Escaping our Troubled World for a Week of Dickens

February 02, 2020

We asked second year Universe attendee Don Peri of Davis, California to tell us more about what draws him to Santa Cruz each summer. This Q&A is part of our new series highlighting members of the Dickens Project and Dickens Universe community.

What is your professional, and/or personal background? 

I have a Bachelor’s Degree from UC Davis where I double-majored in English and Political Science. I am now retired after 33 years with the State of California.


How long have you been attending the Dickens Universe? 

This will be my second time to attend. Last year was my first time.


Was the Universe what you expected? What was different?

I really didn’t have any expectations, but I was impressed with its welcoming atmosphere and the breadth of scholarship among the lecturers.


As someone who just recently began attending, what would you recommend to first-time attendees?

Read the book at least twice!


How did you discover Dickens Universe?

John Jordan and someone else from the Dickens Universe spoke at an event at UC Davis some years back that I attended.


What about the talk you heard by John Jordan at UC Davis prompted you to attend the Universe?

I was impressed by the mere existence of the Universe and was excited that it was focused solely on one of my favorite authors. But at the Davis event, I felt that I was the oldest person in the room, and I was concerned that that might be the case at the Universe as well. When I saw that Road Scholar was participating, I knew that there would be at least other people in my age group attending. However, I actually found that everyone mixed very well and I interacted with young people as well as those my age.


What qualities of the Dickens Universe make you keep coming back?

I like the idea of escaping from our troubled world for a week to immerse ourselves in a novel from another time by a brilliant author, and (as someone said last year) to spend a week “thinking together.” Plus, it is fun to be living on a college campus again!


What was your first impression of the Dickens Universe?

I was impressed with the whole experience: the lectures and discussion groups, the social aspects, and the interaction with scholars and attendees.


Do you have a favorite Dickens novel?

While David Copperfield is one of my favorite books, I have been devoted to A Christmas Carol.  I have read it every December since 1967 and have a bookcase filled with various copies of the book. I first read a short prose version of it in a “Dennis the Menace” comic book in the late 50s and then went on to a children’s version of the story and then the actual book. I love the story, obviously, and it is such an integral part of the Christmas season for me that reading it is as important as decorating our Christmas tree and honoring all of our other Christmas traditions.  One of the Disney artists I worked with, Ben Sharpsteen, was given a copy of the book by his father when he went off to college and encouraged to read a stave each Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as his family was doing, so he could be with them in spirit on those occasions. I liked that idea and have followed the same pattern. A friend from graduate school and I have taught a course on A Christmas Carol as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Davisshe covers the novel and I cover the film and television adaptations. I can’t think of any book that has been adapted as many times as the Carol.


What are some of your favorite aspects of the Dickens Universe?

Everything I mentioned above, but this year I am going to attend all the dance practices so I can do better at the dance!


Is there anything else you would like to share, Dickens-related or otherwise?

I was in the English graduate program at UC Davis when I left to help a retired Disney artist compile his memoirs.  That started what has turned into a 45-year avocation as a Disney historian. I have published three books: Working With Walt, Working With Disney (University Press of Mississippi) and co-authored Walt Disney’s First Lady of Imagineering: Harriet Burns (privately published) and I am currently co-authoring a fourth book for Disney Editions.


Do you find any parallels between your current work with Disney and the Dickens Universe?

Only in the sense that my 45 years of research (part-time!) has been focused on one person (Walt Disney) and his productions, and the Dickens Universe is focused on one person and his works.