This chapter focuses on the reading of the ‘despotic’ Gurney script, which was so different from the Roman script that Dickens was used to decoding (section 3.1). It explores how Dickens was able to emerge from his initial state of bewilderment, described in David Copperfield as a ‘sea of perplexity’, by training himself in visualizing its character shapes (section 3.2), sounding out the missing vowel sounds in the Gurney script (section 3.3), and inferencing their meaning (section 3.4). The process of decoding Gurney is then compared to episodes from Dickens’s own childhood reading at home and at school (section 3.5). The chapter argues that the Gurney system’s extra level of coding, which involved the graphic representation of letters rather than sounds, drastically diminished its learnability. Dickens’s undeciphered shorthand letters are used to illustrate these difficulties.
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