Monday, June 18, 2012

A New Slant on Writing

Book-cover-pride-and-prejudiceIn the Matthew Macfadyen / Keira Knightley 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice, there's a scene where Mr. Darcy is writing a letter, despite Miss Bingley's determination he shall pay attention to her instead.

 It reads, in part:

Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the lady either on his hand-writing, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in unison with her opinion of each.
"How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"
He made no answer.
"You write uncommonly fast."
"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."
"How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of the year! Letters of business too! How odious I should think them!"
"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours."

In that scFashionable letter 2 writer troy ny merrian moore 1850eHenry wallis dr johnson at cave's the publisherne, we see Mr. Darcy writing his letter using a "writing slope''.  Go ahead.  Rent the film and see.

This 'writing slope' is a wood box with an angled surface, elevated a couple inches above the desk or table, slanted and padded with felt or leather.  See the folks at the left using these.  The man in the wig is Samuel Johnson.

Pole In the Library 1805This writing slope might be a heavy object, made for use in the comfort of the library or study.  It might stay at home, perfectly content, and never go adventuring.  Or the writing slant might lead a very exciting life indeed ...

Toward the end of the Eighteenth Century, the writing slope shrank in size, sprouted handles, and transformed itself into a sort of traveling desk. 
Jefferson's desk wiki2 Lap_desk_interior_view wiki

It was now both a a writing surface and a sturdy wood box for transporting and storing the impedimenta.  Like the stay-at-home writing slopes, these traveling desks or 'lap desks' were angled to provide that optimal slanted writing experience.

That writing desk on the far right, by the way, is said to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson. 

The post continues at Word Wenches.  Here


  1. Oh, I have one of those, inherited from my husband's grandfather! It's simple and wooden, and I love it. Never knew what it was called before--I like "writing slope" better than "lap desk," which is what I had been calling it.

  2. Lap desk has a jazzy, sensual ring to it though ...

  3. I want a lap desk. :) I should write a gal with a lap desk, a modern gal who is considered old fashioned.
    Thanks for the knowledge share. I love these posts.

  4. I've always wanted a lap desk like that. And a fountain pen. My little writer heart would be happy.

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  6. Hi Landra --

    No reason you shouldn't have one. They're a reasonably priced antique thingum that's small enough to live comfortably in modern spaces. You could write on one or do calligraphy or prop a book on it. You might use it as the base for an electronic drawing tablet, if you're artistically inclined. Or storage for a specific set of toolery you use in a hobby ...

    Most all of these boxes have had the original writing cloth replaced at least once.

    I haven't been impressed by the modern reproductions, myself. The ones I see are made of heavier slabs of cheaper wood. You may have better luck.

  7. This is all fascinating stuff, but I'm mainly curious about what Pax is doing with a writing desk and what's in those cubbies.

  8. Do you know, I have never pictured one of the characters with a writing desk .... hmmm ...