I’ll be the first to admit it seems like a silly idea, but starting today, and for the next six weeks or so, I will be tweeting (roughly three times a day) the entire story of Pride and Prejudice. Ostensibly this is to publicize my upcoming novel First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Young Love, and Jane Austen, which will be published on October 16 by Viking Press. However, silly as it seems, there are some good reasons to tweet Jane Austen.
In my novel, Austen is in the early stages of her career, working on the first draft of a novel called Elinor and Marianne—the book that eventually became Sense and Sensibility. The original version was an epistolary novel, a story told entirely in letters. In my book, though we don’t really know whether this is true or not, Jane also begins her novel First Impressions (which became Pride and Prejudice) as a story in letters. Writing passages of that great novel as letters, as if they were a first draft written by Austen herself, was a delightful experience.
But nobody writes letters today. If we are lucky our children send us texts or e-mails or perhaps a message on Facebook. Or maybe they tweet. Now I’m certainly not the first person to suggest that a story in tweets is the 21st-century version of an epistolary novel, and I have to admit, I’m not great on Twitter. I’m never sure what to say. I don’t think that my “followers” really care that I’m off to the grocery or that I’m staying in to watch TV or that I liked the Avengers movie. But Pride and Prejudice—that’s worth tweeting.
I don’t pretend that this project will result in great literature and I’m fully aware that reducing a brilliant and complex novel to tweets will rob it of most of its appeal—but come on folks, it’s just a game. It’s like retelling Alice in Wonderland in Cockney Rhyming Slang (which I have also done) or working the New York Times Crossword. And maybe it will remind you just what a great novel Pride and Prejudice is and if you’re lucky you’ll go read it again. And if I’m lucky you’ll like Jane enough to want to spend some time with her in the pages of my First Impressions.