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Young 'lack attention for Dickens'

Modern-day children are not being educated to read with the attention span necessary for a Dickens novel, a leading expert said as the country prepares to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the revered author.

Events taking place to mark the anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth on Tuesday, include a street party in the road where he was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, and a wreath-laying ceremony at his grave in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, London.

Claire Tomalin, acclaimed biographer of Dickens, said that his novels and their depiction of an unfair society were "amazingly relevant" to the current day. However she also decried the state of modern teaching for ill-equipping children nowadays with the attention span required to read his classic, but lengthy, books.

She said: "He has gone on entertaining people since the 1830s and his characters' names are known all over the world. And because of the way he wrote, he adapts very well for theatre and even people who do not read him know about him from films, the TV and musicals."

Ms Tomalin said that Dickens' relevance to modern society is apparent in his portrayal of the proletariat and the importance he gave to the working classes.

She said: "You only have to look around our society and everything he wrote about in the 1840s is still relevant - the great gulf between the rich and poor, corrupt financiers, corrupt Members of Parliament, how the country is run by old Etonians, you name it, he said it.

"The world did become a much better place in post-war England, Attlee's government brought in the National Health Service, there was free university education for able children of all classes. But now our health system is deteriorating, we do not have free university education and we have never been so divided.

"What Dickens wrote about is still amazingly relevant. The only caveat I would make is that today's children have very short attention spans because they are being reared on dreadful television programmes which are flickering away in the corner."

Dr Christopher Pittard, senior lecturer in English literature at the University of Portsmouth, said that Dickens became hugely popular by his ability to combine stinging political and social commentary within believable and enjoyable storylines.

He dismissed the comparison of Dickens' serialised novels as soap operas of their time, adding: "Although they were immensely popular like soap operas, his novels had a completely different mode of narrative, the soap opera is continually ongoing while his novels have a very definite shape to them, there's a hidden structure which isn't comprehensible at first, they are more like the DVD boxset of their time."

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