Handwriting still brings writers to life after 200 years
From the capital letters she designed on the cover to her tiny writing inside, Charlotte Bronte’s Book of Rhymes (or Ryhmes as she spelled it) is an enticing piece of history. Unearthed last month and sold for more than €1.2million in New York last weekend, it will be housed in the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire – the very house where 13-year-old Charlotte put this little booklet together did almost 200 years ago.
that it will end up back where it began is certainly some kind of accidental ending. That it contains 10 verses written by the author jane eyre when she was a kid is definitely pure historical and literary gold dust. But the fact that it was also written by hand – that adds a completely different dimension to my book.
A painter inevitably leaves the marks of his or her own hand on the finished work, evident in the brushstrokes present in the eye of all beholders through the ages.
Writers, on the other hand, see their own scribbles disappear, that special quality of their work being conjured away for the reader until, whoosh, it’s in a printed tome.
So how wonderful it is to get a glimpse of Charlotte Bronte’s actual hand at work, though no doubt somewhat constrained by the fact that the rhyming book is only the size of a modern business card.
There is something so immediate about the handwriting, the power it has to convey a real idea of the person in question, even when the writing is 200 years old, as in this case. There’s something that never fails to amaze me, knowing that this person held that pen and made those marks on this very page.
A few weeks ago I happened to be standing in the small museum in Trieste dedicated to James Joyce. As I strolled around on a quiet weekday afternoon, it was Joyce’s letters and postcards that really caught my imagination as I gazed at his spidery handwriting on his correspondence with friends.
There he stands, signing himself as “Stephen Dedalus” on a card postmarked from Galway when Joyce was last in Ireland in the summer of 1912.
The same horrifying and virtually illegible scrawl is back more than a decade later, this time in a letter, written in Italian and on headed letterhead, from the Restaurant des Trianons in Paris. Here he logs out as himself – the two Js of his name clearly, but the remaining parts of both names are just squiggles. Was he in a hurry, I wondered as I stared at it, trying desperately to decipher this genius’ spider handwriting.
That’s what it does when you look at someone’s writing – it brings the writer to life. And it’s a power we’ve lost.
What will our great-grandchildren see in museums dedicated to the great and good of the 21st century in years to come? A printout of an email exchange? A Word document with the opening page of a literary masterpiece?
Difficult to read or not, give me some inky, spidery doodles any day of the week.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/handwriting-brings-writers-to-life-even-after-200-years-41595084.html Handwriting still brings writers to life after 200 years