International Dickens Fellowship Annual Conference in Chicago July 16-21

To see a summary of the Chicago Conference:  (Special Events)

To view all photos taken at the Chicago Conference:  Chicago Conference 2014

The Chicago Conference was a great success!  There were ~120 attendees representing 25 worldwide branches (there are now 56 international branches in total). Our Montreal contingent was one of the largest ones there and did our city proud!  Representing us were Ellie, Sylvia, Louise, Margaret, Timmy, Charlotte, Gail, Maura and Donna (and their husbands Bob and Dominic).

We were housed in the lovely student residence of Loyola University’s Lakeside Campus (on the shores of Lake Michigan, seven miles north of downtown).  Our accommodations were clean, secure and comfortable.  We had WIFI and computer access. The friendly staff really bent over backwards to make us feel welcome.

We had most of our meals at the campus cafeteria just steps away. The food was plentiful, varied and delicious! The kitchen staff were warm and very accommodating . We all felt very well fed and totally pampered! Mealtimes were always very lively with the different branch members mingling and getting to know one another.

The carefully planned conference schedule kept us on our toes. The first evening, our Chicago branch hosts held a wine and cheese reception on the beautiful waterside terrace of stately Piper Hall. From that first night, we all felt very welcome and had a sense that we were a special group. Although we came from all corners of the world, we immediately bonded over our love of Dickens. It truly was a gathering of kindred spirits! 

Thursday morning we were treated to three very different but excellent talks.  Dr. Malcolm Andrews (editor of the Dickensian) spoke about Dickens and Topography outlining the vital importance of setting in Dickens’s works. Dr. Jennifer Conary highlighted the role of coincidence in a selection of the novels, and Lucinda  Dickens Hawksley (Dickens great, great, great granddaughter) spoke about Dickens’s youngest brother Augustus who lived and died in Chicago. She even presented five descendants of Augustus at the end of her talk!  It was great fun to meet Lucinda and the other direct descendants of Dickens. (We invited Lucinda to speak in Montreal! She said she would be delighted to, so we will work on making it a reality!)

(Please refer to our  "Special Events" section for a more thorough outline and review of the various lectures)

Thursday afternoon we were treated to an amazing “Chicago Architectural River Cruise”, What a beautiful city!! The juxtaposition of old and new skyscrapers and the fantastic skyline viewed from Lake Michigan took our breaths away!

In the evening, we were bowled over by the inspiring one-man performance of “David Copperfield” by one of the Chicago branch’s most senior members, Dr. Peter Baker. It was a “tour de force” of Dickensian story-telling and we all felt lucky to experience it.

Friday morning we attended three lectures. Joel Walsh reviewed Chicago’s literary traditions. Dr. Tony Pointon gave us an overview of mother-in-laws in Dickens’s works and Dr. Lillian Nayder explored Dickens’s famous signature and flourish and his relationship with his brothers.

Friday afternoon we had an architectural walking tour of downtown Chicago. We all learned so much and had a glimpse of the outsides and insides of some of the most iconic buildings of America. After a side trip to “Old Town”, for a few of us, to sample some of Chicago’s best ribs, our day was capped off by a spectacular performance of Dvorak and Beethoven at a jam-packed, ultra modern theatre in the park smack in the centre of the city. The “people watching” was almost as good as the music!!

Saturday morning, at the A.G.M. meeting, we were privy to a discussion of the inner workings of the Fellowship which included planning for future meetings, financial reports, upkeep of Dickens heritage sights etc. The climax of the meeting for us was the presentation of the new charters. First to Baltimore and then to us!. Our entire Montreal group was asked to come forward and we were presented our charter to the cheers of the attendees. Many kind words were exchanged. We were even asked to host a future A.G.M. in Montreal!!

Saturday P.M. may of us went our separate ways to view the sites. Many of us toured Graceland, Chicago’s historic cemetery, to view the grave of Augustus Dickens, while others took in the Aquarium, a “Gangster” tour, the Museum of History, or the Art Institute of Chicago. Saturday evening we were wined and dined at a great banquet. Many members dressed in fabulous Victorian costumes and speeches, toasts and photo exchanges abounded.

Sunday, our last full day, was filled with sight seeing. Many of us visited the Magritte exhibit at the Art Institute. Some of us experienced Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza. It was fabulous!  Some of us visited the sky deck of Chicago’s tallest building. A dizzying thrill!  We all then attended Chicago’s City Lit Theatre’s performance of Dickens’s “Is She his Wife?”

Our final night was really fun with a farewell reception. It was sad to say good-bye to so many new friends. We all felt enriched by this wonderful experience and lucky to have had such a great opportunity to attend the conference. We look forward to continuing to communicate with our new-found friends and kindred spirits from far and wide!

A hearty THANK YOU! to Jim Walsh, president of the Chicago branch, his family and his excellent team for the great job they did in making this conference such a big success and for helping us all appreciate the true meaning of fellowship!