In July, people from all over the world (and two lucky students from Canada) met for a week-long conference at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Roaming beneath the stunning Redwood Trees, with a view of the Pacific Ocean not far off, passionate people came together to discuss Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge. Two students from Ryerson’s Literatures of Modernity students, Mary Grant and Chloe Coome, were given the opportunity to take part in the inspiring and thought-provoking conference. The Dickens Universe, in it’s 39th year, is a special opportunity to not only discuss the beauty of Dickens’ words, but for students to learn tangible skills, engage with their peers, and make the world of literary scholarship feel a little closer.
The novel being discussed this year was Barnaby Rudge. The novel takes place during the 1780 Gordon Riots. It explores the ways mob mentality affects divisions of class and gender; the ways these differences are broken down and solidified. As well, discussions of the week both in graduate student led seminars and workshops questioned if the title character was in fact the main character or if that was a title better suited for one of the other characters.
With a Victorian Dance, a musical sing-a-long inspired by the novel, daily afternoon tea parties and more, the DU brings Victorian culture to life in a variety of fun and exciting ways. While the campus is large, the warmth from the faculty and the eagerness from fellow attendees to engage in deep discussion, made for an intimate experience. Evening parties also helped increase the camaraderie and allowed for friendships to form. Mary and Chloe, as the only students invited from a Canadian university to attend, were eager to meet and discuss with people from all over the United States, England and beyond.
With workshops including writing for journals, presenting conference papers, and teaching pedagogy, the opportunities at the conference to strengthen scholarly skills were numerous and informative. As Chloe puts it, “The presentation workshop opened my eyes to delivering a paper with confidence and strength. I learned how to combat my fears and nervous habits to allow my thoughts to shine. Over the course of a few short workshops, I left feeling ready to take on the academic world in a way I had never known before.”
Mary and Chloe, while busy with attending keynote speeches (comparing Barnaby Rudge to crime podcasts proved to be a particular favourite - rife with humour and astute connections), evening cheese parties, and afternoon discussion seminars, made sure to make the most out of the short time there. Whether looking through the Grateful Dead Archive at the beautiful McHenry library, hiking through Pogonip near North Campus, riding the rollercoasters at the boardwalk or even just sitting on the beach watching the waves crash against the shore, Chloe and Mary made sure to get the most out of both the mountains of the campus and the beach town below.
Chloe and Mary are incredibly grateful towards the Department of English and its Literatures of Modernity program for providing them with such a special and life-changing opportunity.