The topic of this book is stenography and how it relates to Dickens’s life and work. The book covers the period from Dickens’s learning of Gurney’s Brachygraphy in 1827/28 to his teaching of shorthand to Arthur Stone in 1859 – almost his entire working life. It examines all existing shorthand sources in detail, particularly the shorthand notebooks Dickens compiled with Arthur Stone and the shorthand letters he wrote from Gads Hill Place and Tavistock House. The first half of the book (chapters 1-4) explores Dickens’s shorthand as a 19th century textual practice, arguing that the manual’s alphabetical characteristics were the defining elements of the mindset that Dickens acquired through learning and practising shorthand. Drawing on evidence from cognitive psychology, these chapters argue that Dickens acquired a specific cognitive disposition towards the processing and manipulation of language, defined in chapter 4 as the stenographic mind. The second half of the book (chapters 5-8) examines Dickens’s stenography in relation to his literary and non-literary production. It explores the impact of shorthand on Dickens’s law and parliamentary reporting (chapter 5) and how it is expressed through the phonetic speech of Pickwick (chapter 6) and stenographic representations in his literary work (chapter 7). Chapter 8 draws together the different threads of the book, arguing that the Gurney system, with its emphasis on the creative manipulation of vowels, constituted a pedagogy for reading spoken words and hearing written ones, which Dickens passed on to his readers as a new kind of stenographic literacy.
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