by Philip Hensher and Stephen Weil
Philip Hensher’s charming and informative new book, The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting, was released in the United States last month by Faber and Faber. Taking inspiration from the New Statesman, we asked some of the folks involved in its publication here at Faber and Faber/FSG to write out a favorite short excerpt from the book. Here are the results, with insightful commentary from Mr. Hensher himself:
What a beautiful hand! This is a really nice, personal continuation of the classic American cursive hand as taught in schools. The loops are absolutely efficient, contributing to the speed of the writing. The letter forms are completely classic but with plenty of Jennifer’s own style in them—I love the f, the upper case J, the gorgeous single movement of the d, the beautifully formed o. Interestingly, almost the only break within a word is in “hand writing”—I get the impression that Jennifer has thought about handwriting, paused slightly at this word, and enjoys writing by hand.
With the decline of cursive as an ideal, a lot of younger Americans have discovered that a print hand is much more readable, easy to execute, and actually quite stylish and modern. Steve’s hand is slightly unusual in that it contains no ligatures at all, but is entirely printed. In addition, he likes to form his letters out of a number of quite different strokes—the d and the y and (maybe) the b as well are formed with lifts of the pen in the middle of letters. The result, to my European eye, is quirky and charming—I’m sure he manages to write this print hand with efficient speed through practice.
Like Steve’s, Chantal’s hand has developed towards printing, though she sustains a few cursive features on the borderline of extinction—her y sometimes loops and sometimes doesn’t. Unlike him, she has some ligatures—her t, interestingly, often joins at the crossbar rather than from below. (Some handwriting teachers regard that with great disapproval. I don’t know why). She almost never takes more than one stroke to form a letter—only once does she use two strokes to form a y. It is a neat, efficient hand, stripped of unnecessary ornament and very lucid. That looping y will have gone in five years’ time. Her print hand leans very slightly to the right; Steve’s leans very slightly to the left. A graphologist would say that she was more outgoing than he is, but there’s not much in it.
Abby’s hand is a development of the cursive hand she was probably taught in school—the upward sweep beginning the m and the o’s looping formation show this. But she’s moved away from it towards some printed features—her letters join up or separate very unpredictably. The six letters of “moment” are all joined; all but two of the seven letters of “improve” are printed. The untidy look of the hand suggests someone warm and impulsive to me.
This is an unusual hand. The European style combines with an interesting and rather American pattern of looping, and some features of the hand have, I think, been evolved by the writer independently. It’s unusual to see a t which very consistently links to the next letter with its t-bar rather than from the bottom. There’s no reason why not, of course. The hand is neat, small and highly efficient. There is a limited but genuine keenness about ornament—I very much like the upper case S and the elegant z. I’d like to see more of this, and in particular an upper case T—the upper case F suggests to me someone who gets things done.
Philip Hensher is a columnist for The Independent, an arts critic for The Spectator, and one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. He has written one collection of short stories and eight novels, including The Mulberry Empire, King of the Badgers, and The Northern Clemency, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. He lives in South London and Geneva.
Stephen Weil works at FSG. You can find him online @WeilsyWeil.