The Influence Of Literature On Handwriting Styles

Literature and handwriting have had an intertwined history, with advancements in the written word often accompanied by developments in penmanship styles. From ancient manuscripts to the digital age, the way text has been recorded on the page has evolved in tandem with the content itself. This article will examine the key ways in which major literary periods and technologies have influenced handwriting and calligraphy over time.

The thesis is that literature has had a significant influence on handwriting styles throughout history. As new genres and forms of writing emerged, scribes and penmen adapted their penmanship to suit the tone and purpose of the text. Similarly, new technologies that impacted literature, such as the printing press, typewriter and computer, also transformed how people shaped letters on the page. Tracing these developments provides insight into the rich relationship between the form and content of writing over time.

Early Manuscripts

Early illuminated manuscripts were primarily created by scribes copying religious texts in monasteries between the 6th and 12th centuries. Scribes would carefully copy texts letter by letter in elegant calligraphy, often embellishing the manuscripts with decorative illustrations and designs (Hamel, 1997 Many of the earliest illuminated manuscripts were Christian texts such as the Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels. Islamic manuscripts like the Blue Quran were also richly decorated during this time period. The intricate illustrations and calligraphy found in these religious manuscripts required great skill and patience. Monks and scribes trained for years to perfect the intricate lettering styles and artistic embellishments.

These early illuminated manuscripts were extremely time-consuming to produce, often taking months or years to complete a single book. The tedious process involved preparing vellum or parchment pages, ruling the lines, and mixing inks and paints by hand. The scribes worked diligently to copy the texts word-for-word, while artists illuminated pages with elaborate designs and motifs. Gold leaf and lapis lazuli were often used for illumination effects. The resulting manuscripts were stunning works of art and devotion.

The Printing Press

The invention of the printing press in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg led to profound changes in handwriting styles and methods. Prior to the printing press, books and manuscripts were painstakingly handwritten by scribes. This meant that no two copies were exactly the same, as each scribe would have their own individual handwriting style.

The printing press allowed for the mass production of books and printed materials. Instead of scribes writing out each letter individually, movable metal type blocks with letters and symbols on them could be arranged and inked to print hundreds or thousands of copies of a page.

This standardization of the printed word meant that handwritten scripts were no longer needed for producing books and manuscripts. According to the Chicago School of Media Theory, “The printing press created a gap between printed and handwritten letters. Because moveable types represent individual letters, words created with one pen differed dramatically from those created mechanically.” (

The Renaissance

The Renaissance period from the 14th to 17th centuries marked a major shift in handwriting styles. Up until this point, most handwritten documents used Gothic scripts, which had very angular and compressed letterforms. However, during the Renaissance there was a renewed interest in antiquity and classical Roman culture. Humanist scholars began looking back to ancient Roman writing styles as a model for elegance and clarity. This led to the development of a new handwriting style known as humanist minuscule or littera antiqua.

The humanist scholar Poggio Bracciolini played a key role by studying Carolingian minuscule scripts from the 9th century. He developed his own handwriting style known as litterae antiquae based on these earlier Caroline minuscule forms as well as Roman square capitals. Other Italian scholars and scribes further developed Bracciolini’s letterforms into the Italian Renaissance writing style. This style used upright roman forms rather than the slanted and compressed blackletter scripts. It was clearer and more legible for readability. The humanist desire for ancient Roman forms also extended to the development of roman typefaces in printing during this time.

According to the Design History website, “Now when you select typefaces you will find Old Style referenced under many names, including Antiqua, Ancient, Renaissance, Venetian or Garalde. Garalde, a sub-classification of Old Style, is of specific importance as it refers directly to the roman types of Aldus Manutius and Claude Garamond. Manutius established the Aldine Press in 1494 and Garamond’s first roman designs appeared in 1530” (Source). The humanist spirit of the Renaissance significantly transformed handwriting and typography to be based on roman letterforms rather than Gothic styles.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement in the 1700s that emphasized reason, science, and access to knowledge. As literacy rates rose during this time, there was increasing demand for functional, easy-to-read handwriting styles (Handwriting Examples). Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke advocated for simplified spelling and handwriting to make reading and writing easier to learn. This led to the creation of “round hand” scripts designed for quick, legible correspondence and record-keeping.

Round hand writing used oval letterforms without superfluous flourishes, representing a departure from elaborate Gothic hands. The pointed quill pen remained the main writing instrument, but required less manipulation to form letters. Standardized round hand copybooks taught efficient letterforms and aimed for uniform, simple handwriting styles suited for daily use.

Key round hand scripts that emerged during the Enlightenment era include:

  • English round hand
  • French ronde
  • German kanzleischrift

These legible handwriting styles spread through increased literacy, correspondence, and printing across Europe and America. They signaled a shift toward functional handwriting for common purposes rather than calligraphy for specialized documents.


