Dark Times in Dark Academia: Exploring the Queering of Identity in the Genre Obstructed by Tragedy

Project Abstract

Quickly rising in popularity through the help of social media platforms, Dark Academia has become an established literary subculture with a vast fanbase. With similar qualities to the Campus Novel, the Dark Academic genre differs because the characters themselves are college students instead of a professor or other faculty member. This aesthetic is comprised of Anglo-Saxon style of architecture, course study, and fashion combining to create an overall gothic tone that by surrounding the characters with a foreboding foreshadow of the tragedy that the students will embark. The architecture associated with the genre is comprised of red brick clock towers and ivy-covered educational halls, with furniture of dark wooden structures. Key pieces of wardrobe are items historically accurate within an institute of higher education swayed by Anglican influenced clothing from the 1970s to the 1990s, including tweed jackets, chunky sweaters with elbow patches, pressed collars, pleated trousers and skirts, turtlenecks, Oxford and Doc Martin shoes, and wire frames glasses. The course of educational study is usually limited to the humanities usually with a focus on classical literature, classic literature, Greek-roman languages, and art.

Despite the recent emergence of the Dark Academic genre, the foundation of the aesthetic and genre itself has often been linked with the 1992 publication of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. While other publications before Tartt’s can be included as part of the genre, the popularity of The Secret History canonized Dark Academia as its own literary genre. With the help of social media, the popularity of the novel and the genre has increased since. A more recent foundational identifier is M. L. Rio’s 2017 novel If We Were Villains. Both novels reinforce the guidelines as to what is identified as part of Dark Academia and are the focus of this presentation.

Through the study of Eve Sedgewick’s gender studies, in this paper I explore the overall queering of the genre’s aesthetic and thus the queering of the character’s identity exploration. Although, in Dark Academia a key identifier of the novel is of a tragic death usually from the result of a passionate murder. I also explore how through this tragic plot, the characters are unable to fully explore their queering nature. Thus, creating the ultimate tragedy worse than death – living unable to reach your full potential. By being fully immersed into the Dark Academic aesthetic, the students of the genre become obsessive in their studies to the point where they recreate the tragedies on page with their own lives.


Name: Midwest Popular Culture Association

Dates: October 6th - October 8th 2023

Sponsoring Body: Midwest Popular Culture Association

Website: https://www.mpcaaca.org/2023-mpca-aca-annual-conference

Funding Type

Travel Grant

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts


English Literature


English Literature




Andy Black, PhD.

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts

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