About a week and a half from the conference, and after a trip to LA to visit an old friend, I am finally home happily taking some time to reflect on my experiences. My experience at the Dickens Universe this summer was one I will treasure forever. It was an exercise in breaking out of my comfort zone, in taking on exciting intellectual challenges, and in diving headfirst into the Dickensian world. And, to get to do it all in the beautiful town of Santa Cruz was an absolute dream come true! I’ve lived in Upstate New York for most of my life, so being surrounded by mountains and tall, green trees is a familiar comfort. However, being able to stand with the beautiful redwoods behind me and an indescribable bay view in front is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I asked one of the undergrads here from UCSC if she ever got used to the view, and she answered “honestly, no”.
The scenery is just one layer of the magic of the Universe. I’ve met people that I hope will become lifelong friends. We’ve bonded over not only the book we read for this week, but over decades of book-loving and common interests. I’ve met people from around the world, many of whom I would never have had the chance to talk to otherwise. The amazing speakers, professors, and grad students have become role models as I move forward into the literature world.
Spending time at the Universe and with members of the Dickens Project really was one of the most exciting experiences of my academic career thus far. The lectures, discussion seminars, and general conversations about the novel and Dickens helped me hone in my skills and learn how to think about the text in many new ways. However, in addition to the work itself, the Universe was special because it was a glimpse into the academic lifestyle and the many avenues it takes. As a rising senior trying to figure out what I want to study in the future, the Universe was incredibly beneficial. I was able to make some friends that I truly hope will be lifelong, speak with professors and lecturers who have become role models, and talk to fellow book-lovers who had so many valuable lessons to share.
There certainly was no shortage of discussion about the novel, sometimes casual conversation over breakfast turned into a (friendly) heated debate over small details. These kinds of interactions are what make the event so special. One of my favorite moments was a conversation with a Universal during the Grand Party, who told myself and some other undergrads about his life, work and experiences (and the impossibly sweet story of how he and his wife met).
On that first Sunday, jet-lagged from the journey and sensorially overwhelmed by the amount of new, exciting things to process, I was almost certain the week would be very long. However, I found that the time flew by, between the full schedule of Barnaby events, outings with my roommates, and peaceful walks around campus. My friends at home started to (affectionately) refer to this week as “Dickens Camp”. Though they we not being completely serious, I think their description is more accurate than they expected. The Universe is a mix of many things, and saying goodbye definitely did feel like the end of summer camp.
I am planning to write an Honors thesis next year on the novel, and the scholarship from the Universe was a fantastic way to kick off the brainstorming process. I’ll certainly be thinking about the Maypole for many months to come, and I really have the Universe to thank for inspiring in me so many new trails of thought.
In truth, any description seems inadequate. Should you ever have the opportunity to attend, I strongly encourage you to embrace the experience as much as possible. No matter your familiarity on Dickens and his work, no matter your personal background or your academic interests, everyone is sure to get something wonderful out of the Universe.