Sunday, January 31, 2016

Postcrossing and Jane Austen's writing

"Several of the letters on display in A Woman's Wit are "crossed" or "cross hatched," a common convention of the time if a writer ran out of writing space. Rather than use another piece of costly paper, Austen would turn the page sideways and continue writing at right angles. The resulting densely spaced writing is described in Emma as "checker-work". For example, Emma's aunt apologizes for Jane Fairfax's letter, which is "so short . . . only two pages you see, hardly two, and in general she fills the whole paper and crosses half." Fine paper was a highly prized commodity in Austen's day. It was used not only for writing, but also manufactured specifically for artists and the burgeoning popularity of watercolors, as well as for young ladies' handiwork, described in Mansfield Park as "making artificial flowers or wasting gold paper."

Austen's letters were composed on both laid and wove papers and are all cream colored, thin, strong, and most likely composed of recycled cotton and linen rags. Because they are almost exclusively writing papers, when manufactured they are tub sized after drying with gelatin and hot pressed to produce a smooth, non-absorbent surface, ideal for receiving ink. "

A very interesting article regarding Jane Austen, she wrote over 3,000 letters but only 160 survived.

Here's a paragraph about her writing style 
"Pens and Ink
Austen's letters and manuscripts were all written in her own hand, using a quill pen periodically recharged with ink from an inkwell. The quill pen, most often made from goose feathers, was in common use during Austen's life (1775–1817); the steel-nibbed pen was not mass produced until the 1830's. Contrary to later nineteenth-century depictions of quill pens as full-length, elegantly curved feathers, the barbs—the soft "feathery" part—were usually removed either partially or entirely as they served no function and interfered with the action of writing. The character of lines written with a quill pen differs from those produced using a metal-nibbed pen. Because the quill is more flexible and responsive to slight changes of pressure and is also less abrasive when dragged across the paper surface, lines written with a quill appear less confined, frequently tapering off into elegant and graceful filigree as the fine nib separates and is starved of ink.

As for ink, Austen used the most commonly available ink of the nineteenth century—iron gall ink. It is composed of tannin (gallic acid), iron sulfate (known as vitriol in the nineteenth century), gum arabic, and water. Because it is indelible, it was used for official documents from the Middle Ages onward. The ink is easy to make, inexpensive, and can be transported as a powder and mixed whenever needed. When first applied to paper, the ink appears pale gray; as it is exposed to air, the ink darkens to a rich blue-black tone. Eventually, most iron gall ink changes to a brown color, as is evident in Austen's letters and manuscripts. Depending upon their original formulation, these inks can become increasingly acidic and eventually damage the paper. Many of Austen's letters in the exhibition remain in excellent condition and do not suffer from iron gall ink damage. However, some are composed of acidic ink and others show signs of frequent handling (tears, creases, and breaks along the original folds). All of the Austen manuscripts and letters were carefully examined and, if necessary, stabilized in preparation for A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy."
Click on the link below to read more:

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful piece of writing and research - thanks Bridget. We have in our family some cross-hatched letters written to my grandfather when he was researching the family history.


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