World celebrates 200th anniversary of Dickens's birth


Dr Rowan Williams and Ralph Fiennes made readings at the Westminster Abbey ceremony marking Charles Dickens's birthday

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The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall have led global celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens's birth.

Prince Charles laid a wreath at the author's grave in Poets' Corner as part of a service at Westminster Abbey.

The Royal couple also visited the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

A service also took place in Portsmouth where Dickens was born, with readings by actor and biographer Simon Callow and actress Sheila Hancock.

Meanwhile, a 24-hour "readathon" is taking place in countries from Albania to Zimbabwe.

The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and actress Gillian Anderson examine a first edition of one of Dickens's novels The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and actress Gillian Anderson examine a first edition of one of Dickens's novels

At St Mary's Church in Portsmouth, Callow read from David Copperfield, a coming-of-age story about an orphan boy that is largely considered to be Dickens's most autobiographical work.

The great, great grandson of Charles Dickens, Ian Dickens, marks the author's 200th birthday in Portsmouth

Hancock read from Oliver Twist.

"I really made the strong decision to come to the place where he was born rather than to Westminster Cathedral where he never wanted to be," actor Callow said, referring to Dickens's desire to be buried at Rochester Cathedral, instead of Westminster Abbey, where he was interred following a public outcry.

Celebrations in Portsmouth began earlier in the day at a ceremony outside the writer's birthplace, where his great-great-grandson, Ian Dickens, laid a wreath.

Ahead of the Westminster Abbey service, Prince Charles and Camilla visited the Charles Dickens museum in Doughty Street - which opened in 1925 in the house where the novelist lived from 1837-1839.

US actress Gillian Anderson, who played Miss Havisham in the BBC's adaptation of Great Expectations, gave a private reading for the royal visitors.

She said of the couple: "I was very impressed by how relaxed and how much fun they are. They're very funny and like to have a joke."

Charles Dickens Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812 and died in Kent in 1870

The Westminster Abbey service was attended by a large gathering of the author's descendants and also included readings from actor Ralph Fiennes, biographer Claire Tomalin, and another great-great-grandson, Mark Dickens.

Fiennes read from Dickens's Bleak House.

Historian Judith Flanders, who attended the service, said: "It was enormously moving" but added that Dickens would have hated it.

"Dickens said in his will that he wanted no public ceremonies, no statues, no public acknowledgement," she said.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: "Dickens's humanity and compassion made an extraordinary impact on Victorian England through his writings, which remain immensely popular.

"This bicentenary should help renew our commitment to improving the lot of the disadvantaged of our own day."

Start Quote

Dickens's humanity and compassion made an extraordinary impact on Victorian England through his writings, which remain immensely popular”

End Quote The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall

The BFI Southbank, in London, is hosting the UK leg of the international readathon which began in Australia with a reading of Dombey and Son and will end with an excerpt from The Mystery of Edwin Drood in the United Arab Emirates.

Susie Nicklin, director of literature at the British Council, which organised the event, said: "We are responding to the huge global demand from audiences in 66 countries with whom Dickens has struck a chord as his themes and characters seem as fresh to them today as they did to British readers in the Victorian era."

Other events include a bi-centenary dinner at the capital's Mansion House on Tuesday night, where Sir Patrick Stewart will deliver a reading, as well as the launch of a Dickens newspaper and iPad app using his work as content.

All members of the Cabinet were presented with copies of Dickens's works by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to mark the author's bicentennial - Prime Minister David Cameron was given Hard Times and Great Expectations.

At the weekend, biographer Claire Tomalin said children did not have the the attention span necessary to appreciate the novelist's works because they were "being reared on dreadful television programmes".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    While Dickens did give express a strong opinion to not make a fuss about his death, are we not celebrating his birthday! Or did he has the foresight to disallow that as well?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    RE: 45. david williams
    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules.
    What the Dickens did he/she say?

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    200 years!

    He himself wasn't an angel but that's not surprising given his background.

    We still have a long, long way to go before we can claim to live up to his ideals.

    Society hasn't changed at all, it just shifts the goal posts around from time to time.

    We still have very well-off people telling us how we should live and using his name for their own ends

    How sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    At a time when the gulf between classes was perhaps at its widest, he could accurately portray the lives of the humblest to the highest in the land. There was perhaps a bit of tongue in cheek when he named his characters. Ebenezer Scrooge as a miser, the thieving Jack Dawkins, and m'Choakumchild as a grinding schoolmaster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    61. JST87
    The Monarchy is a symbol of the Nation and the Royals paying their respects to a great author is akin to the Nation paying it's respects too.
    The Monarchy is an institution, the Monarch - a symbolic head of the nation. By all means let some of them pay their 'respects' to an author if they so choose, but they do not do so on my behalf, except perhaps
    apparently, in your immagination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I doubt Dickens would hold modern society very high!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    FrTed @60. "Britain is a meritocracy"
    Strongly disagree, but that is what your political masters chose to call it.
    NippyNorman @ 59.
    I'd B quite happy to B a heathen, not that it's anything to do with you or anyone else. Likewise, it's your choice to continue to read the works of Dickens and it would be somewhat unworthy of me to comment upon that choice.
    Me @ 57. Sorry, it's propaganda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    "Chaz" Got a days work then? Maybe he can read his books about the poor? Nh though not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    42. toycollector
    The inventors of slavery? Please. Slavery existed in Africa, Asia (China and Japan at least), the Middle East and in Europe (in Sparta, Greece and in the Roman Empire) and in lots of other places even before England existed as a country.
    Where did you get that idea from?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The Monarchy is a symbol of the Nation and the Royals paying their respects to a great author is akin to the Nation paying it's respects too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Clytemnestra 13. "FrTed beggin' yer pardon sir, but Britain has the highest difference between rich and poor in Europe."

    Agree entirely Ma'am. That is my point which is based on "have's" and "have not's". It is not class per se. Class is determined by birth (principally) then elitist education then values.

    Britain is a meritocracy, like most Western Cultures despite the Brahmins amonsgt us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    What a bunch of heathens some of you are.

    Dickens was a great writer; his work transcends his time, that's why we still read it.

    Still it wouldn't be modern Britain without a sneer when it comes to a celebration of the birth of a great (English) writer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Gillian Anderson~is Dickens an x-file

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    BBC got nothing better, or even more relevant to society today than to dwell on this 'created' royal connection with Dickens and his works?
    Could it not use it's public money to spin for it's master about the NHS and the failure of ALL recent governments to run anything worthy of mention when it come to health CARE!
    After all said & done the BBC is part of the government's propoganda machinery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.


    Let us see a bit more banging the drum for great Englishmen like Dickens, so that British kids of all backgrounds can have PROPER role models

    My, are you wrong! Dickens is certainly NOT a role model to be followed! Do your research: Dickens treated his children with dreadful cruelty and his wife no better: a classic Victorian hypocrite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    @ Icebloo

    Right wing? I thought the BBC was at the head of the lefty media coalition? And whilst twisting it to be about the Royal family is one thing, twisting this Dickens story to be about Shakespeare is positively acrobatic!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    In the usual right wing media way we spin this story to be about the royal family rather than Shakespeare ! Typical BBC !

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Sorry, I think Google got there before them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    A family ignoring the rapidly growing poverty of most of *their* people, whilst themselves living in absurd luxury, celebrating the life of a man who, even if he genuinely cared about the less fortunate, treated his own wife with the utmost disdain. *Super* Examples for us all

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    People should remember, especially in the current climate, that Dickens challenged those who worshiped wealth to care for the less fortunate. People in the finance sector would do well to study A Christmas Carol. I find its message powerful and relevant.


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