'A Tale of Two Cities' as Britain marks Dickens bicentenary

7th February 2012, Comments 0 comments

Britain marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens on Tuesday with the laying of a wreath at his grave in Westminster Abbey in London and a street party in his native Portsmouth.

Prince Charles and Ralph Fiennes, who will star in the latest film version of Dickens' masterpiece "Great Expectations", attended the ceremony in Poets' Corner at the abbey, where Dickens was buried in 1870.

The congregation included what is believed to be the largest ever gathering of descendants of the Victorian novelist as well as representatives from the worlds of literature, film and theatre.

An event was held simultaneously in Portsmouth, the port on England's south coast where Dickens was born on February 7, 1812.

In a message read in Portsmouth, Prince Charles said: "Despite the many years that have passed, Charles Dickens remains one of the greatest writers of the English language, who used his creative genius to campaign passionately for social justice.

"The word Dickensian instantly conjures up a vivid picture of Victorian life with all its contrasts and intrigue, and his characterisation is as fresh today as it was on the day it was written."

The author had asked to be buried at Rochester Cathedral in his beloved Kent in southeast England, but a public outcry led to him being placed in Poets' Corner.

Fiennes, who will star as Magwitch in the adaptation of "Great Expectations", read an extract from another of Dickens' greatest novels, "Bleak House".

At a church service in Portsmouth, actor Simon Callow read from "David Copperfield", which was first published as a novel in 1850.

The tale was inspired by Dickens' experiences as a boy working in a leather blacking factory when the family fell on hard times after his father was sent to the debtors' prison.

But by his mid-20s, Dickens was a literary star and his fame continued to grow.

Claire Tomalin, one of his leading biographers, said Dickens was an incomparable talent.

"After Shakespeare he was the greatest inventor of character. His characters remain -- even people who haven't read his work know Mister Micawber, Oliver and Fagin," she told AFP.

"I think he wrote his characters through their voices, and that is why they dramatise so well.

"He wanted to show that ordinary people were as interesting as rich, famous, grand people. He succeeded in that, and he was funny too, he made people laugh."

Aside from Dickens' prodigious output of articles and novels, he also helped to run and to finance a house for "fallen women", offering prostitutes a fresh start away from their old lives in a large house in London.

The ultimate goal was to send them to Australia to find jobs and start their own families.

Dickens also found time to father 10 children and as his fame spread, he embarked on lecture tours of the United States.

© 2012 AFP

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