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Dickens and the Stenographic Mind$
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Hugo Bowles

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198829072

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198829072.001.0001

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Gurney and Sons

Gurney and Sons

(p.6) 1 Gurney and Sons
Dickens and the Stenographic Mind

Hugo Bowles

Oxford University Press

Dickens learned shorthand in 1828 from a manual called Brachygraphy, written by Thomas Gurney, which he memorably describes in David Copperfield as a ‘savage stenographic mystery’. This chapter contextualizes the mystery by placing Gurney shorthand in its historical context, as one of many competing alphabetical shorthand systems in the Victorian period. Section 1.1 of the chapter traces the chronological development of sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth-century stenographies and contrasts the alphabetical design, structure, and contents of Brachygraphy with the phonographic system of Isaac Pitman, which came to dominate the nineteenth-century market. Section 1.2 sets out the principles of economy in speech and writing which constrained stenographers in the design of their systems. Section 1.3 examines the surviving shorthand texts that Dickens produced. It also introduces Dickens’s ‘Manchester notebook’, showing how his shorthand teaching notes sought to iron out defects in the Gurney system and provide creative alternatives.

Keywords:   Dickens, shorthand, Thomas Gurney, Isaac Pitman, Brachygraphy, phonography, design, economy, Victorian

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