/ 7 February 2012

Celebrations mark birth of Charles Dickens

Prince Charles led global celebrations on Tuesday marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, one of English literature’s most revered novelists who wrote Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities.

Britain’s heir-to-the-throne visits the Charles Dickens Museum in London where US actress Gillian Anderson, who played Miss Havisham in a BBC adaptation of Great Expectations, will read from the novelist’s work.

The prince then goes to Westminster Abbey to lay a wreath at the grave of a writer whose stories and characters have lived on in countless stage and screen adaptations.

There actor Ralph Fiennes, Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin and the author’s great-great grandson Mark Dickens will be readers at a special service in Poets’ Corner, where Dickens was buried in 1870 alongside Geoffrey Chaucer, Tennyson, Samuel Johnson, Rudyard Kipling and other great writers.

The event will mark the largest ever gathering of Dickens’ descendants, with over 200 family members attending.

Social justice
“This bicentenary should help renew our commitment to improving the lot of the disadvantaged of our own day,” said the Dean of Westminster, John Hall, referring to Dickens’ preoccupation with social justice in his work and life.

The British Council is staging a global “read-a-thon” with 24 readings from 24 Dickens texts in 24 hours, starting in Australia and taking in countries including Iraq, China and Pakistan.

Ongoing events coinciding with the anniversary include exhibitions in Zurich, New York and across Britain, theatrical performances by professional actors and school children alike and an online tribute from bloggers in Spain.

Dickens’ lasting international appeal stems from the fact that his gripping and vivid stories remain relevant today.

His early experiences labouring as a child in a factory while his father sat in prison for unpaid debts fuelled his ambition and inspired some of his most famous characters and settings, probably including Fagin in Oliver Twist.

Whiff of scandal
Dickens’ first short story appeared in 1833, around the time he became a parliamentary reporter in London.

His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was serialised in 1836 and became a success, and was followed by Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

The author travelled to the US in 1842 and 1867 on reading tours, and in between produced some of his most acclaimed books — Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

He carried with him the whiff of scandal when, in his mid-forties, he met teenager Ellen Ternan, and their relationship led to his separation from Catherine, his wife and mother to his 10 children.

The author died at his home near Rochester in Kent in 1870 aged 58, and was buried in Poets’ Corner inside Westminster Abbey. Thousands of people visited his open grave to pay their respects and throw flowers before it was closed. — Reuters