Book Jacket


rank 5913
word count 12155
date submitted 09.05.2008
date updated 10.02.2009
genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Fantasy,...
classification: moderate

Oxford Cockaigne


John Ruskin and William Morris are building a utopian Oxford. Johny Frenchman arrives to sell absinthe to Lord Featherstone and Oscar Wilde.


Johnny Frenchman sits on top of the Castle Mound, dreaming of his ideal city, thinking about Ruskin and William Morris, utopian socialism and capitalism, work and leisure, wallpaper and Cary Grant, Van Gogh and Jimi Hendrix, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, Jerome K Jerome and Lewis Carroll. Soon his great great grandfather arrives in the past from France, armed with crates of absinthe, ready to change Oxford for the better.

Oxford Cockaigne presents an alternative history of a utopian Oxford incorporating short parodies of books such as Three Men in A Boat, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows and The Hobbit. It is based on two historical events in Oxford: The road that John Ruskin attempts to build with undergraduate labourers including Oscar Wilde and the Cutteslowe Wall that was built across two roads segregating council and private housing in the 1930's and stood for twenty-five years.

Cockaigne is an imaginary land described in medieval literature where "the weather is always temperate, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available and all stay forever young " [from Dreaming of Cockaigne by Herman Pleij].

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alternative reality, cockaigne, comedy, cutteslowe walls, history, humour, jerome k jerome, literary, literary fiction, oxford, parody, ruskin, willli...

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foluking2004 wrote 1279 days ago


Azam Gill wrote 1384 days ago

Oxford Cockaigne.

A well stirred cauldron of zaniness, literary references, tongue-in cheek, parody and satire that raises thought provoking issues in elegant prose.

Despite my own reserves over the use of the present tense to relate the past, a choice made by Hilary Mantel, validated by her Booker prize, the book is well lubricated.

Time and space change with effortlessness.

You might want to take a second look at your punctuation, especially in the dialogues.

Sincerely hope it finds an appreciative home.


Azam Gill

J.S.Watts wrote 1421 days ago

This is quite intriguing and the bits that I've read, read well. I love the quirkiness and the tone.

Nick Poole2 wrote 1518 days ago


Ease those weary, withered limbs from your coffin. Push away the stone from the mouth of the tomb.

You have one last task to perform. One last, sacred shelf to confer.

Whether you were plugger, spammer, gusher or troll, whether you flirted or fought in the forum or beavered away in the shadows, now is the time for your resurrection.

One last time. Marshall your strength, muster the last vestiges of your power and carry out your final Authonomy act:

Back my book, MIRROR IN THE SKY.

Then, only then, you may rest easy in your Authonomy grave.

Nick Poole2 (formerly known as NickP)

Paladin wrote 1785 days ago

I've enjoyed this story and originally it soared up the rankings but I think you're right about the requirement that you need to be a skilled networker as well as a good writer to make the most of this site (which counts me out unfortunately:). Anyway good luck with whatever you decide to do with this quirky and thoughtful story.

Adrian Haiselden wrote 2016 days ago


Adrian Haiselden wrote 2020 days ago

Hey this is looks good - it even mentions Jerry Garcia. Why's it going down? Just got in from playing a gig and it;s late will make a point of reading this properly on Monday.

Chris Soul wrote 2035 days ago

This looks good! I'll check it out too.
Chris Soul

Cockaigne wrote 2035 days ago

Hi Philippa
I tried rewriting my other book on authonomy as a radio series called Fictionman but didn't get anywhere with it.
I am currently sticking with the idea of a series of "Cockaigne" books - I am sure there is a readership for them somewhere if I can get them right - although authonomy is probably not the right marketplace for them - I'm hoping for a bit of serendipity from somewhere.
A Shadow in Yucatan looks interesting - I'll take a closer look at it.

Philippa wrote 2037 days ago

Lots of fun, inevitably relying on recognitions of some fairly obscure allusions (and a few a shade obvious). I agree with Dr G about a play for voices, but having written a play for voices (see A Shadow in Yucatan) and submitted it (with many rave reviews from radio producers) it's no easier than finding a publisher. BBC simply does not do poetic or prolonged works. Attention spans are roughly judged to be ten minutes! You post considerate small chunks which are easy to read. I loved the conceit of remodelling Oxford, and re-defining its population and its inspirations even of advertising...I am for anything that intelligently debunks. I am sure this deserves an audience, but feel it needs to decide what audience and in what context?? Edinburgh Fringe?

