Social Media Invades the Classics

Fritz Eichenberg, "Jane Eyre"

Fritz Eichenberg, “Jane Eyre”

My son Toby just alerted me to a new book by Mallory Ortberg, reviewed by NPR, entitled Texts from Jane Eyre and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters. It’s always an illuminating exercise to rethink literary classics in light of present day social media. Young readers find themselves able to relate to characters and situations that otherwise might seem alien.

I’ll share in a moment a couple of examples from Ortberg’s book. First, however, I note that three years ago my Jane Austen class undertook a related exercise, imagining Sense and Sensibility as an on-going Facebook conversation.

You can read a full account of the experience here. It proved to be wonderfully clarifying, as the following examples make clear:

–“[R]elationship status”…is as big a deal today as it was in Austen’s time. The wonderful Facebook category “It’s complicated” sums up Marianne and Willoughby very well and the students used it. Edward’s status also did some wild swings towards the end of the novel.

–While we may think, like Marianne, that we are far more open than Regency England, we still often say one thing while meaning another. (“Very seldom does complete truth belong to any human disclosure,” Austen writes in Emma.)  To cite an instance from the exercise, the students playing Elinor knew that the students playing Lucy were being hypocritical. At the same time, “Lucy” knew that “Elinor” knew. (At one point Austen shows us what Elinor is thinking: “All this is very pretty; but it can impose upon neither of us.”) Engaging in that dance made them more attuned to Austen’s sophisticated use of irony.

In looking at the entangled conversations, one can understand why Marianne longs for upfront conversations and straightforward from-the-heart relationships.  (Exasperated by Elinor’s reserve at one point, she bursts out, “Neither of us have anything to tell. I because I conceal nothing and you because you communicate nothing.”) She learns to her sorrow, however, that the dream of open and honest communication is an illusion.  It was an illusion in Austen’s time and it is an illusion today.  Language and human relationships are always shifting.

In Texts from Jane Eyre, Miss Havisham in Great Expectations texts wedding dress photos from a blocked number, which captures her mania well. There’s also a imagined interchange, quite hilarious, between Ashley and Scarlett in Gone with the Wind:

Scarlett O’Hara: 
ashley r u there
(i’m DRUNK (from brandy))
remember that time we made out in the barn

Ashley Wilkes:
Scarlett, it’s four in the morning and I have to get up in two hours to run your mill
Please don’t text me this late

Scarlett O’Hara: 
oh i sold the mill
did i not tell you that

Ashley Wilkes:
Oh my God.

Scarlett O’Hara: 
did you know that pantalets are out this year
that’s why im not wearing any 🙂

Ashley Wilkes:

In addition to being a lot of fun, such spoofing is a great springboard into discussing a work. Teachers, take note.

This entry was posted in Bronte (Charlotte), Dickens (Charles), Mitchell (Margaret) and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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