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President's Message | Montreal Dickens Fellowship

Montreal Dickens Fellowship
for the best of times

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President's Message

My name is Dr. Ellie Clavier-Rothstein. I am a psychiatrist, born and raised in Montreal. I am currently moderating courses on Charles Dickens at the McGill Community for Life-Long Learning. (M.C.L.L.), part of McGill University’s Continuing Education Department. I have long been an avid fan of his works and indeed of everything Dickensian.

My passion began when I was 14 years old. My parents used to enjoy browsing in second hand furniture stores. As my parents looked for antiques, I looked through boxes of discarded books. On one of these occasions, I came across a leather-bound, gold-leafed, illustrated set of the works of Charles Dickens. The tomes were obviously very old, had delicately thin pages, satin bookmarks and cryptic inscriptions by long lost literature lovers. One of the volumes was "The Old Curiosity Shop". I fell in love with it and a life-long passion for Dickens and treasure hunting was born.

Bringing the Dream to Life

I have read and re-read the works of Dickens for over forty years. They have been like companions to me. Entertaining me, getting me through hard times, making me laugh out loud and making me cry. In 2007, I was fortunate to attend a Dickens society meeting being held in Montreal. There I met a small number of local Dickens lovers. It was so wonderful to share my passion with them. One introduced me to the Montreal branch of the Jane Austen Society of North America ( J.A.S.NA.) a local literary society that comes together to appreciate and celebrate their favorite author. Here I found an amazing and eclectic group of readers excited to be enjoying their common interest in a setting of friendship and camaraderie. I found myself wishing for a local Dickens society. I also met a member of the Toronto branch of the Dickens Fellowship (going strong since 1905). I joined the Toronto branch and have enjoyed celebrating Dickens’ birthday with them on an annual basis at the Royal York Hotel. There I have met a large group of enthusiastic kindred spirits.

Both these experiences have been tremendously enriching but have gotten me thinking about finding kindred spirits closer to home! A little research (see branch history) revealed that our Montreal branch, founded in 1909 and headed at one time by Stephen Leacock (who wrote a biography of Dickens), has not been in existence since 1963. Wasn’t it about time to remedy this?

And so began my dream to bring the Dickens Fellowship back to Montreal!

The Bicentenary

In the fall of 2011, I began moderating classes on Charles Dickens and his works at the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning (part of McGill University’s Continuing Education Department). We covered “ A Christmas Carol”, “David Copperfield” and “ Our Mutual Friend”. In the 2012-13 session we studied “Great Expectations’, “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Little Dorrit.

In honor of the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth, I organized an event at the Westmount Public Library. On his 200th birthday, February 7th, 2012, I presented a power-point presentation on how Dickens is relevant to our everyday lives. We then toasted the "Immortal Memory" to kick off the new chapter.

While other chapters had organized wonderful events to mark Dickens’ two hundredth birthday, our focus was the reinstatement of our branch. To this end, I organized five meetings, “Springing into Dickens” March-June 2012 to whet Montreal’s appetite for this project (see past meetings). In the autumn of 2012 we started our first full year, “Falling for Pickwick”.

Our Reading/Discussion Group

We are fortunate to have as our venue for our monthly meetings, the beautiful Westmount Room of the Westmount Public Library. Our monthly meetings at the library are run very similarly to the seminars I have been moderating for M.C.L.L. We discuss Dickens in the media, share Dickens "sightings" within our pop culture, review current books about Dickens and explore a variety of Victorian issues. Participants give short, totally voluntary, 10-20 minute presentations on the topic of their choice. We occasionally have longer presentations by invited guests. We read (at home) a pre-arranged number of chapters from our current chosen novel, think about a series of study questions I hand out the week before, discuss these questions and read aloud from our favorite selections. Refreshments are provided while we watch clips from film adaptations of the selected novel.

Spread the word!

I am very excited about the re-inauguration of our Montreal branch. As you can no doubt see, Dickens' works and life are a great passion of mine and I can't wait to bring back a forum to Montreal where old and young, like-minded Dickens buffs can meet and celebrate his genius.

Many thanks!

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Henrietta Johnson, Louise G. de Tonnancour and Dr. Elaine Bander, my first Dickens friends and kindred spirits for their inspiration and encouragement over the last few years. Many thanks also to Joan Dicks of the London Fellowship and Catherine Swift of the Westmount Library for their kind help in getting us started, and to the many members of the worldwide fellowship who gave me so much great advice and taught me the true meaning of Fellowship.

Thank you to our Toronto friend, Harvey Beck, for guiding us through the early stages of website development and for his many helpful suggestions.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this website to Sylvia Rabinovitch (who never even knew she was a Dickens lover at heart!) along with a very, very heartfelt thank-you! Without her tireless effort and extraordinary skill, this website would have remained a dream! Many, many thanks!!!

Yours in Fellowship,
Ellie Clavier-Rothstein