Cockaigne wrote 2040 days ago

Thanks to everyone who has looked at this (or who will do so) and for all comments. Any more gratefully received.
However, it seems clear that I am not a sufficient networker to be an active participant in this site and that, as only the top 5 books get considered, Oxford Cockaigne is unlikely to be picked up from Authonomy.
Anyone who is interested please look at my website
Good luck to everyone.

paul house wrote 2049 days ago

Enjoying so far

Jon McRae wrote 2049 days ago

Charming premise. You handle the jaunty tone well; the way the chapters grow in length makes it an easy story to get into. Except, as someone else pointed out, it very soon digresses into the minute and forgettable experiences of side characters. This takes a bit of the punch out of the introductions of Wilde and crew.

The smirking tone, which initially drew me in, lost my attention over time, because it didn't adapt itself at all to the pace of a given scene. Through meetings and dialogue, description, (this story's extent of) action, it kept the same lackadaisical view of things. After a while it begins to read like a lyric sung without dynamic variation. The substance is lost in the style. Now, don't get me wrong: the style is strong and (at least at the beginning) engaging. A touch of rhythmic variation in accordance with the speed or slouch of a scene would be enough to keep it fresh.

The dialogue strikes a good balance between clever and trying too hard to be clever. Writing these characters in this (these) setting(s) requires a lot of wit, and yet also the humility to recognize that emulating Oscar Wilde doesn't make one his literary equal. At the same time I'd say have more confidence in your statements and descriptions. The early image we get of the pre-raphaelite hero is excellent; the too-populous followup of Arther et al is unnecessary, and really only works against you. (I pictured Steve Wozniak in 1980 Excalibur armour--closer I suspect to the character's actual appearance than his ideal avatar.) It's better to have one simple strong image than a strong and a weak, or even two strong.

I just joined up here, so I hope I'm not overstepping the local rules of critique with all this. There are a few wrinkles of punctuation to be ironed out--mostly involving dialogue, the placement of commas and periods in relation to quotation marks. Couldn't hurt to take a refresher lesson on that and go through it quick to sort them out.

Let me know if you post more. I really dig the combination of history and fiction--science fiction, more or less. It's everywhere!

Colin Hoad wrote 2051 days ago


2004carlt wrote 2072 days ago

Some great writing and use of words. I read to chapter 3 but got lost when I tried to fit Mad Dog into the story. For this alternative reality to work I needed your main character from chapter 1 and 2 to be there to explain it. I wasn't sure where the characters fitted in. Still, the story has great potential and I enjoyed your characters and use of words. Good luck.

Dr G wrote 2129 days ago

Cockaigne: Witty, clever, but to me this should be a play on Radio 4. Dr G

Cockaigne wrote 2142 days ago

Two excerpts are also posted on my website and may be easier to read there.
There is also some interesting factual background stuff about the Ruskin Road and the Cutteslowe Walls for anyone interested and some nice pictures.

Zara wrote 2142 days ago

I like the idea, not least because the affectionate mockery of intellectual conceits, and the ways in which we all invent our worlds to protect us from the distressing reality is always an engaging theme. But I'm going to have to re-read some of what you've posted here, because it's hard to read at length on line.

Paladin wrote 2152 days ago

Reading this is rather like overindulging in absinthe. It's compelling I'm just not sure why.

ricoeurian wrote 2156 days ago

Feels esoteric, psychedelic and a bit apocalyptic - loving it!

James E wrote 2159 days ago

Interesting so far, and certainly different to most stuff on this site.

Khan wrote 2164 days ago

Great piece of poetic prose. Especially , I liked the way you opened the chapters. Eagely looking forward for reading more from your book.
Abdullah khan ( Email : )

Paladin wrote 2165 days ago

'Drowning in the shallow end of my abandoned Open University courses.' Great imagery in this sentence. I liked how he appears in his world and your 'this world' description but that sentence really brought his character to life for me. I'll read on curious to see where your world takes me.

cutley wrote 2165 days ago

I rather like the look of this. What an awful lot of reading I will have to do now I have joined this site!

Cockaigne wrote 2165 days ago

I do have a complete draft of this but have only uploaded the first 12,000 words