Caitlin Croughan: Sharing the Joy

Caitlin Croughan, a Dickens Universe regular, established a planned gift to the Dickens Project, citing Dickens commitment to social justice and the power of stories to build community

July 22, 2019

By Caitlin Croughan 

Photo of Caitlin Croughan
Caitlin Croughan visiting Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Croughan.

Every summer I look forward to a week with hundreds of other Dickens fanatics, sorting out a single, assigned novel. Establishing a bequest to the Dickens Projects is my way of making sure this treasure is available to as many people as possible in the years to come.

As a young reader, I thought Dickens’s novels were too wordy and sentimental. Now, I stand in awe of his incredible productivity and literary skill. Most of all, I admire his moral stance: his commitment to social justice and his emphasis on the role of kindness in reducing the effects of human cruelty and indifference.  

In the 1980’s when I served as Program Officer of the California Council for the Humanities, Murray Baumgarten and John Jordan asked about funding for the inclusion of middle and high school teachers in the Dickens Project. Dozens more teachers became involved, and later I evaluated a three-year project (funded by the U.S. DOE) where the teachers developed multi-faceted curricula used in conjunction with the three Dickens novels most often assigned in the classroom.

 All my life I have worked with an eye toward social justice, whether through law, philosophy, or philanthropy. In a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse society (such as in California), my hope was to break down the barriers of prejudice and discrimination and create a mutually respectful society where everyone can prosper.  

There are many ways to build community, but I believe that story-telling is one of the most powerful – whether through literature, film, theater, or opera, for example, or through museum exhibitions, library programs, and public broadcasting. In listening to and learning about the experiences of others, we can become more understanding and empathetic, and thus, our social norms and legal systems will reflect a true commitment to everyone’s well-being.

The seminars and lectures at the Dickens Universe are a delight. Through them we learn more about good literature, and a novel’s particular historical and social context. Once in a while I have even felt that ‘movement of the soul’ that signals a new understanding of human character and human potential. 

It is for this joy and the compassion expressed in Dickens’s work, that I have made a decision to provide for the Dickens Project in my will and trust. I encourage others to do the same.