By Adina Applebaum

If you’re old enough to remember Clarissa Explains It All, chances are you remember the feeling of frustration that first-grade you felt sitting atop a plastic red or yellow chair, pencil clenched between your fingers as you struggled to form the 26 letters of the alphabet in cursive. But along with Melissa Joan Hart’s primetime acting career (I love you, Melissa, but starring in My Fake Fiance in 2009 doesn’t count), cursive has become close to defunct. And that’s not all: Recently everyone has been up in arms over the fact that seemingly all handwriting is almost obsolete when it comes to the classroom.

Here at The Airship and Black Balloon Publishing, we wouldn’t consider ourselves old school (case in point: We know more about Tumblr than your grandma does), but there’s something about being able to write by hand that just feels right. Maybe it’s because some of our all-time favorite writers (like the ones listed below) used penmanship to express themselves, whether through their correspondence or even their actual manuscripts. Many famous authors, in fact, still pick up a pen and paper when it comes time to compose their literary work.

In defense of handwriting and in honor of National Ballpoint Pen Day, here’s a list of 12 authors’ penmanship in all its glory. To get you started, here’s a list of all the authors whose samples are included: Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Lewis Carroll, Fyodor Dostoevsky, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde. Good luck!

1. In the letter above, which novelist admitted to an older sister his/her guilty feelings over an inability to get into Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion?

2. Which author below had penmanship that would make your old cursive-writing teacher swoon?

3. This novelist and poet created the mini manuscript above when he/she was in his/her early teens and titled it “An interesting passage in the lives of some eminent personages of the present age.” (Puts your teen writing to shame, eh?) The work — and painstakingly small print — was attributed to Lord Charles Wellesley, but what was the name of the real author of this writing?

4. His/her doodles might be futuristic, but the handwriting is anything but. Whose hurried script is this?

5. This writer might not have the best penmanship on this list, but this author’s most famous work is much more frightening than this handwriting.

6. No, your computer screen isn’t broken — which author would intentionally go to the trouble of writing a backwards letter?

7. This author’s greatest known work “came to life” through messy handwriting.

8. Glancing at this lovely cursive, you would never guess the shocking stories it tells.

9. This postcard to a friend included gossip about poet and occultist Aleister Crowley (“What a queer duck!”) and tiny, tidy penmanship from this writer of spine-tingling fiction.

10. Think figuring out what’s going on in this novelist’s books is hard? Try reading his handwriting!

11. If you thought toting around the print version of this manuscript was a work out, imagine how heavy the handwritten pages of this novel — one of which is above — must have been.

12. If you can’t identify this author’s neat cursive, his/her doodle might be the key to deciphering which famous works he/she wrote.

Were you able to guess which handwriting belonged to each author? Were you thrown off by anyone’s near-perfect or indecipherable penmanship? Weigh in below, and post your score for eternal glory!

Be sure to tell us your thoughts on the handwriting debate, too. Is all penmanship irrelevant or just cursive? Are you a writer who still has to jot your ideas down in ink in order to work through plot details? We want to know!

Adina Applebaum is Michigan native studying English and creative writing at Barnard College. Her crowning achievements in life are memorizing all the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP and eating an entire gallon of chocolate-covered raisins during orientation week of college.

(Image Credits, from top: Wikimedia, The Morgan Library & Museum, The Morgan Library & Museum, Harvard Magazine, Collect Space, Rosenbach Museum & Library, Project Gutenberg, Shelley’s Ghost, Poe Museum, Wikimedia, Wikimedia, Rosenbach Museum & Library, Network Europe)

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