MORE SWEET THAN SOMBER: For sure, Charles Dickens and the other novelists of the Victorian era can get a bit of a serious reputation. This is for good reason, of course; the Industrial Revolution was full steam ahead (quite literally) and any manner of misfortunes clouded day-to-day life, with far too much frequency. But lighter vignettes appear in the work of the lauded author, and his peers, too, which reveal that the middle of the 19th century wasn't all widow's weeds and scowling villains and gloomy, cloud-heavy skies. Fezziwig of "A Christmas Carol" very much signifies the sweeter side of things, as do many of the characters behind the all-dominating Ebenezer Scrooge. It's a fine reminder that making merry is an a-ok, totally acceptable, and highly laudable thing to do, when it comes to feting the colorful era of Mr. Dickens. Riverside stops each February to spend a whole weekend doing just that, and the party is far more Fezziwig than Scrooge. Queen Victoria herself makes a cameo, and everyone is in their hoop-skirted, high-hatted finery, which lends a regal and costumey air to the party-nice proceedings.
FEBRUARY 21 AND 22... are the dates for the Riverside Dickens Festival, though there is a Friday night kick-off at Pickwick's Pub (Friday the 20th, natch). The featured book of the 2015 confab is "Little Dorrit" and Mr. Dickens will be at the festival himself (or make that performer Paul Jacques). Firing and drill demos, the Ten Bells Tavern, Mr. Fezziwig's Ball, Evensong (think "(a) beautiful program of readings and fine music) and more very-of-the-period convivialities fill the big weekend calendar. One of the most important bits of the bash takes place well before anyone turns their carriage for Riverside: The choosing of an era-perfect costume. If you're waving your hand dismissively and saying "people don't really dress for this fest" take a moment to look at photos from past years. Everybody but almost everybody likes to hoop-skirt-it up, not just Queen Vic. If you're going to be in character, and find that new friend to chat "Little Dorrit" with, best start planning your gentlemanly suit or celebratory frock now.