Charleston is the most British of American cities. The lower peninsula resembles a quaint English town. Church steeples sound forth thanks to the efforts of change ringers tugging on those bell ropes like Anglicans of yore. Pubs are scattered about the city serving pints of ale, burgers and fish and chips.
Tall ships navigate the harbor. Charter vessels now, they recall an age when trade (in goods, in slaves) was conducted under sail, and boats were helmed by bearded English captains crisscrossing the Atlantic and the Caribbean, avoiding pirates and swigging rum.
Members of the upper class organized salons in their large homes South of Broad, hosted chamber music concerts and discussed the latest literary controversies. What green thing would the Romantic poets write about next? How would the great novelists reconcile Enlightenment ideals with the Industrial Revolution? What ugly truth would the next installment from Dickens reveal? And have you read George Eliot’s latest?
Today, the good people of the Holy City once again can gather, this time en masse, in the “salon” of the Charleston Library Society to discuss books, thanks to the Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival, now in its second year.
The festival is the result of a partnership between the Library Society and the Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, England. The Farmhouse has hosted literary events since the property was restored and opened to the public in 1986. In May, its Charleston Festival will celebrate 30 years of literary presentations.
The Charleston Farmhouse became a convening place of the Bloomsbury group of writers, artists and intellectuals drawn together at the beginning of the 20th century largely because of their anti-war sentiments. There, writers and thinkers discussed all sorts of matters, literary, cultural and political.
The Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival aims to re-create a little of that communal spirit by organizing a series of book talks and other events over four days, Nov. 8-11, at the Library Society and Dock Street Theatre.
Special guests include journalists Christopher Dickey, John Avlon and Tina Brown, playwright David Hare, memoirist Margo Jefferson, Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt, historians Charles Spencer and Deborah Lipstadt, and federal judge and author Richard Gergel.
Topics include race, class, Trump, democracy, war, Renaissance poetry, cultural trends, tyranny in Shakespeare’s works (and in today’s global politics), J. Waties Waring, Charles II and much more. The festival will screen the movie “Denial” written by Hare and starring Rachel Weisz, which recounts the real-life experiences of Lipstadt, who was sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving.
The conversations are likely to be stimulating. For more information about the festival, a complete schedule and tickets, go to http://www.charlestontocharleston.com. For more information about the Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, go to https://www.charleston.org.uk/. For more on the Farmhouse’s Charleston Festival, go to https://www.charleston.org.uk/festival/about-the-charleston-festival/.