Scrivenography is a new theoretical lens for literary analysis that applies foundational ideas of book history, the history of technology, material culture studies and Victorian studies to expand, highlight and emphasize the effects of material culture on the embodied practices of Victorian authorship and, by extension, on British literature of the period, particularly the Victorian novel. In other words, scholars and critics can analyze literature by looking at its material means of creation. This work further highlights the gendering of the material context of authorship—on the manufacture and marketing of writing materials, tools and fixtures for women—and the resulting influence on the authorial practices of Victorian women writers and on the theme of gender-role-determined domesticity that permeates the works of both male and female authors.
This dissertation, “Scrivenology: A Study of the Material Culture of Writing in Victorian Britain,”examines the content and composition processes of selected works of Victorian literature to answer the primary research question of whether and how the Industrial Revolution-era material culture of writing may have influenced authorship and the works created therefrom. For example, I apply Russell Belk’s 1988 material-culture theory of self-extension through possessions to some of the more recognizable exemplars of Victorian literature to argue that both Charlotte Brontë’s titular character in Jane Eyre (1847) and William Makepeace Thackeray’s Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair (also 1847) exhibit notable attachments to their workboxes and portable writing desks as extensions of themselves as material manifestations of their personal space, privacy, autonomy, gender and identity. The portable writing desk was certainly not new in Victorian times, but the advent of their mass manufacture in the era certainly made them more widely available and commonly used. Thus, we see them make their way into the literature of the day. Likewise, in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times (1854), writing implements such as pen knives and letter openers appear in transitional points in the story, and a phantom pen plays a role in the death of a major character. Later in the era, George Gissing’s female characters in The Odd Women (1893) find liberation as “New Women” thanks to the advent of the typewriter.