Dark academia: bookishness, readerly self-fashioning and the digital afterlife of Donna Tartt’s 'The Secret History'

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Dark Academia (DA) is a vibrant online subculture centred upon readers’ performances of bookishness. Practitioners create audio-visual assemblages of leather-bound books, dusty libraries, (neo)gothic university quadrangles and various poetic accoutrements. The ur-text of the aesthetic is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1992), especially its idealisation of a retrograde version of Anglo-American university life. DA mimics The Secret History’s rejection of 1980s media technologies, but this spurning of contemporary media is a ruse. DA creators display great digital savvy: manipulating images and soundtracks via video-editing, choosing tagging vocabularies to maximise discoverability, and optimising posting times in order to game a platform’s algorithm. Hence digital media makes possible the existence of DA but simultaneously “dare[s] not speak its name”—a paradox here dubbed “digital denialism”. The article exemplifies the potential of combining literary-studies close-reading with media-studies methods of content analysis and attention to medial specificity. It extends Jessica Pressman’s concept of “bookishness” to demonstrate how English studies can adapt to engage with the life of books online.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-364
Number of pages18
JournalEnglish Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2023


  • bookishness
  • Dark Academia
  • digital reading
  • Donna Tartt
  • internet
  • TikTok

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