A Staircase in Surrey

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A Staircase in Surrey is a sequence of five novels by Scottish novelist and academic J. I. M. Stewart (1906–1994), and published between 1974 and 1978. The title refers to student accommodation in an imaginary Oxford college. (A staircase, in the more traditionally designed colleges, would identify a group of students' rooms, leading off a quadrangle.)

The series[edit]

The books, in order of publication, are:

  • The Gaudy
  • Young Patullo
  • A Memorial Service
  • The Madonna of the Astrolabe
  • Full Term


The narrator and central character is playwright Duncan Patullo.

In The Gaudy he returns to his old college, after a long absence, and encounters a number of old friends, including Albert Talbert, his former tutor, Lord Marchpayne, a once-close friend with whom he has lost touch, and fellow Scot Ranald McKechnie, now a lecturer at the college. McKechnie's wife, Janet, is Duncan's first love.

The second novel, Young Patullo, tells the story of their former relationships and Patullo's undergraduate career. Fantasy writer and Oxford don J. R. R. Tolkien appears as the elderly "Professor Timbermill" in this novel.

In The Madonna of the Astrolabe Patullo copes with his ex-wife, the undergraduates' production of Tamburlaine, and the problems of raising enough money for the urgently needed restoration of the crumbling Great Tower. The discovery of a lost masterpiece by Piero della Francesca proves crucial to the college's future fortunes, and Patullo is able to help when it is stolen.

The character of the provost of the college is said to have been based on that of Henry Chadwick, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford during Stewart's own time there.[1]