Celebrations marking the 200th birth anniversary of Charles Dickens, one of Britain's greatest and globally best-known novelists, got off the ground on Tuesday with Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, placing a wreath at his grave in the famous Poets' Corner at a service at Westminster Abbey.
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Several of Dickens's descendants, including his great-great-grandson, Mark Dickens, his biographer Claire Tomalin and actor Ralph Fiennes were among those who attended the service.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said Dickens made an “extraordinary impact” on Victorian England through his writings which were “immensely popular” even today.
“This bicentenary should help renew our commitment to improving the lot of the disadvantaged of our own day,” he said.
The royal couple also visited the Charles Dickens museum in London, located in a house in Doughty Street where he lived from 1837 to 1839. They were given a private reading by Gillian Anderson, the American actor who played Miss Havisham in the BBC's much-acclaimed adaptation of Great Expectations telecast recently.
Celebrations in the author's native Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, began with a ceremony outside his place of birth — originally 1 Mile End Terrace, Landport, Portsea, but since renamed 393 Old Commercial Road. His great-great-grandson, Ian Dickens, laid a wreath there.
“I really made the strong decision to come to dthe place where he was born rather than to Westminster Cathedral where he never wanted to be,” said actor and his biographer Simon Callow.
Plans for year-long celebrations include a series of worldwide “readathons” from his works, exhibitions, seminars and the launch of a Dickens newspaper and iPad app using his work as content.