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 2024, the Dickens Universe will feature Great Expectations, which since its publication in 1860-61, has been one of Dickens’s best-loved and most widely read works.  The novel belongs to Pip, its narrator and main character – “No story in the first person was ever better told,” one of Dickens’s fellow Victorian novelists writes.  Pip tells us how his romantic, social, and economic ambitions drive him from his village home to the unsettling company of Miss Havisham and her beautiful ward Estella, to the busy, money-obsessed metropolis of London – and throughout, how his expectations seem as likely to result in emotional catastrophe as in greatness.  For all his drive toward self-creation, Pip reveals that he only becomes himself through connections to classes, institutions, lands, and populations outside him.  These connections are often barely visible and as likely to be defined by terror and violence as by care and attachment.  Much to his – and to the reader’s – surprise, those from whom he would most like to distance himself become most central to his self-definition.

Now in its 44th 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.