atkins-bookshelf-wordsDefinition: a writer’s assistance who copies a manuscript or takes dictation; a stenographer or transcriber

Etymology: from the Latin phrase serves a manu, which translated literally means “servant (or slave) from the hand” or “servant of handwriting.”

Pronunciation: uh man you EN sis

There are many great writers who turned to amanuenses to complete their magnum opuses, often due to medical conditions. The legendary English poet, John Milton, was completely blind by the time he was 44 due to glaucoma that was never treated.  Determined to finish his epic poem, Paradise Lost, Milton asked anyone who visited him — students, friends, and family members — to take dictation.  Sometimes Milton had the stanzas developed in his mind and could recite them from memory; other times, he would compose and develop new stanzas extemporaneously. In order to write the complete poem, consisting of an astonishing 10,550 lines and 79,810 words (published in ten books in 1667), Milton gave his memory a real workout as well as inflicting serious writer’s cramp on many of his visitors. Clearly, the best time to visit Milty was when he was taking a break from Paradise Lost — lost in thought, as it were.

For British author Henry James, it was debilitating rheumatism at the age of 53 that compelled him to employ an amanuensis. James was very particular about the sound of typewrite that produced just the right sound that allowed him to compose his prose. According to one of his typists, James preferred the sound of the Remington typewriter to that of the Oliver typewriter.

Read related posts: What is the Longest Poem?
Why Did James Joyce Burn His Manuscript?
Why We Read Poetry

For further reading: Odd Type Writers by Celia Blue Johnson, Perigee (2013)


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