Self-deprecatory comments by Jane Austen on her own epistolary handwriting, as compared with Cassandra's
The varieties of handwriting were farther talked of, and the
usual observations made.
"I have heard it asserted," said John Knightley, "that the same sort of
handwriting often prevails in a family; and where the same master teaches, it
is natural enough. But for that reason, I should imagine the likeness must be
chiefly confined to the females, for boys have very little teaching after an
early age, and scramble into any hand they can get. Isabella and Emma, I
think, do write very much alike. I have not always known their writing
"Yes," said his brother hesitatingly, "there is a likeness. I know what you
mean -- but Emma's hand is the strongest."
"Two lines more prized had never fallen from the pen of the
most distinguished author -- never more completely blessed the researches of
the fondest biographer. The enthusiasm of a woman's love is even beyond the
biographer's. To her, the handwriting itself, independent of anything it may
convey, is a blessedness. Never were such characters cut by any other human
being as Edmund's commonest handwriting gave!"
-- Mansfield Park
At the time, letters were charged according to the number of sheets
of paper, so the smaller you could make your writing, the more you
could fit in. (To see a sample of her handwriting, look at the image of a letter to her
brother Frank in the form of a poem, congratulating him on the birth of
a son, and looking forward to the Austen women's move to Chawton, though the
the process of scanning this in may not have done full justice to her
"You are very amiable and very clever to write such long letters;
every page of yours has more lines than this, and every line more
words than the average of mine."
"as my pen seems inclined to write large, I will put my lines very close
I took up your letter again to refresh me, being somewhat tired
and was struck with the prettiness of the hand: it is really a very
pretty hand now and then -- so small and so neat! I wish I could get as
much into a sheet of paper."[Brabourne footnote]
"I have a great mind not to acknowledge the receipt of your letter,
which I have just had the pleasure of reading, because I am so ashamed to
compare the sprawling lines of this with it. But if I say all that I have to
say, I hope I have no reason to hang myself."
"I shall be most glad to hear from you again, my dearest Fanny...
I am to take the Miss Moores back on Saturday, and when I return I
shall hope to find your pleasant little flowing scrawl on the table."
"I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always
told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by
word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole
of this letter."