The Dickens Project: Enhancing the Literary Experience

Maria D’Antonio

Nvate Charles Dickens, Dickens Universe and Dickens Project by John Jordan, scholarly articles, conference

This is Charles Dickens.

From humble beginnings, a conference attended by mostly high school teachers in California over three decades ago, the Dickens Project is now an internationally recognized association of scholars and students who have a passion for Charles Dickens and Victorian literature. This scholarly society is based at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

“The aim of the Dickens Project is to promote the study and enjoyment of Dickens’ novels and of the Victorian period,” John Jordan, director of the Dickens Project, said in an email interview.

Perhaps there is no better way the Dickens Project accomplishes this than through the Dickens Universe.

The Dickens Universe

The Dickens Universe, according to the documentary provided by the project, is an annual, week-long conference attended by students, scholars, and the general public from around the world to discuss and study one of Dickens’ novels. The novels to be discussed this year are: “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” by Dickens and “The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of Dickens. It will be held Aug. 4-10.

However, the Dickens Universe is more than just a lecture about Dickens and his writing. “It combines features of a scholarly conference, a festival, a book club for 250 people, and summer camp,” Jordan stated. “In addition to daily lectures and small discussion groups, the program includes films, dramatic performances, Victorian teas, and an evening of Victorian dancing.”

Nvate Charles Dickens, Dickens Universe and Dickens Project by John Jordan, scholarly articles, conference

Credit: Matthew Pearl’s website

In a sense, the Dickens Project and its main event, Dickens Universe, invite its participants to literally interact with the novel. Instead of solely focusing on the relevance a Dickens novel has to modern society, or even its own contemporary society, the Dickens Universe proposes that the readers make the extra effort to put themselves in the world of Dickens. The dramatic readings and Victorian dancing help the participants immerse themselves in Victorian culture to better understand Dickens’ novels and have fun exploring a way of life that is part of history.

Diversity in Dickens

Similar to the variety of characters featured in Dickens novels, the Dickens Project also boasts an international diversity. Professors from California universities to Yale University in Connecticut have attended a Dickens Project conference or helped collaborate on the project. Other universities outside of the United States include the University of Melbourne, Hebrew University, and the University of Exeter, according to the Dickens Project website.

However, it is not only scholars who appreciate Dickens and the Victorian period. The Dickens Project also invites students and the general public to join in the collaborative effort to read and study Dickens. “The annual Dickens Universe attracts scholars, graduate students, high school and community college teachers, undergraduates, high school students, and members of the general public for a week of intensive study of a single Dickens novel,” Jordan explained. This wide pool of participants enables ordinary people to interact with scholars, but also invites scholars to analyze Dickens in a way that is relevant to the general populace. Both parties gain new insight about Dickens and the ways his writings are significant to contemporary and modern lives.

This melting pot of scholars and the general population creates a rich atmosphere for studying Dickens. It is one of the appeals of the Dickens Project, even to the director. “I chose to be part of the Dickens Project,” Jordan said, “because it allows me to pursue my own research in collaboration with other scholars and because it brings the academic study of Dickens before a group of general readers.”

The Dickens Project as a Valuable Resource

Nvate Charles Dickens, Dickens Universe and Dickens Project by John Jordan, scholarly articles, conference

As various Dickens scholars and enthusiasts meet and learn from each other, they become valuable resources not only to each other, but also to the study of Dickens. “Giving lectures at the Dickens Universe has been an important first step for me in clarifying my ideas and helping me to put them in a form suitable for publication,” Jordan said of his personal experience with the Dickens Project. “Most of the scholarly articles and books I have published had their origin in one way or another at the Dickens Project.”

The diverse, collaborative effort made in understanding Dickens has created a plentiful pool of resources that are featured on the Dickens Project website. The website includes teaching material that range from middle school to the university level study of Dickens. On the other hand, teachers are not the only ones who can reap from the research of the Dickens Project.

The website also consists of an abundance of scholarly articles, useful for high school or university students’ research papers. It has a timeline of Dickens life and an FAQ about Dickens that includes the question, “Did Dickens really invent Christmas?”

What makes the Project Dickens a great resource for anyone interested in Dickens is that all of the information is backed by Dickens scholars, and then the Dickens Universe allows the public to meet those very scholars.

“The one thing I would want people to know about the Dickens Project,” Jordan said, “is how much fun it is. It’s a chance to mingle with leading Dickens scholars from around the world and meet other people who love to read, and talk about, good books.”

For more information visit the Dickens Project website.

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