The Decoding Challenge: Brachygraphy 2.0

Brachygraphy was hard to decipher for Dickens, but Dickens’s shorthand is even harder for us because he reinvented it. He made a lot of changes to the system in order to make it easier to use for himself and his pupils. His son Henry said ‘at the time he taught me, he had so radically altered it, from time to time, as to make it practically a system of his own’.[1] So we are dealing with Dickens’s own brand of shorthand: Brachygraphy 2.0. This novel version has new symbols invented by Dickens in which the meaning of the word is helpfully suggested by the shape of the symbols – three horizontal lines to represent ‘electric telegraph’, two vertical lines to mean ‘together’. Arthur Stone’s notebook also shows him inventing ‘combinations’ which blend the shapes for different letters into new characters. The quicker Dickens wrote in shorthand, the more blurred the distinctions between characters became. Dickens merged the symbols for ‘your’, ‘will’, and ‘were’ into one multi-purpose shape. This ‘shorthand of shorthand’ was easy for Dickens to write, but very hard for us to read.

Dickens’s Brachygraphy 2.0 was imaginative, efficient and user-friendly – at least for its creator and his pupils. However, by simplifying the system, he made it harder for us to decipher because there is no manual that we can use. We only have his shorthand notebooks and manuscripts to fall back on. The challenge for the Dickens Decoders is to work out the details of Dickens’s new system by using the notebooks to decipher his manuscripts. The more we transcribe, the more we are able to understand the ‘Dickens Code’. This process of understanding is really what our project is all about.


[1] Henry Dickens, The Recollections of Sir Henry Dickens, K.C. (London: Heinemann, 1934), 42.

Section Six: Decoding Attempts
The Decoding Challenge: Brachygraphy 2.0