Thursday, September 29

They offer a reward of 350 euros for deciphering a Dickens letter

London Correspondent



The project
‘The Dickens code’
, an ambitious investigation that aims to decipher some of the writings of the famous British writer, offers a reward of 300 pounds sterling (about 350 euros) to whoever manages to unravel, before December 31, the information contained in the call
‘Tavistock letter’

The letter, held by
The Morgan Library and Museum
of New York, is written in full in shorthand on letterhead paper. Tavistock House, the London home of Dickens and his family from 1851 to 1860 and where, among other works, the author wrote ‘History of two cities’.

«Because the decoding process is as important as the solution,

We ask the participants to write a brief report on how they have reached their conclusion and the difficulties they have encountered along the way ”, reads the call.

But this appeal is only the initial hook for an initiative that aims to “create a community of set-top boxes” that can “recreate the system used” by the author. This is explained by sources of the investigation, who maintain that “Charles Dickens is famous for his iconic characters, gripping plots and outspoken criticism of Victorian society. But did you know that there is Dickens texts that have never been read? ». Among these, “a letter on blue paper, stories dictated to a student, and a memo from Dickens to his publisher, all written in shorthand” that are waiting “for someone to decode”, something that so far “no one has achieved.”

The doctor
Claire Wood, University of Leicester
, who coordinates the project in collaboration with Professor Hugo Bowles, from the University of Foggia, clarified that “this is because Dickens himself learned a difficult shorthand system called brachygraphy»And even« wrote about the experience in his semi-autobiographical novel, ‘David Copperfield’».


Shorthand was an important part of the ‘toolkit of Dickens as a writer, but although he used it extensively for parliamentary reports, letter writing and note-taking, little is known about how he did it. ‘ «The unique system he developed, based on the Gurney brachygraphy, is complex and puzzling “, so much so that” Dickens himself called it a “wild shorthand mystery».

«The mystery of these undeciphered texts is as interesting for the public as it is for academics and the 150th anniversary of the dickens death provides an ideal opportunity to tap into a broader interest in solve the ‘Dickens Code’“Declared Wood, who explained that the British” used shorthand throughout his life, but while using the system, he was also changing it. So the hooks, lines, circles and squiggles on the page are very difficult to decipher, “he pointed out.

The research team explained that in addition to offering the award “for shorthand transcription, we are organizing workshops to help our researchers with the decryption process.” The project will also launch a digital exhibition “of the entire dickens shorthand” next year.

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