I'm reading David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas", and the narrative is written in very distinctive style, and the most striking characteristic of it is the use of ampersand (&) instead of "and", in every single instance. A representative quote:

Disgusted, I retorted that I was a husband & a father! & that I should rather die than abase my dignity & decency with any of his poxed [word removed for decency].

Similarly, "etc." is styled "&c."

For context, the narrator is a notary from California, and the events take place in mid-XIX century (from various references in the text, a few years after 1838).

Is such pervasive use of ampersand in writing common for the period?

  • @coleopterist: Thanks for the edit, don't know what happened there -- it's obviously David Mitchell. Jan 2, 2013 at 17:16

1 Answer 1


“Pervasive use of ampersand” was common in the 1600's and 1700's but I think that by the mid-1800's the practice already was an anachronism. I don't have examples at hand, but have read novels of the 1800's where using numerous ampersands in letters was used to signal that the letter-writer was old-fashioned and antiquated.

A mix of usage is seen in some books printed during the period in question. For example, in A complete guide to spinning & trolling shewing how & where to take pike... (1, 1859) & appears in some titles and in some abbreviations like &c for etc, but in most of the text the word and usually is spelled out. I suggest David Mitchell has exaggerated for effect.

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