Party by the Thames River(side)

A major Dickens festival returns. Press that pinafore.

Marley is the man.

There are several great characters created by Charles Dickens, but Jacob Marley of "A Christmas Carol," with his moaning and moneyboxes and his remarkable ability to float through walls, keeps us behaving.

We're not alone. People love Dickens, and they don't just stay at home curled up with a hefty, gold-leafed tome. Nope. They don top hats and pinafores and party for three days every year right here in Southern California.

Riverside, to be exact. The Riverside Dickens Festival -- happening in 2010 on February 5th, 6th, and 7th -- is a mega event for neo-Victorians, for Dickensians, for vintage-wear enthusiasts, for book people who can't wait for the LA Times shindig in April.

The annual party, which happens over the author's birthday (February 7th), is a huge, three-day affair that spreads out around downtown Riverside (home to the glorious Mission Inn, natch). Buskers -- picture the type of performers who might have amused at Covent Garden during the Victorian era -- take to the streets on stilts, while lavish balls and beginners' dance classes unfurl here and there.

There's a full-on fashion show dripping with frippery, and while we've always been partial to those old-fashioned bustles ourselves, finding a seat on the metro in one of those contraptions is nearly as hard as walking a cobblestone street in the dark. The Pickwick's Pub Night also intrigues, because you know writers in good Charlie's day really favored their ale. Ales, plural, should we say.

While the festival might at first glance seem like a soiree for the serious scholar, it is for people like to dress up at the drop of a (top) hat -- a truly huge contingent in Southern California, the weekend dresser-uppers -- as well as Anglophiles, readers, history buffs, and anyone who'd like a trip to England but doesn't quite have the airfare together at the moment.

As for the dresser-uppers: Anyone going as Marley? We would, but we're having issues with the floating/scaring/moaning aspect of our costume. Must work on that.

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