Oxford students set up Facebook page dedicated to library book vandalism


OXFORD students have set up a website dedicated to the hilarious, bizarre and outrageous vandalism scrawled on the pages of their sacred library books.

The oldest university in the UK is home to 127 libraries and has collected more than 12 million books since it was founded in 1096.

Tomes on their shelves include one-of-a-kind 9th century manuscripts written on crumbling parchment, a £3.5m first folio of the works of Shakespeare and handwritten copies of Wilfred Owen’s war poetry.

Students are reminded to treat the books with the utmost care – facing “serious fines” of up to £100 for the crime of highlighting, underlining or marking their pages.

Some of the scribblings display a less than scholarly sense of humour
Some of the scribblings display a less than scholarly sense of humour

But that has not stopped generations of rebellious bookworms from writing in the margins.

The notes range from hilariously low-brow toilet humour to catty battles over the merits of the passage at hand.

Students are posting the images on a Facebook group titled “Oxford University Marginalia” – which is for those “fascinated or outraged by marginalia” – the practice of doodling in the margins of books.

The group was set up in 2012 and now has more than 5,000 members.

One image posted shows a reader who warned the next student to take out the book titled “Style: Text Analysis and Linguistic Criticism”.

On the title page they wrote: “Stop! This book sucks.” Below that another student has added “seconded”, before another chimes in: “Thirded.”

Another note written on the opening page of Matthew Arnold’s challenging book Culture and Anarchy, reads: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”.

One member of the group has posted a snap of a cheeky caption. Under the title “Contents” a student has written: “None worth reading, this book is crap”.

Others warn new readers about the prose ahead
Others warn new readers about the prose ahead

Others take issue with the author directly. One doodle-happy student captioned a portion of text discussing Harry Potter with the simple phrase “patronising dick”.

Another member of the group posted an image of graffiti they spotted which pointed to a portion of prose, reading: “F*** off with your pretentious bulls***”.

The submitter has wryly captioned the image: “Some delightfully erudite engagement with the author here.”

Another insult to an author reads: “Only an American t*** like you could make literature sound so much like theoretical physics.”

In another a student has added their own response to a dedication by a book titled “A Doctrinal Approach to Old English Poetry”.

The original author’s dedication reads: “This book is dedicated to my husband, Brian, for his enduring toleration of a subject not his own”.

But a sarcastic student has added below: “Brian, you are more tolerant than me”.

Another student has signed a copy of the bible: “All the best, God.”

In frustration another scrawled “WTF” across two pages of a law textbook.

The bemused student posting an image of the vandalism commented: “Another poor soul is lost to the perils of economic theories of tort law.

“I do wish the previous borrower had expressed their insights with a bit more subtlety.”

Another has changed the ending of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Their amended reading goes: “As he drifted away I could just make out his final words.

“‘It’s okay if you just call me ‘Frankenstein’ instead of ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’. I really don’t mind. The End.”

One user posted an image of a copy of Tennyson’s harrowing poem In Memoriam – which plunges into the nature of human death and grief.

Others are a bit harsh on the author
Others are a bit harsh on the author

The image shows two cheery doodles of a smiling girl and boy – with the submitter commenting: “I feel that the artist didn’t quite get the tone of In Memoriam.”

Another user has remodelled a map in a book to include Mordor from Lord of the Rings.

But many of the drawings also seem to date back decades, even hundreds of years.

In a 1672 obscure book one cheeky reader has referred to the Magna Carta as the “Magna Farta” in the margins.

Another image shows a crude doodle of a person from a 1593 English-French Dictionary.

Marginalia has a long history – with the earliest examples dating back to the 13th century.

Many modern scholars study such “vandalism” left behind on the pages of manuscripts in order to better understand the reactions which reader had to a piece of literature at a particular time.