Academia aesthetic is a thriving subculture devoted to the aesthetic of all things scholarly. It has seen a major revival in 2020 as a reaction to the lockdowns and the shutting down of all educational institutions and it has been going strong ever since. Using the power of social media, students have created a niche of their own guided by an aesthetic that mirrors and romanticises the world of learning with a heavy emphasis on reading and writing. They recreated what life might have been like in the 19th century private boarding schools and great colleges. Among other things, the aesthetic involves leather bound tomes of Romantic poetry, handwritten notes, sheet music, and the neoclassical revival portrayed by the gothic or romanesque art and architecture.
Read on for our dark academia reading list and guide on how to achieve the academia look and polish it to perfection!
1. Dark Academia Reading List
Dark academia aesthetic is inspired by the academic life of a refined bookworm, so if you already like reading here a chance to expand your horizons and add to that never-ending TBR list.
We love anything by Donna Tartt, The Little Friend and The Goldfinch are brilliant moody books, but her The Secret History has almost achieved the status of the dark academia Bible and for a good reason.
Dead Poets Society by N.H. Kleinbaum
Dead Poets Society is an absolute must. The novel is utterly gripping and heart rending, and the film, with the memorable cast of Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Josh Charles is a true delight. The novel takes place at Welton Academy, a prestigious prep school, and follows Todd Anderson, a new student, and Mr John Keating, a substitute English teacher with unconventional teaching methods.
Joanne Harris’ Malbry Series
Harris’ Malbry series consists of Gentlemen and Players (2005), Different Class (2016), and the most recent A Narrow Door (2021). The series takes place at St Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys and follows Roy Straitley, the eccentric Latin Master and his students. Each of the novels unearths some of the dark aspects of the school’s and its employees and students’ pasts.
As a dark academic, you have to be familiar with literary classics of course, which include Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, works of Brontë sisters, particularly Emily Brontë’s Withering Heights and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, as well as Poe’s works and poetry by Romantic poets, such as Keats, Coleridge, and Byron.
Academia aesthetic draws heavily on Neoclassical elements and classical mythology. It’s a wonderfully intricate and vibrant world that you will dive into and any of these books will be brilliant guides:
- Edith Hamilton’s Mythology
- Stephen Fry’s Mythos, Heroes, and Troy
- And you can go back to the roots and explore Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
If you like fiction inspired by mythology, do check out:
- Madeline Miller
- Pat Barker
- Natalie Haynes
- Jennifer Saint
The Latest Rage
Also, you can check out the latest books that the Dark Academia Booktok and Bookstragram community has gone wild about:
- Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
- These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
- Hell’s Library series by A. J. Hackwith
- Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
- Bunny by Mona Awad
- Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko
- A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
- If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
- The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
- Confessions by Kanae Minato
- The Truants by Kate Weinberg
- Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
- A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
- The Betrayals by Bridget Collins
Of course, as it goes with any reading list, de gustibus non est disputandum, and these are just suggestions. You can read whatever you love and enjoy!
2. What to Wear
Pretentious, yes, neat, yes, preppy, of course, flamboyant, why not, rip-off expensive - not necessarily. Think traditional academic style with a gothic edge: brown cardigans, tweed pants, leather satchels, Oxford shoes, and sophisticated accessories.
In dark academia style the emphasis is on muted colours that you can accent with a cool accessory, such as a vintage pendant, a statement T-shirt, or a bookish tote. With this in mind we have created our academia aesthetic collection of T-shirts and tote bags. Our T-shirts work wonderfully solo or with a blazer or a cardigan. They feature neoclassical designs and quotes by some of the greatest names in 18th century literature and we love combining them with our favourite Doc Martens shoes.
Nothing sets the tone and completes the outfit like a well-chosen, good quality accessory. Minimalist watches, classic jewellery, vintage looking (Harry-Potter-esque) glasses - think gold rimmed, black, tortoiseshell, or whatever suits you, a leather satchel and a bookish tote bag to carry all your books, coffee tumblers, and notebooks as you roam around the library or admire fan vaulting, pointed arches, and domed ceilings.
3. The Dark Side of Dark Academia
The elitism, pretentiousness, and unquestionable emphasis on white authors and artists in the dark academia aesthetic can be problematic. The classism, ostracising, and consequential mental health implications that often happen at elite schools are portrayed in the above-mentioned books and they’re quite real.
Therefore, take the aesthetic whichever way YOU like it.
There is no prescription how to do things right and who can do them. Don’t take anything too seriously, and most of all, have fun with whatever you’re doing!
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