Weber, Carolyn. 2011. Surprised by Oxford: A memoir. Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group.
Dr. Carolyn Weber taught literature to undergrads for 15 years, but now works from her home as an author and poet. She lives in London, Ontario, Canada with her husband and 4 children.
In Surprised by Oxford, Carolyn Weber provides us with a personal and detailed account of her life at Oxford University and how, eventually, she became a Christian while studying there.
Her book is not the usual kind of chronological biography, but is instead an interactive story of friends and acquaintances that benefitted her life and, eventually, led her to faith in Christ—or detracted her at times. Central in the story is the man (whom she calls TDH, for tall, dark and handsome) whom she several years later marries. He is a friend and debater with her throughout her journey to faith and one in whom she finds integrity and strength.
Life at Oxford is intellectually stimulating, with large doses of hedonism and post-modernism thrown in, as the reader is taken into the confines of classrooms and pubs, parties and isolated philosophical reflections. Throughout the foray, Weber provides verse by a range of poets and theologian-philosophers, including C.S. Lewis.
Most of her “memoirs” involve creative conversations, somewhat difficult for me to imagine. For example, her interaction and exchange with Professor Von X (the title of chapter 19, but referring ot a Dr. Condorston) seems overworked and contrived. Nevertheless, his antagonism toward Christianity undoubtedly represents the attitudes of other professors at the university.
Weber does, however, throughout her dialogues with peers and colleagues, cover most of the familiar criticisms of Christianity in general and God in particular, with Jesus receiving his share of university antagonism as well. In many chapters she is tangled with a continuing battery of doubts and confessions and her discourse about them forms the central part of her story.
Weber is an accomplished author and poet so, as we would expect, the book is highly readable and enticing. She weaves poetry and images throughout the book in the way that only a lover and learner of literature can. The images of Oxford are beguiling, where smells and sights abounding as conversations with her friends take place.
I bought the book expecting to read more about the inspiration of C.S. Lewis, in that the title reflects Surprised by Joy. In that respect, I was somewhat disillusioned but, as other readers have observed, the book is “honest and entertaining” and well worth reading.