In a letter to Dora Powell (nee Penny) dated Sept

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					DORABELLA Solution


Elgar was fascinated with word play & word puzzles, often using phoneticised spellings
i.e. ‘My Dear Dorabellllla – How many ells long is that…..’; ‘gorjus’ for gorgeous; ‘sie
est so stark’; ‘flopsikon’; ‘warbling wigorously in Worcester wunce a week’; ‘bung yirds’
for young birds; ‘IXpin’ ninepin (a nickname); ‘xqqq’ for excuse; ‘ckor’ for score; etc.
etc. he also loved to do Acrostics and crossword puzzles.


Writing partly phoneticised, partly a variation of ‘backslang’ (i.e. ‘cipher’ becomes
‘crehpi’) and using his own set of symbols which I believe he kept in his head by use of a
mnemonic ‘clock dial’, a few diagrams of which can be found in one of his notebooks, on
July 14th 1897 he wrote what has become known as the ‘Dorabella cipher’ to Dora Penny
following a visit to her and her father Alfred Penny, Rector of St Peter’s, at
Wolverhampton.




I suggest he wrote a teasing message she would easily understand not realising that by
also substituting his symbols for the letters, the two systems combined had turned it into a
cryptographers nightmare (not to mention his enciphering errors presumably caused by
writing it down without any prior composition).
     One of the notebook diagrams              Proposed alphabetical arrangement

Substituting the proposed alphabet for the message gives the following;-

BLTACEIARWUNISNFNNELLHSYWYDUO
INIEYARQATNNTEDMINUNEHOMSYRRYUO
TOEHO’TSHGDOTNEHMOSALDOEADYA

Reversing the ‘backslang’ and inserting the word divisions (assuming I’ve found the right
ones), what he actually wrote was:-

B LCAT IE AWR USIN NF NN ESHLL WY YOUD
INTAQRAYEIN NET DMINUNEHO M SRRY YOU
THEO O ’THS GOD THEN M SO LA OD E ADYA

and changing the phoneticised spellings and correcting a few minor errors (the orientation
of a few symbols being unclear) the message sent was, as best as I can make it out, meant
to read:-

B (Bella) hellcat i.e. war using ?? hens shells is why your
antiquarian net diminishes hem sorry you
theo oh ‘tis God then me so la do E (Elgar) Adieu

The first line didn’t make much sense to me until I remembered seeing the following in a
letter from Elgar to Dora Penny dated Sept. 24th 1898
‘…. and then some Sunday at Wolverhampton you can give us tea and fire eggs at me as
of yore.’

Solution by
Jean Palmer author/compiler of ‘The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers’

				
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