18th Century Copperplate Handwriting by Sherwood Carter History
Copperplate evolved in the earliest part of the 18th century due to a need for an efficient commercial hand in England. The "secretary hand" (a cursive variety of Gothic minuscule), the "mixed hand", and the more elegant Italian cancellaresca testeggiata had given way to something plainer and more practical. Two varieties of a new "copperplate" style became common: "round hand," the bolder of the two, was considered appropriate for business use, and "Italian," a lighter and narrower form, was considered the ladies' hand.
The father may have wished the daughter to be educated to become a ladies companion and with writing to match this position.
"She started the pen in an elephantine march across the sheet. It was a splendid round, bold hand of her own conception, a style that would have stamped a woman as Minerva's own in more recent days. But other ideas reigned then: Henchard's creed was that proper young girls wrote ladies'-hand – nay, he believed that bristling characters were as innate and inseparable a part of refined womanhood as sex itself." (20.14)
Elizabeth-Jane's handwriting is very masculine – it's what was described in those days as "round-hand." She taught herself to write and did an excellent job by almost anyone's standards. But back in the day, most people thought that a proper, upper-class young lady should write in "ladies' hand," which was a fancier-looking (and harder to read) script. - http://www.shmoop.com
Makes more sense now. I guess we can chalk up Henchard's disapproval to his own ignorance, not Lizzy-Jane's.
How times have changed, because in Rebecca, Rebecca is exalted above the narrator as more refined and educated, and she has a very bold handwriting with a rather distinctive R. To quote:
"I picked up the book again, and this time it opened at the title-page, and I read the dedication. "Max - from Rebecca. May 17th," written in a curious, slanting hand... the name Rebecca stood out black and strong, the tall and sloping R dwarfing the other letters."
Tes rires retroussés comme à son bord la rose,
Effacent mon dépit de ta métamorphose;
Tu t'éveilles, alors le rêve est oublié.
-Jean Cocteau, from Plaint-Chant, 1923