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'Dinner with Charles Dickens'

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SING WE JOYOUS:Madrigal Singers, from left, Cathy Bomholt, Debbie Shephard, Jane and Dan Bowell and Jeff Jahn, sing a Christmas carol during the "Dining with Dickens" event at the Hostess House Friday evening.
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A JOLLY HOLIDAY: Guests enjoying the "Dining with Dickens" event at the Hostess House on Friday.

BY Emily Rachelle Russell - erussell@chronicle-tribune.com

The Hostess House presented “Dining with Dickens,” a 19th century literary Christmas event, for the fourth year Friday night.

Local radio personality Ed Breen and the Madrigal Singers served as entertainment for the evening. Breen spoke on 19th century author Charles Dickens before doing a reading from his work “A Christmas Tree.” Five of the Madrigal Singers, directed by LeRoy Imler, moved about the dining rooms serenading guests.

The food was chosen after much research and dedication to historical and literary accuracy, shared event planner Ginnie Lake. The menu included turkey, which wealthy holiday celebrations would have included in Dickens’ time, prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes with gravy and brussel sprouts with bacon.

For dessert, guests were served trifle, a dish of pudding and lady fingers layered in a stemmed or raised glass and gingerbread with lemon sauce.

Lake started the event when she came to the Hostess House board four years ago, a year after retiring from teaching. She wanted to do something new and different to draw people to the house and raise money for its upkeep.

Due to her husband’s 30 years in Mississinewa 1812, Lake had plenty of experience planning and hosting period dinners and historically accurate 1800s events. Charles Dickens was born in 1812, she explained, and she had taught his works to middle and high school students, so a Dickens-themed event would be familiar territory.

The dinner started small and quickly grew, selling out early both last year and this year. A majority of the Hostess House board members played a part in making the annual event a success.

The profits from the event go into maintenance of the house, which can get costly. With Friday night's event sponsored by Indiana-Michigan Power, this year’s ticket sales will help fund removing several layers of subfloor in the kitchen, which are causing structural damage. That removal will cost nearly $25,000, Lake said.

Breen has been with the event for several years and enjoys being a part of the evening.

“I enjoy doing what I can to preserve and tell stories in the language,” Breen said. “It’s what I’ve done all my life, as a newspaper person and as a radio person. It’s just another form of storytelling.”

He started out reading Dickens’ well-known “A Christmas Carol,” but with some research, Breen discovered Dickens had written about 40 different Christmas works. Breen wanted to do something a little different. He found “A Christmas Tree” an interesting, fun bit of vintage 19th century literary history.

Breen appreciates the opportunity to preserve the historical language and integrity of a classic writer like Dickens, as well as the challenge of holding the room’s attention with his reading.

“If you’re reading aloud from 19th century language, it’s a challenge to not want to translate it into the way we talk today,” Breen said. “It has a different cadence, a different flow to it. What I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing is getting into his cadence and flow and read it with the intent that he put into writing it.”

The Madrigal Singers, Dan and Jane Bowell, Cathy Bomholt, Debbie Shephard and Jeff Jahn, enjoy digging into the time period with historically accurate costumes and period-appropriate musical selections. This year's performance included "Silent Night" in both English and German, to celebrate the song's 200th anniversary of being written.

Lake hopes that attendees enjoyed the evening with friends and left the dinner with an appreciation for Dickens’ work as well as the Hostess House itself. She sees the house as a centerpiece in Marion and a “gem in the community.”