice novel titles that might be perfect for any budding dark academia enthusiast. Some of them are as follows:

· The Secret History by Donna Tartt

· The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

· The Maidens by Alex Michaeledis

As for films, some personal recommendations in this genre are Dead Poets Society (1989), The Riot Club (2014), Rope (1948), and Maurice (1987).


Heath, W. (2021). 15 Delectable Dark Academia Books. Books and Bao.

Quiring, A. (2021). What’s Dark about Dark Academia. Avidly.

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Sophia Jocson

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