Dickens Universe

The Dickens Universe is a unique cultural event that brings together scholars, teachers, students, and members of the general public for a week of stimulating discussion and festive social activity on the beautiful Santa Cruz campus of the University of California—all focused on one or two Victorian novels, usually (but not always) one by Charles Dickens.

In 2023, the Dickens Universe will feature A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. A historical novel set in London and Paris at the time of the French Revolution, its plot involves many sensational and melodramatic elements: imprisonment in the Bastille and the bloody Reign of Terror; lost children and body doubles; heroism and sacrifice.

Yet contained within this plot are resonances that pull readers beyond England and France, and beyond the temporal frames of one, albeit momentous, historical conflict. Comparison and doubling abound, as the title’s two (European) cities multiply outward, toward Bombay (now Mumbai), Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), Victoria (Australia), Santiago (Chile). Likewise, the revolution in question is not limited to the Napoleonic Wars, but manifold, involving civil unrest and violent uprisings both domestic (the Chartist movement) and abroad, from Jamaica to the US, South Asia, the Antipodes, and beyond (as in the 1946 propaganda film A Tale of Two Cities about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). 

Now in its 42nd year of operation, the Dickens Universe combines features of a scholarly conference, a festival, a book club, and summer camp. Participants include people of all ages and walks of life—distinguished scholars, graduate students, undergraduates, retirees, young professionals, high school teachers, anyone who loves to read and who enjoys long Victorian novels.

Here are some of the things that make the Universe such a special experience.

  • The college lifestyle: participants live on campus, eat together in the student dining hall, have time to meet and come to know each other in different ways.
  • Everyone is reading the same book. We all have this one important thing in common.
  • The range of activities—formal lectures, small discussion groups, films, daily Victorian teas, performances, and Victorian dancing.

The Universe offers a week of total immersion in the world of Victorian fiction with friendly, like-minded colleagues in a beautiful setting. Whether we’re returning to a Dickens novel that everyone knows and loves, or branching out into a Victorian novel by another author who might be less familiar, during the Universe we build a community out of our passion for reading, talking with one another, and bringing Victorian culture to life.