Catherine Waters' experiences as a student at Our Lady of Mercy College Parramatta were far from Dickensian, though she has spun a career out of an interest in his novels.
The newly-minted professor of Victorian literature and culture at the University of Kent returned to the school last term.
She spoke to extension English students about her contribution to an anthology on Charles Dickens, whose novels were the subject of her PhD.
"It seems like such a natural fit now," she said.
"I was living in the inner city here in Sydney and he was a city writer.
"I love his sense of humour, wonderful characters, and he had a very strong sense of social justice to him."
Professor Waters said her interest in literature and social justice began at school.
"The Mercy Sisters have always been very strong educationalists so that was important to me, but there was a particular English teacher I had here in years 11 and 12," she said.
"She had a great passion for literature, and used words I'd never heard of — I remember she used the word plangent once.
"Her love of language came through really strongly in her teaching and I think imbibed that."
Professor Waters taught at Australian universities for more than 25 years before she moved to the University of Kent in 2009.
She studied Great Expectations at OLMC for her Higher School Certificate, a novel her grandmother revisited just before she died at age 90.
"We're a family of teachers," she said.
"Mum was a teacher, my father was a teacher, my grandmother, my aunt, and my sister, but I'm the only one who has gone on to teach at universities."