A Lady’s Fair, Flowing Hand: Learning to Write (again)

Madame Roland, 1787, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard
Madame Roland (Detail), 1787, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (via wikimedia commons)

Now, I know how to put pen to paper and form letters, as long as it’s a roller-ball pen in a nice Moleskine notebook! But if I’m going to become an Accomplished Young Lady, I need to learn writing all over again from a new perspective.

By the end of this month, I want to be able to write a letter just like Jane Austen and her heroines did. I’ve decided that to do it right, I need to:

  • Learn how to cut a quill pen from a feather
  • Practice a copy-book hand of the period
  • Adapt that copy-book hand for a speedier, more personal handwriting like the ones seen in period letters
  • Write an actual letter with quill and oak gall ink
  • Fold the letter and seal it with a wafer

Learning to write is the third lesson discussed in The Polite Lady- after “obedience to your governess” and “reading (aloud).” It’s a fundamental accomplishment, and by starting with it I’m starting a young girl’s journey to becoming an accomplished lady from the very beginning- about 30 years later than I would have started if I’d been born in this period!

On the other hand, some aspects of these projects will take me beyond what an accomplished young lady would have been expected to do. If she lived within easy reach of a stationer’s shop, she might have bought her quills ready cut.  I’ve become obsessed with wafers, sealing wax’s obscure cousin and the Blu-Tack of the 19th century. They were readily available at those same stationer’s shops, but in order to use them I’m going to have to make them myself! I have decided to save myself one messy task by buying the oak gall ink ready-made, even though Jane Austen herself may well have used home-made ink. Martha Lloyd, the Austens’ family friend and occasional house-mate, included a recipe in her Household book! Wish me luck- I’ll be sharing pictures from every step of the way!

 

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