Quills and Characters

Chawton House, Chawton
8 March - 3 September 2023

Explore Chawton House latest major exhibition, 'Quills and Characters', a fascinating look at the art of letter-writing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Discover stories of science and scholarship, love, and literature through letters on display including those written by mathematician Mary Somerville and her protegee Ada Lovelace.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, vast quantities of paper, ink and time went into creating and maintaining communities through letter-writing. From brains and hands through ink and paper, across the country and overseas, and sometimes translated into print, letters provided the form for the first novels with their ability to show us a character’s inner thoughts. Later, published collections of letters again promised readers insight into the private worlds of the first celebrities.

Today, these letters provide an unending and increasingly-recognised resource for understanding women’s lives – both material and imaginative–for piecing together their social networks, fleshing out their biographies, exploring their self-construction, and uncovering the information they valued and shared.

Quills and Characters explores the art of letter-writing in the period. It answers practical questions: what tools were required? Where did they come from? How did one achieve the ‘studied ease’ of a well-written letter? It then reconstructs some of the stories told by letters in the Chawton House collection that have never before been displayed: stories of science and scholarship, love, and literature. It introduces lesser-known women correspondents – the teenage Charlotte Jane St Maur, and the historical fiction writer Anna Eliza Bray – placing them alongside more recognisable women: mathematician Mary Somerville and her protegee Ada Lovelace, Quaker and abolitionist Amelia Opie, and Austen’s contemporary novelists Jane and Maria Porter. In doing so, we glimpse the learning, the relationships, and the writing processes that shaped their lives.

This listing is supplied by one of our museum partners and is not moderated by Art Fund.
IndividualTiana Clarke Please note this is an example card and not a reflection of the final product

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