Tweeting the Classics ~ Austen in 20 Tweets

Ok, I confess, I am NOT on Twitter, and I hope to stay that way [I figure that with Austenprose and Jane Austen’s World  regularly twittering on Austen out there, that might be just about all that cyberspace can handle…]   Since Facebook, which I am on, mostly as friends of my children’s friends, seems to now have been taken over by us BabyBoomers, Twitter has become the premier communication tool, at least until something else comes along, next week perhaps.  My problem, as all my friends and cohorts will happily tell you, is that I have never been one to keep my sentences short, i.e. I babble endlessly on [often about Jane Austen] and though annoying, most of my friends seem to accept me as I am.  Hence, the whole concept of Twitter leaves me, what can I say? –DUMBSTRUCK!  Sort of like Haiku – I just don’t get it!  Why say something in 20 words or less when you can go on and on so as not to risk being misunderstood?!

A number of years ago, a book called ShrinkLits, by Maurice Sagoff [Workman Publishing, 1980 rev. edition, originally c1970, and STILL in print] offered to the reading masses “seventy of the world’s towering classics cut down to size,” with cartoon-like illustrations by Roslyn Schwartz.  Jane Austen does not appear [whatever was Sagoff thinking??!] – but he did reduce Bronte’s Jane Eyre to a few waxing poetic lines:



Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte

My Love behaved
   A bit erratic;
Our nuptial day
   Brought truth dramatic:
He had a wife,
   Mad, in an attic.

I fled! I roamed
   O’er moor and ditch
When life had struck
   Its lower pitch
An uncle died
   And left me rich.

I sought my love
   Again, to find
An awful fire
   His home had mined,
Kippered his wife
   And left him blind.

Reader, guess what?
   I married him.
My cup is filled
   Up to the brim
Now we are one,
   We play, we swim.

The power we share
   Defied all pain;
We soar above
   Life’s tangled plain –
He Mr. Rochester,
   Me Jane!

[ShrinkLits, pp 44-45]

Ok, so this is funny, as are the other sixty-nine…

Instant Lives by Howard Moss, wonderfully illustrated by Edward Gorey, published in 1974 [Saturday Review Press], is another such book, in which Moss “spins out elegant, erudite, irreverent descants on the lives of the great composers-painters-authors-poets-performers,” [from the jacket] – all lives summarized in no more than two pages.  Moss had the good sense to include Austen [the Brontes are all lumped together] – but I have always found this little write-up quite sad, though Gorey’s illustration of Cassandra toasting a marshmallow over the fireplace grate and Jane wandering about the room with the galleys of Sense & Sensibility alone makes the book worth having ~ here is an excerpt:

            ‘You’re so wordy, Jane,” said her sister. ‘No wonder you have trouble with men.’
            Smugness aside, the derogation the remark conveyed was not lost, of course, on Jane.
            ‘My dear Cassandra,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you polish off these mephitic sweetmeats – it would only make your figure the more bizarre.  I have a deadline to meet, you know.’  And with that, Jane swept out of the room, the galleys trailing behind her like a bridal train devised by a couturier impaled upon typography,
            But , in Life, there would be no bridal train for Jane Austen.

[Instant Lives, p 4-5]

This seems a tad nasty, don’t you think? And certainly irrelevant to the value of those galleys… but Cassandra does seem to be encouraging less wordiness – the mother of Twitter perhaps…

But I do bring this all up for a reason – there is a new book out called Twitterature  [the title = Twitter + Literature]  [Penguin, 2009] authored by two University of Chicago students, Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin, who obviously have way too much time on their hands – or perhaps not enough time to actually READ the classics they reduce to twenty tweets or fewer [though they do say that it helps to get the humor in the tweet if you have actually read the book, so hopefully they have done so].  They recently set up a Twitter page for the book, so you can follow their continuing adventure in literature reduction. 

You can find it in one of two covers:

Penguin UK cover

Penguin US cover

I’ve not yet seen the book but understand from reviews that Austen makes the grade –  I am curious to know how the authors reduce Jane Austen in the tweeting universe – here is one example:

Elizabeth Bennet muses: It’s as if the less he seems to care about me, the more drawn to him I am. This seems the opposite of how it should be? Oh well.

And a few others to give you the idea:

Sherlock Holmes says: Continuing investigation. Made brilliant deductions on many snorts and very little evidence. Notice salt deposits on factory owner’s shoes?

On the Road has just the one: “For TWITTERATURE of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, please see On the Road by Jack Kerouac.” [Now I would say that for Pride & Prejudice, but I am “prejudiced” you might say…]

[comments from Guardian article]

So I will likely get this book, just for the fun of it and to add it to my collection of literature in short-takes, but I more likely agree with this reviewer from The Wall Street Journal who said:  

“Do you hear that? It’s the sound of Shakespeare, rolling over in his grave.”

[as is Jane…] 

Further reading: 

[Posted by Deb]

6 thoughts on “Tweeting the Classics ~ Austen in 20 Tweets

  1. The authors have actually read all the books they HUMOROUSLY reduced to twenty tweets or fewer. Having done so, they found time during Spring quarter finals and during the summer to do the book. They love these book and hope their parody drives readers to them.

    PS: Shakespeare would have loved the book, and if anything is rolling over with laughter, unlike the writer from the WSJ who found it easy to poo-poo a book that was months from publication at the time of his article. Nothing like absolute certainty about something in the absolute absence of fact.

    Re the two covers: the orange cover is the UK version; the other the US version. The US version contains 21 more books due to to the UK’s lack of protection for parody.



  2. Hello Bob – thanks for visiting! – yikes! I think you did not get my tongue-in-cheek commentary! – I am all for just about anything that will get people to read the classics -heck, I even like ALL the Austen movie adaptations [but confess to having trouble with the vampire-monster mashups]- and yes, I assume the young men had read all the books – indeed, you really not only have to read but actually UNDERSTAND a book to write thoughtful tweets that get to the heart of the matter. And yes, Shakespeare would be laughing, wordsmith that he was.

    So we do not disagree – as for Austen, I think she would be tickled to be in there – she was quite the wit and would get the point! Heck, she might even faint away with delight…

    and I have the covers rightly tagged, so not sure if you thought I had them wrong – but thanks for the info on the difference between them – at least they both have the same title [though the subtitles differ it seems], which is often not the case…

    I appreciate your thoughts!


  3. LOL Deb, now I understand your reluctance to Tweet. It is a great information outlet – that has it’s limitations obviously.

    “You’re so wordy, Jane,” said her sister. “No wonder you have trouble with men.”

    Interestingly, I do not consider Austen wordy, so do not understand Cassandra’s analogy. Tolstoy, now that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

    You can consider it a complement to be wordy yourself – if Jane was too. If only I had the gift of gab that Jane did. I hope, however, that you also do not have trouble with men.

    Thanks for sharing.



  4. Thanks for the informative post! I am glad that Austen was included and sort of surprised that she wasn’t in Shrinklits. Out of 70 classisc you think one maybe two of her works would be included, but then again, maybe I’m a little too biased to judge… ;)


  5. Sorta got the tongue in cheek commentary and blame only myself for being dense …. thanks for the response and the pointer to the books. You did have the tags right but I just wanted to point out that they were in fact two different versions of the same idea, and that the US version had more material because the UK lacks the same parody protections as the US … the two subtitles are also a product of cultural differences. Just wait until the French version is out … soon, I think. Again, thanks for “getting it,” and my apologies for coming up short on that myself. The authors really did love and understand the work they parodied and truly want readers to consume the full works.


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