The Times-Tribune

Dickens groups divided but united in holiday cheer

One officer says split was a question of style


NEW YORK — “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that,” said John Galazin, quoting not only the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” — which, of course, these are — but also a bookstore clerk who blurted out those lines when Mr. Galazin asked recently for a copy of the book.

Mr. Galazin, president of the Dickens Fellowship of New York, was addressing its members at their annual holiday party on a recent Saturday, and making the point that Dickens is alive and well in New York City.

That point was amplified the very next day when the Friends of Dickens New York met for a holiday party in a bar in Midtown Manhattan.

“You have the best and brightest here — these are great minds,” said Kevin Quinn, a member who showed up at the Friends’ party dressed in a Victoriane­ra tuxedo and top hat.

Leave it to New York City to have not one but two Dickens societies. After an unpleasant split more than 20 years ago, the two similar groups have been operating in close parallel with no reunificat­ion in sight.

Both groups are chapters of the worldwide Dickens Fellowship, founded in 1902 in London, and both try to keep Dickens’ memory alive by discussing his work at monthly meetings held — separately, of course — at the same library branch on East 23rd Street.

Both groups keep Christmas with a traditiona­l holiday party, often on the same weekend, as happened this year. The Fellowship group made its merriment in the community room of an Upper East Side high-rise, while the Friends group gathered inside McGee’s Pub on West 55th Street.

“This is the splinter group, the Protestant­s, as it were,” Mr. Quinn said while greeting members at McGee’s.

What exactly caused the split grows fuzzier every year among members. Some recalled difference­s over damage done to a rented film version of “Oliver Twist.” Others pointed to difference­s in how meetings were conducted. Still others pointed to humbug between group leaders.

Mike J. Quinn, 87, the president of the Friends group, said he had seceded from the Fellowship group in 1993, and had helped start the Friends group, after a disagreeme­nt.

“Without going too deeply into it, I was offended by some of the things the guys in charge were saying and doing,” said Mr. Quinn, a former Franciscan friar and retired New York state parole officer.

Some 15 years ago, the two groups met to discuss uniting, but the Friends group ultimately voted to remain separate.

“There’s no bad blood between our two groups at this point,” Mr. Quinn said. “We get along on a number of issues, and we had a picnic together in Central Park last summer.” Still, they prefer to go their own ways.

Kevin Quinn — no relation to Mike Quinn — said the split was “more a philosophi­cal difference about how to conduct meetings, a question of style, rather than any smoking gun.”

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