How to Write Like Jane Austen
Here’s a tip: keep some sheep leather and blue gauls handy…
Yesterday we brought you the recipes to two authors’ favorite meals, so today I give you the recipe to one authoress’ writing success: a good leather bound book and a batch of homemade ink. For those Austen enthusiasts feeling particularly crafty, here is the exact recipe for the ink Jane Austen used, provided by her sister-in-law:
Take 4 ozs of blue gauls [gallic acid, made from oak apples], 2 ozs of green copperas [iron sulphate], 1 1/2 ozs of gum arabic. Break the gauls. The gum and copperas must be beaten in a mortar and put into a pint of strong stale beer; with a pint of small beer. Put in a little refin’d sugar. It must stand in the chimney corner fourteen days and be shaken two or three times a day.
This iron gall ink would then be applied to the page with an old-fashioned quill. But on the quality of the pages themselves, Austen was quite particular. One of her favorites was “a quarto stationer’s notebook… bound with quarter tanned sheep over boards sided with marbled paper. The edges of the leaves [were] plain cut and sprinkled red.”
Better find yourself some quarter tanned sheep. No self-respecting Austenite would be caught dead without a sheep leather notebook!
Me? I wouldn’t spend two minutes mixing my own quill ink, let alone two weeks. I will however, take a moment to appreciate the end result of all that painful Georgian handiwork. From the ease of our computer screens, I give you Persuasion, Chapter 10:
Phew, that was tiring just to look at. Yet, an alarming number of writers actually still turn to writing longhand. As Neil Gaiman explained in an interview from last year, writing a draft by hand is helpful because it is tedious. He says of writing Stardust entirely with a fountain pen:
It was the first time I’d used a fountain pen since I was about 13. I found myself enjoying writing more slowly and liked the way I had to think through sentences differently. I discovered I loved the fact that handwriting forces you to do a second draft, rather than just tidying up and deleting bits on a computer. I also discovered I enjoy the tactile buzz of the ritual involved in filling the pens with ink.
I wonder what tools Jane Austen would have chosen to write with in this day and age? Whatever it might be, I’m quite certain it would be lacking in gauls.