With planning well underway for the 2018 Annual Dickens Fellowship Conference – Boz in Oz: Charles Dickens’ Colonial Connections – thoughts turn to the fantastic Dickens Fellowship 111th Annual Conference, 19-24 July 2017 held in the Italian town of Carrara.
With Dickens having visited Italy in 1844-45, including a visit to the Carrara marble quarries, the theme of Dickens, Art and Landscape set the scene for some interesting lectures, entertainments, excursions and exhibitions.
The first day began at the Carrara Chamber of Commerce Conference Hall, greeted by Marzia Dati, President of the Dickens Fellowship Carrara branch, followed by the official welcome from Tony Williams, President of the Dickens Fellowship.
Musical entertainment began with an Opera Concert – billed as Aprile Millo’s tribute to Charles Dickens featuring sopranas Aprile Millo and Mary-Lou Vetere; tenor Piero Giullacci; baratones Sergio Bologna, Bruno Praticó; and base Giorgio Giuseppani accompanied on the piano by Inseon Lee – who entertained us with their beautiful voices in the Cathedral of Sant’Andrea where the Sunday Church Service was also held later.
The Chamber of Commerce Conference Hall was also the venue for the nine lectures over four days which addressed a various perspectives of the theme, topics which included conditions in the quarries during Dickens’ visit, what Dickens took to Italy, the company he kept during his visit and Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelites.
One of the many highlights was a visit to the Marble Quarries for a guided tour after an exciting off-road 4 x 4 trip travelling along the steep, winding roads described by Charles Dickens in Pictures from Italy. Thankfully methods of getting the marble down from the mountain have changed since Dickens’ time but one thing that hasn’t changed is the stunning scenery . It was also interesting to note that some of the scenes in the James Bond Quantum of Solace movie were shot on those marble mountains.
Another highlight was the visit to La Spezia and Portovenere by ferry. Located on the Ligurian coast, Portovenere was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1997. Amongst the many historical and natural places was Byron’s Cave – where we were entertained by a harpist – located close to the church of St Peter’s, consecrated in 1198 and built on the site of a pre-existing 5th century Paleo-Christian church.
The AGM on Saturday saw the appointment of the new Dickens Fellowship President, Professor John Bowen. It was also where NSWDS President Louise Owens gave a short presentation and film showcasing the 112th International Fellowship Conference –Boz in Oz: Charles Dickens’ Colonial Connections – to be held in Sydney, 25-30 October 2018 which peeked everyone’s interest.
Over the period of the conference we enjoyed a night sightseeing tour of Carrara; Walking in Dickens’ Footsteps conducted by Marzia Dati; a sightseeing tour of the medieval city of old Carrara conducted by Davide Lambruschi; two photographic exhibitions; a performances based on Dickens time in Italy and, to end the conference, Gerald Dickens, Charles Dickens’ great great grandson, read out the winning entry in a student writing competition – a poem contrasting contemporary Carrara with Carrara in the 19th century, arranged courtesy of the Aberdeen branch – before entertaining us by playing Dickens in Jeffrey Hatcher’s To Begin With, a play set in 1847 on the Isle of Wight on a family vacation during the time Dickens was working on the manuscript of David Copperfield. On the same holiday Dickens decided to write a children’s version of the Christian gospels, entitled The Life of Our Lord which rounded off the performance.
I’ve no doubt Dickens himself would have loved everything about the conference including the magnificent banquet which took place at the Studi d’Arte Cave Michelangelo where hundreds of impressive works in marble were housed. On a beautiful Italian summer’s evening we enjoyed nibbles and drinks outside the studio while inside, tables were set up surrounded by the many marble sculptures; each round table of ten named after an Italian city; ours mainly seated a mixture of Australian and New Zealand Dickensians. The food and wines were superb, there was wonderful entertainment by the students of Liceo Musicale Palma, Massa directed by Professor Paulo Biabcalana and we all enjoyed brilliant fellowship, managing to dance the night away before the toasts, speeches and singing, finally leaving close to 2am.
By Sunday evening it was all over! We said our goodbyes to those members who weren’t going on the organised tour of Pisa the next day as once again the clock crept towards midnight! The trip to Pisa was a fantastic extra curricula ending to a magnificent Dickens Fellowship event!
Thanks to Marzia Dati and her hardworking committee – Elena Belligi and Sara Marcuccetti – together with the Scientific Committee, Advisory Committee and Conference Staff for putting together an excellent conference, the treasured memory of which will long remain.
President Louise Owens and the NSW Dickens Society Conference Committee are now working hard to put together another memorable conference in October 2018! Do join us to explore another aspect of the legendary Charles Dickens!!