I was recently reading Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, when I came across this passage:
"I am no accomplished person. And a companion to you must be that."
"O, not necessarily."
"Not? But I can't help using rural words sometimes, when I don't mean to."
"Never mind, I shall like to know them."
"And - O, I know I shan't do!" - she cried with a distressful laugh. "I accidentally learned to write round hand instead of ladies'-hand. And, of course, you want some one who can write that?"
The first speaker is the heroine of the story, a girl brought up by a working class mother and a sailor. The second is a well-educated lady who asks the girl to be her companion. The girl was previously reprimanded by her (real) father for her uncultured handwriting, when he asked her to draft some sort of a contract or another type of official agreement.
I know what roundhand is, but I was under the impression that this was the sort of writing used in rather formal settings; yet she was reprimanded, along with using rural words and other hallmarks of plainer upbringing. So what is a ladies'-hand? I've never seen it before. Does anyone know why her father was concerned with his daughter having roundhand handwriting (cultural context)? And why was it inappropriate for the girl to use roundhand when drafting a contract?