Can you help us crack the Dickens Code?

Charles Dickens is famous for his iconic characters, gripping plots, and outspoken critique of Victorian society. But did you know that there are Dickens texts that have never been read? A letter on blue notepaper, stories dictated to a shorthand pupil, and a memo from Dickens to his publisher, all written in shorthand and waiting for someone to decode them. So far, no one has succeeded.

This is because of Dickens himself. He learned a difficult shorthand system called Brachygraphy and wrote about the experience in his semi-autobiographical novel, David Copperfield, calling it a ‘savage stenographic mystery’. Dickens used shorthand throughout his life but while he was using the system, he was also changing it. So the hooks, lines, circles and squiggles on the page are very hard to decipher.

Our project aims to change that. We want to create a community of decoders and recreate the system that he used – the Dickens Code. We are offering a prize for shorthand transcription and are running workshops to help our solvers with the deciphering process. We will also be launching an online exhibition of all Dickens’s shorthand in 2022.

So if you want to help, please subscribe and get cracking the Dickens Code.

The Dickens Code project is led by Dr Claire Wood (University of Leicester) in collaboration with Professor Hugo Bowles (University of Foggia) and a range of international partners. The initiative is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The Dickens Code was awarded ‘Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2022.