Just about everyone knows Charles Dickens. More than likely, one of his works was required reading in secondary school or in college. If not, he's still hard to escape. His works frequently are adapted for television, movie screen and stage. He'll enjoy another round of publicity starting Tuesday, which marks the bicentennial of his birth.
The celebration will not be a muted one, nor should it be given Dickens' stature. Indeed, the bicentennial will be marked around the globe with a series of events that showcase the author's works and examine his life. The Queen of England and her family will take a major role in the celebrations. That, no doubt, would have amused Dickens, who did not always see eye-to-eye with the ruling and upper classes of his native land.
On Tuesday, Prince Charles will visit the Charles Dickens Museum in London. The author lived there when he wrote "Oliver Twist" and "Nicholas Nickleby." On the same day, the prince will place a wreath on the author's grave in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey. The ceremony will be attended by more than 200 members of Dickens' family, the progeny of his 10 children and their descendants.
Next week, the queen will host a reception at her residence in honor of Dickens. So far, royal spokesman are mum about whether or not the event will be modeled on the social gatherings that Dickens limned so memorably in many of his novels.
Dickens' enduring hold on people is easy to explain. His works are accessible and entertaining, even as they convey powerful social messages. They remain relevant, a fact reflected by their continued presence on school reading lists and by the frequency with which they are adapted for other venues. The numbers are notable.
"Great Expectations," for example already has been filmed more than a dozen times and a new version -- starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, is in the works. New TV productions of his works are underway, as well. And if that's not proof enough of his popularity, "A Tale of Two Cities" could be the best-selling novel in history. Experts say it has sold more than 200 million copies. And it's hard to escape a reading or performance of "A Christmas Carol" during the year-end holiday season.
The Dickens celebration is not limited to the English-speaking world. Events also are scheduled in Russia, Argentina, Switzerland and even Iraq. That's entirely appropriate. The author of works that include "Bleak House," "Little Dorrit," "The Pickwick Papers," "The Old Curiosity Shop" and "David Copperfield" belongs to the world -- and to the ages. The bicentennial birthday events properly acknowledge that.