Sunday, 6 December 2009

Ink, glorious ink: Charles Dickens at work with quills


He could not write unless everything was placed exactly ready to his hand in apple-pie order, writes Maurice Clare of Charles Dickens. In his house in Gadshill, ordered and arranged in every detail by Dickens' meticulous eye, a writing-table stood amongst the most somniferous beds, the most luxurious sofas, the easiest of chairs: it was "supplied with every kind of paper and envelopes and continuous provision of quill pens".


Charles Dickens desk. Photo L. Apostolakou.  
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens was particular about his writing instruments, his pens, quills and ink. The way he used them provides clues as to his method of working and the chronology of his writing. Dickens changed inks and nibs, wrote with different quills whose fineness and ink flow differed as did Dickens' handwriting. In his Dickens' Working Notes for his Novels, Harry Stone analyses the Victorian author's method of writing based on ink, quill and handwriting variations.

A prolific and incessantly working writer Dickens placed great importance on writing supplies. In his letters he often refers to ink and pens, necessary ingredients of his idea of a writer's paradise. In trying to entice Douglas Jerrold to come to Genoa he writes (16 November 1844): "There are pens and ink upon the premises; orange trees, gardens, battledores and shuttlecocks, rousing wood-fires for evenings; and a welcome worth having".



Charles Dickens Quill. Photo L. Apostolakou. 
 Courtesy of Charles Dickens Museum

In other instances he deplores the deficiency of writing equipment: "the pens and ink in this house are so detestable" or "My Dearest Kate, With an intolerable pen, and no ink, I am going to write a few lines" (1844). And in resolute terms to his friend John Forster in August 1846:
I have been hideously idle all the week and have done nothing... but hope to begin again on Monday - ding dong... The ink stand is to be cleaned out to-night, and refilled, preparatory to execution. I trust I may shed a good deal of ink in the next fortnight.

Sources: The Letters of Charles Dickens, vol.4 Madeleine House et al (eds.), OUP 1977; Mauric Clare, A Day with Charles Dickens; Hary Stone, Dickens' Working Notes for his Novels; Also Charles Dickens Manuscript Collection on Suite101.

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