Why Dark Academia Is Perennially Popular

From Book Riot:

Dark academia has recently spiked in popularity, both as an aesthetic and a literary sub-genre. Surely part of that has to do with the pandemic’s disruption of the traditional modes of campus education. Plenty of literary elements come and go in waves — vampire stories, for example. Others seem like remnants of the past, like the biblical and religious stories I described in categorizing forgotbuster books. Dark academia will inevitably experience a dip in popularity, but I think it will remain a perennial favorite among readers and writers.

If we assume that Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel The Secret History is the text upon which the sub-genre and aesthetic are based, the category is in its infancy compared to the broader genres it’s related to, like horror and Gothic literature. So why do I think dark academia has staying power?

The Nostalgia for the First Day of School

Even once we finish our formal education, many of us still think about the cycle of the school year. We long to buy fresh notebooks as summer wanes. We might continue to call weeknights “school nights” when there is no school to attend in the morning. The lure of a new school year is part of the appeal of dark academia. The possibility of new teachers, new friends, and new knowledge is compelling.

One of the reasons I like to read is to simulate the kinds of feelings I’m unlikely to have again in real life. I’ll never feel the intensity of first love again, so sometimes a really emotional YA novel is what I need. I’m in a long-term relationship, so reading romance can bring me back to those flutters of the early days of getting to know someone. And it’s unlikely I’ll go back to school, but dark academia feeds those cravings for the smell of freshly-sharpened pencils.

Dark Academia and Escapism

Many of us voracious readers would read all day if it were an option. Likewise, if I didn’t have bills to pay, I would happily be a student for the rest of my life. I love the idea of devoting myself to studying my interests. In The Secret History, the cadre of students are dedicated to the study of Classics. I too was incredibly drawn in by my first Classics class in college, called “The Ancient Epic and Beyond.” It introduced me to some of my all-time favorite books, like The IliadThe Aeneid, and Moby-Dick. There’s a touch of irony in the fact that the professor who taught this class and brought these supposedly stodgy books to life was the one who recommended we read The Secret History when the semester was over.

For those of us who simply love to learn, the idea of an enclave where you are among your fellow people is alluring. Forget frat parties and menial work-study jobs (I put the stickers on the spines of library books), it’s all intellectual all the time. This is a fantasy, full stop. But literature can indulge our fantasies.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

1 thought on “Why Dark Academia Is Perennially Popular”

  1. It won’t really be “dark academia” until the secret rituals of tenure consideration and committees — complete with references to dusty, eldritch tomes found only in the restricted sections of private-school libraries, and appointment of a grad-student taster for the faculty w[h]ine-and-cheese party — are fully integrated into the story. Until then, it’s just cartoonish pastiche.

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