Romanticism was a literary movement that emerged in the late 18th century and emphasized emotional intensity and individualism. This movement had a strong influence on handwriting styles, with many authors adopting more expressive and artistic scripts.

With the focus on emotions and the individual, handwriting took on new meaning during the Romantic period. Writers wanted their handwriting to reflect their inner passions and creative spirit. As a result, scripts became less structured and uniform. Cursive styles loosened up and included more flourishes and embellishments.

The flowing, artistic handwriting of Romantic authors like Lord Byron was seen as an outward manifestation of their emotions and intellect [1]. Their handwriting was no longer simply a utilitarian means of communication, but an artform in itself. This inspired others to adopt similarly expressive styles.

Overall, the Romantic period marked a definitive shift towards more individualized and impassioned handwriting. The uniformity of earlier eras gave way to great diversity and creativity of script.

The Typewriter

The invention of the typewriter in the late 19th century drastically changed handwriting practices, especially in business and official contexts. As the typewriter became more widespread in offices, handwriting declined as the primary method for business correspondence and documentation. According to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition on the history of the typewriter, “Typewriting was efficient, created clear and legible documents, and easily produced multiple copies using carbon paper.” [1] Whereas handwriting was slower and produced only a single original document, the typewriter allowed for quick and uniform typed pages that could be duplicated for distribution.

As a result, many businesses switched to using typewriters for most official communications by the early 20th century. An article from UBC notes that “By improving typing speeds, efficiency, standard management systems and communication methods, the typewriter strongly influenced the world of business.” [2] Handwriting became reserved primarily for personal letters and notes, while the typewriter took over for contracts, reports, correspondence, and other professional documents.

20th Century Literature

The early 20th century saw the rise of modernism in literature, which emphasized new and experimental styles of writing. Many modernist authors developed unique signatures in their work that extended to the visual appearance of the writing on the page. One key example is James Joyce and his development of the stream of consciousness technique in novels like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Joyce’s prose is marked by long, winding sentences that jump between different thoughts and sensations. This creates a feeling of being inside the narrator’s mind as their consciousness flows freely from one idea to the next.

As literary scholar Marjorie Perloff notes, “To read the ‘Penelope’ episode of Ulysses is to gain some sense of what it might be like to wander through the alleys and byways of Leopold Bloom’s wife’s mind, piecing together whatever memories and associations her musings evoke” (Perloff 1999). The visual appearance of the prose on the page, eschewing formal sentence structure and punctuation, complements this stream of consciousness technique by making the reader feel immersed in the narrator’s thought process.


Perloff, Marjorie. “’Pound/Stevens: Whose Era?’ Revisited.” New Literary History, vol. 30, no. 3, 1999, pp. 485–517. [1]


Digital Age

The digital age brings a new perspective on handwriting. With the rise of computers, tablets, and smartphones, handwriting is no longer a necessity for communication or taking notes ([1]). This marks a major shift – handwriting was a core skill for centuries, but now has become more of a hobby or artform ([2]).

Some argue that handwriting is not as relevant in the 21st century. With voice dictation and typing, people can communicate easily without ever lifting a pen. However, research shows handwriting still benefits brain development, motor skills, and memory ([3]). Many advocate teaching handwriting in schools, even amidst digital devices, for these cognitive benefits.

Rather than purely utilitarian, handwriting has become creative expression. Calligraphy, lettering, brush lettering, and other stylized scripts thrive, especially on social media. Companies sell planners, notepads, pens, and inks largely for aesthetic appeal rather than functionality. Handwriting persists not out of necessity, but out of enjoyment.






Handwriting and typography have been inextricably linked to literature through the development of written communication over the centuries. From early alphabets and religious texts meticulously hand-copied by scribes, to the game-changing invention of the printing press that made books widely available, to evolving fonts and typefaces inspired by artistic and philosophical movements, literature has played a pivotal role in shaping the aesthetics and styles of handwriting.

Key milestones covered in this piece trace the evolution of handwriting alongside literary achievements. Manuscripts produced in monasteries during the Middle Ages helped cement the ornate blackletter scripts. The propagation of humanist scripts mirrored the rational ideals of the Renaissance. Enlightenment ideals influenced the legibility and efficiency of handwriting and typography. The unrestrained creative spirit of Romanticism inspired expressive, embellished handwritten fonts. And the Industrial Revolution brought about practical, structured handwriting styles befitting newly mechanized society.

More recently in the 20th century, the typewriter and word processor granted writers and typists flexibility and speed like never before. Yet literature continues to influence new fonts and handwriting aesthetics in the digital age. What remains constant is how handwriting evolves alongside the intellectual landscape of society, acting as a barometer of prevailing philosophies, technologies, and designs.

Through this extensive historical analysis, it is evident there exists an intrinsic relationship between literature and handwriting. As new schools of thought emerge and technologies advance, handwriting will undoubtedly continue to transform – but its bond with the written word will persist.

Similar Posts