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Prince Charles to lead Charles Dickens celebrations

Category: England

Published: 7th Feb 2012 01:55:15

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

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

A 24-hour "readathon" will take place in countries from Albania to Zimbabwe.

Biographer Simon Callow, who will read at a service in Portsmouth, where Dickens was born, said the day would be "dangerously moving".

Callow will read from David Copperfield, Dickens's first novel, a coming-of-age story about an orphan boy that is largely considered to be autobiographical.

The service, at St Mary's Church, will also feature actress Sheila Hancock reading 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.

He was 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 will begin at a ceremony outside the writer's birthplace, where his great-great-grandson, Ian Dickens, will lay a wreath.

Dickens's parents set up home in Portsmouth when his father was transferred there by the Navy Pay Office.

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

Their son was born on 7 February, 1812 at 1 Mile End Terrace, Landport, Portsea - now 393 Old Commercial Road. The family moved back to London in 1814.

In London on Tuesday, Prince Charles and Camilla will visit 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, will give a private reading for the royal visitors.

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

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."

The BFI Southbank, in London, will host the UK leg of the international readathon which will begin in Australia with a reading of Dombey and Son.

Other events include a bi-centenary dinner at the capital's Mansion House, as well as the launch of a Dickens newspaper and iPad app using his work as content.

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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