In a month dedicated to love, it's nice to remember that pencils can help you get over the wrong person as much as they can record love letters to the right one. In Emma, Jane Austen's beloved tale of matchmaking and social maneuvering gone wrong, a pencil serves first as a treasured souvenir, and then as means of exorcising a former romantic interest.
To summarize the plot of Emma is a bit of a challenge (there's a reason its convolutions adapted so well to a high school melodrama in the timeless 1995 film Clueless), but all you need to know for this scene is that Harriet, Emma's social fixer-upper project, has been spurned by Mr. Elton, a young vicar who initially seems like a perfect match for Harriet. After a series of misunderstandings, it becomes clear that Mr. Elton is not, in fact, interested in Harriet, but is after Emma and her dowry. Having decided that she is moving on, Harriet brings a box of Mr. Elton-related "relics" to Emma's house to destroy.
It was the end of an old pencil,--the part without any lead.
"This was really [Mr. Elton's]," said Harriet.--"Do not you remember one morning?--no, I dare say you do not. But one morning--I forget exactly the day--but perhaps it was the Tuesday or Wednesday before that evening, he wanted to make a memorandum in his pocket-book; it was about spruce-beer. Mr. Knightley had been telling him something about brewing spruce-beer, and he wanted to put it down; but when he took out his pencil, there was so little lead that he soon cut it all away, and it would not do, so you lent him another, and this was left upon the table as good for nothing. But I kept my eye on it; and, as soon as I dared, caught it up, and never parted with it again from that moment."*
Shortly after Harriet makes this speech, the pencil stub goes into the fire and is destroyed, along with her feelings for the mercenary Mr. Elton.
Unfortunately, the pencil stub got passed over for the movie Clueless
in favor of a cassette tape of Coolio's "Rolling with the Homies
" (how could they?! But also: another timeless cultural artifact). That being said, I still picture Brittany Murphy throwing a pencil stub into Cher's fireplace. Because, like, that pencil stub was so five minutes ago.
*Book III, Chapter IV, or Chapter 40
Have you spotted a Pencil in Literature? Let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org