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Celebrations are taking place in London today to mark the 200th anniversary of great English writer Charles Dickens’ birth.

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Dickens was born in Landport, Portsmouth, after his father moved there from London because of his work in the Navy Pay Office.

The author of famous works including Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Barnaby Rudge, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House and The Pickwick Papers died in 1870 aged 58 but his legacy lives on today.

His works are taught in schools, colleges and universities across the country and much of his work was centred around London.

In a poll by Penguin books, the majority of readers’ favourite characters were villains, with Ebenezer Scrooge being the most popular character.

“The thing about Scrooge is that he’s a double-whammy - he’s allowed to repent and become a good character but he is more interesting when he is being bad,” acclaimed biographer of Dickens, Claire Tomalin, said.

“Scrooge’s popularity is surprising, since his modern equivalent might be a banker.

“But Dickens excelled in creating villains, and always gave them more energy and brio than his good characters, so that we never forget them.

“Scrooge is a monster, a wicked employer and a heartless miser, but he is allowed to repent and see the error of his ways.

“So perhaps it’s the contrast between his outrageous meanness and coldness and his cheery generosity and lavishness at the end that readers respond to.”

Most of Dickens’ major novels were written in monthly or weekly instalments in journals, ensuring that they were more accessible to all in Victorian London.

His writing changed the way London was seen as his works were a social commentary.

Oliver Twist (published in 1839) shocked readers with its images of poverty and crime.

The book was responsible for clearing the London slum, Jacob’s Island, Bermondsey – where the novel was set.

Dickens died on June 9, 1870, and although his wish was to be buried at Rochester Cathedral the public demanded he be buried at Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Today, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will be leading celebrations the anniversary of his birth.

Events include a wreath-laying ceremony at Dickens’ grave in Poets’ Corner.

The congregation at Westminster Abbey will include the largest ever gathering of descendants of the Victorian novelist as well as representatives from the worlds of literature, film, theatre and the media.

Ralph Fiennes, who will next be seen as Magwitch in a new film adaptation of Great Expectations, will read an extract from Bleak House with readings also being given by Mark Dickens, great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: “Dickens’ 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.”

Before the ceremony, Charles and Camilla will visit the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street, London, where they will be given a reading by Gillian Anderson, who played Miss Havisham in the BBC’s recent adaptation of Great Expectations.

Top 10 Dickens characters are voted for by Penguin readers:

1. Ebenezer Scrooge - A Christmas Carol

2. Miss Havisham - Great Expectations

3. Sydney Carton - A Tale Of Two Cities

4. The Artful Dodger - Oliver Twist

5. Fagin - Oliver Twist

6. Joe Gargery - Great Expectations (Good)

7. Pip - Great Expectations (Good)

8. Nancy - Oliver Twist

9. Abel Magwitch - Great Expectations

10. Betsey Trotwood - David Copperfield (Good)

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