Prince Charles led ceremonies Tuesday to mark the 200th birthday of novelist Charles Dickens — a writer as popular today as he was during his lifetime.

The heir to the British throne laid a wreath on the writer's grave in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner, in front of an audience containing dozens of Dickens' descendants.

Actor Ralph Fiennes read from Bleak House, and there were prayers for the poor and marginalized, for writers and for journalists.


Actress Gillian Anderson, right, shows a first edition Charles Dickens book to Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during a tour of the Dickens Museum in London on Tuesday. (Andrew Winning/Associated Press)

More events are being held in Portsmouth, southern England, where Dickens was born the son of a navy pay clerk on Feb. 7, 1812, and around the globe. When he died in 1870, at 58, he was one of the most famous writers in the world.

His novels, including A Christmas CarolOliver Twist and Great Expectations, are still read by millions and have spawned innumerable film and TV adaptations. Dickens also was one of the first modern celebrity authors, and campaigned for social reform in Victorian England.

He was both a man of his times and a forward-thinker, says Queen's University English Prof. Robert Morrison, who noted that Dickens brought attention to child poverty, over-population, environmental degradation and greed — all still relevant issues today.

"One of the things that I find really compelling about Dickens is his discussion of and sympathy for the vulnerable in society, especially children," Morrison said.

"That alienation and sadness in the lower classes among poor people, Dickens gives these people an incredibly powerful voice."


Charles Dickens visited Canada once briefly, for a reading tour. (Associated Press)

Dickens, who visited Canada briefly while on a reading tour, was the most popular author of his day and known worldwide. While a master at creating entertaining stories, comical characters and biting caricatures, the 19th-century writer also had his finger on the pulse of his times, says Morrison.

"Dickens represents alienation and poverty with a vividness and a chillingness that is remarkable. He really is very socially minded."

With files from The Canadian Press