Thursday, 7 January 2010

Writing Implements. Rabbit's Foot. And a China Monkey.

implement [late Middle English] article of furniture, equipment, or dress. Partly from the medieval Latin plural implementa and partly from late Latin implementum "filling up, fulfilment"; both from Latin implere "fill up", later "employ". The meaning of tool, instrument, utensil, if first recorded in 1538 in the plural sense of equipment needed to do some kind of work, and in the singular sense of such a tool, in 1628.

Writing implements. Instruments of fulfilment. Equipment needed by those who need to write. Pens? Pencils? Paper? What about these peculiar talismans that stand guard on writers' desks or in writers' pockets? Thomas Edison carried a pencil whose peculiar dimensions (it was custom-made by the Eagle Pencil Co. specially to fit the inventor's pocket) made it into something more than a mere writing instrument. Rudyard Kipling kept an array of objects on his desk (ranging from a canoe-shaped penholder to a leather crocodile paper weight) which he called "little fetishes".

A Victorian Rabbit's Foot. Photo by Sobebunny

Together with his blue-backed notebooks and pencils, Ernest Hemingway carried in his right pocket, as he roamed in the coffee shops of Paris, a horse chestnut and a rabbit's foot "for luck".
The fur had been worn off the rabbit's foot long ago and the bones and the sinews were polished by wear. The claws scratched in the lining of your pocket and you knew your luck was still there. (Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast)
Writing didn't come easy for Hemingway. Perhaps he felt he needed the rabbit's foot to speed things up. But Charles Dickens was turning out one novel after another with remarkable speed. Still, the Victorian writer had a need for "writing implements" to assist creative fulfilment. Dickens was particular on the arrangment of objects on his desk and he always kept near him a china monkey.

Charles Dickens' China Monkey at the Dickens Museum
Photo L. Apostolakou

The monkey squats on the writing-desk donning a jaunty hat and Victorian dress complete with bow tie and is holding something that looks like a long smoking pipe. Its constant presence on the Victorian author's desk makes him a writing implement par excellence.

Definition of "implement" from Chambers Dictionary of Etymology.


  1. I found your blog through the comment you left on my own, and I think you have some interesting posts here. As a Dickens fan, I particularly enjoyed reading about his china monkey. Keep up the good work.

  2. Oh Thank you Heather. Keep up the good work too!

  3. This is great, Lito. As a writer, I love these insights into the daily reality of what great writers actually did -- what was on their desks and in their pockets. I am in the grip of a Dickens obsession at the moment, so the china monkey in particular is good to see. Keep it up. More, more!

  4. Thank you, Bill. It is fascinating to dig into old letters, memoirs and accounts to discover how writers felt about the writing process and what kept them going. I'm also rediscovering Dickens at the moment.

    I find George Sand's cricket and her account of it open to so many interpretations as well.

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