Faded Ink: The Material Trace of Handwriting in Neo-Victorian Fiction

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Neo-Victorian novelists reimagine handwritten documents to feed
contemporary nostalgia for the materiality of handwriting. Handwriting
signifies the personal and the private in ways that seem threatened in a
digital age. Writers like Andrea Barrett, A. S. Byatt, and Peter Carey map
material pathways to the nineteenth century with fictional characters who
strive to possess the written past. Archival fantasies are simulated by
novelists depicting writing processes and subsequent discovery and
rereading of the handwritten trace by later generations. Imagined
scenes of reading and writing describe tactile traces of handwriting that
stage possession of the Victorian body in fragmented and partially
recoverable states. Resurrection of the desired Victorian body through a
metonymical relationship of hand/handwriting evokes a sense of a
partial past recovered and experienced. Part of the aestheticism of the
past relies on the aura of documents worn to a trace to evidence time and
decay. Discovering the handwritten trace in this way becomes a sensory
experience for readers and descriptions of decayed materiality
emphasise survival for imagined fragments. Contemporary writing thus
reveals a dual purpose to aestheticise the material past whilst
demonstrating a postmodern drive to refute closure and ultimately
celebrate the indeterminate facets of the handwritten trace.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-258
Number of pages16
Issue number3
Early online date2 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • handwriting
  • digital age
  • nostalgia
  • materiality
  • neo-Victorian
  • Handwriting
  • Neo-Victorian
  • Materiality
  • Nostalgia
  • Digital age


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