Dark academia is an aesthetic that has been gaining momentum over recent years. Many of its visuals stem from upper-class Europeans of the 19th century combined with old money, New England prep. It is emphasized by ancient language such as Latin, classic literature, and the importance of an education. It embodies a love of learning and seeking to know as much as possible in life. Education is romanticized in this aesthetic. Picture old books and stale coffee, thick cable knit sweaters and tortoiseshell glasses, grand libraries, and gray skies.
Dark academia is also heavily influenced by the idea of mystery and often death. Many pieces of traditionally dark academic literature feature ghosts, murder, and cut-throat secret societies. Part of dark academia incorporates the idea of self-destruction through physical things like drugs or metaphorical things like malicious thoughts.
Dark academia celebrates the idea of a thirst for knowledge and many times that thirst leads to a character’s demise. Living a dark academia aesthetic means that the quest for knowledge never truly ends except in death. As the Greeks would say, “αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν,” which translates to “ever to excel.”
So, if you ever want a taste of this beautifully twisted aesthetic, I have some books you should consider reading.
Dark Academia with a witchy twist
- “A Lesson in Vengeance” by Victoria Lee
Felicity Marrow has returned to Dalloway School located in the Catskill mountains. These grounds used to feel like the one place she belonged that was until the death of her girlfriend. But that was a year ago, and now Felicity is here to finish her schooling and keep as far away as possible from the dark arts that drew her to Dalloway. This school is built on the bones of witches at least that is what the legends say, the legends that haunt Felicity. But her whole plan is thrown off by the arrival of Ellis Haley, the prodigy writer. Ellis seeks to draw Felicity back to the darkness and Felicity can’t resist.
- “Bunny” by Mona Awad
Samantha is an outsider. She is a scholarship student at the prestigious MFA program at New England’s Warren University. She prefers her own company rather than that of the rich girl group who call each other “Bunny.” But when Samantha receives an invitation to join their group she cannot refuse. She starts to learn the truly sinister things the “Bunnies” get up to off-campus. Soon the lines between reality and fiction start to blur.
Dark Academia as Classics
- “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde
Wilde crafts a masterpiece exploration of human vanity, sin, and morality through the lens of Dorian Gray. Dorian is a young man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. He then dives into all the wickedness London has to offer without thought of the consequences he may face.
- “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre was orphaned as a child and feels as if she was never known what it is to be loved. After being sent to Brocklehurst school by her cruel aunt, Jane once again encounters endless abuse. It is not until she is hired to be a governess at Thornfield Hall that Jane starts to feel the love she has longed for through the brooding Edward Rochester. But Jane will soon uncover what really haunts to halls of the mysterious manner. Will this secret once again steal Jane’s chance at happiness?
Dark Academia in its purest form
- “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo
Alex Stern has been given a full ride to Yale, but the question is how? And why? Why would a girl who dropped out of school receive a spot at one of the most prestigious universities in the country? Alex arrives at her new school searching for answers, but her benefactors have other ideas. She is tasked with monitoring the secret societies of Yale. However, Alex soon discoveries these societies lean far more to the occult than she realized.
- “The Secret History” by Donna Tart
A cunning classics professor leads a group of extremely clever, ostracized students in turning away from modern ideals to a far more Athenian way of living. However, the students at this new England college soon start to cross the line of morality. They slip into a life of corruption, violence, betrayal, and evil.
- “The Atlas Six” by Olivie Blake
The Alexandrian society is the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. The people who earn a place in the society have access to endless amounts of knowledge and therefore, power. Only the six most talented magicians are considered for initiation and only five are initiated. As six new potential initiates arrive at the Alexandrian society, they are offered access to some of the archives and begin their year of discovery. The six soon realize the society has secrets even they could not have predicted.