Critic and novelist Hensher (Creative Writing/Univ. of Exeter; King of the Badgers, 2012, etc.) laments the loss of handwriting instruction and surveys the history of our love affair with the pen.
After some introductory comments about the once-important but now diminishing significance of handwriting in our culture, the author zooms back a few thousand years for a glimpse at the invention of writing. He then gradually moves forward to look at the various styles and techniques and teaching philosophies that once rose, reigned and fell. He occasionally inserts minichapters (all called “Witness”) that comprise interviews with people of differing ages, genders and professions discussing their handwriting, how they learned it and how they feel about it. (These are not the most riveting sections of the text.) Hensher looks closely at the methods that once were prominent—copperplate, Spencer, Palmer and others—and offers some surprising tidbits along the way—e.g., hand printing (as opposed to script) did not emerge until the early 20th century. The author also discusses the handwriting of significant historical figures ranging from Dickens to Hitler; talks about the role of handwriting in literature from Sherlock Holmes to Proust; charts the history of the quill, the steel nib and ink; and sketches the history of the “pseudo-science of graphology.” He waxes ironic and amusing, too, several times suggesting that a person who dot his i’s with little hearts is a “moron.” The author ends with a wistful list of things we might do to save the dying art.
Informative, amusing and idiosyncratic—just like an interesting letter written in unique hand.