"'I Never Will Need Shorthand': Sylvia Plath and Speedwriting"

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Catherine Rankovic


Poet and novelist Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), despite pressure from home and the job market, resisted learning Gregg shorthand or any form of rapid writing until 1959 when a desired clerical job required it. She then chose to learn Speedwriting, a modified longhand invented by shorthand instructor Emma Dearborn (1874-1937). Introduced in 1924, Speedwriting for the next 50 years was promoted in now-iconic ad campaigns as an alternative to symbolic shorthand systems such as Gregg. References to shorthand and dictation pervade Plath’s novel The Bell Jar (1963), her 1958 short story “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” and the 1959 story “The Daughters of Blossom Street.” Noted by Plath herself as artistic breakthroughs, these works and others were written in bursts on the heels of her clerical employment in 1958-59 and 1961. Plath’s office jobs fed her new subject matter and confidence, and these fed her fiction.


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