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Yes, there's a Dickens Society and it's coming to Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY — For Charles Dickens fans in Utah, it's about to be the best of times.

As the Dickens Society has proved over the years, Charles Dickens' popularity continues to grow even 150 years after his death. The society's president Natalie McKnight said it's the author's ability to reach emotions in the common person that makes him s
As the Dickens Society has proved over the years, Charles Dickens' popularity continues to grow even 150 years after his death. The society's president Natalie McKnight said it's the author's ability to reach emotions in the common person that makes him such a rare talent.
London Stereoscopic Company

The best of times usually comes in December, when productions of “A Christmas Carol” run rampant in Utah's theater scene — Hale Centre Theatre alone has been running the classic Dickens tale for more than 30 years. But this year, Christmas comes early as the Dickens Society hosts its 24th annual symposium in Salt Lake City July 26-28.

“The Dickens Society is a group of scholars from all over the world who share a love of Charles Dickens and meet to discuss his works, life and times,” said president Natalie McKnight, dean of Boston University's college of general studies, in an email interview with the blog From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring.

Last year, members of the Dickens Society met in Tubingen, Germany, to share their passion for the British author, and next year, the society will convene in London to bask in the novelist's Victorian-era works.

But this year, the Dickens Society is crossing the Atlantic and into the Beehive State thanks to the influence of Leslie Simon, an associate professor at Utah Valley University who offered to host the symposium. The weekendlong conference features a packed agenda with trips to the Pioneer Memorial Museum and Red Butte Garden, a special dinner at the McCune Mansion near Temple Square and a diverse range of lectures.

“We have a range of papers being presented on topics such as Dickens and ghosts, Dickens and America, Dickens and madness (and) Mormon emigrants,” McKnight wrote. “Not to mention fascinating conversation between sessions.”

A collection of rare Charles Dickens publications at Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.
A collection of rare Charles Dickens publications at Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.
JC Johnson

Talk need not be limited to Dickens, but opportunities abound for those who come seeking to forge relationships with others who have spent hours immersed in classic works such as “Great Expectations” and “A Tale of Two Cities.”

“Many of our members are professors or graduate students. I first became involved with the Dickens Society when I was in graduate school over 30 years ago,” McKnight wrote. “I attended a couple of the annual Dickens dinners and was delighted to find a group of scholars who shared their love of Dickens so openly and created such a strong camaraderie.”

Although conference participants include both contributors to and readers of the society’s academic journal, “The Dickens Quarterly,” McKnight said the organization isn’t just for those who have written dissertations about the famous British author.

“You do NOT have to be a Dickens expert to attend,” she wrote.

Natalie McKnight is president of the Dickens Society and dean of the College of General Studies at Boston University.
Natalie McKnight is president of the Dickens Society and dean of the College of General Studies at Boston University.
Natalie McKnight

As the society has proved over the years, Dickens' popularity continues to grow even 150 years after his death. McKnight said it's the author's ability to reach emotions in the common person that makes him such a rare talent.

“He can immerse you in another time and place while enlightening you on aspects of human nature you might not have thought about. And he’s vastly entertaining,” said McKnight. “He still makes me laugh out loud. And weep. Not many authors can do that.”

Note: The Dickens Society's 24th annual symposium will be held July 26-29 in Salt Lake City at the Hotel Monaco. Registration is available at dickens-symposium-2019.com.