Gretchen McCarthy – Texts from Mrs. Brooks


For this assignment I immediately thought of the twitter novels we had discussed in class as a possible second medium. A lot of the failings of twitter novels we talked about came through as I was trying to accurately translate the discovery of Alec’s death through the tweets of those who found him. While Hardy was able to create incredible suspense and a mysterious tone through description and literary devices, these are lost in tweets because only the direct thoughts of characters come through. The 140 character limit also cuts out extraneous words or phrases that add so many layered interpretations to the novel form.

To me tweets are a hastily written representation of someone’s thoughts or worries at a very specific moment. Twitter is also a medium that people scroll through and read quickly, it requires far less time and investment than reading and understanding an entire novel. I tried to represent this in my translation, Mrs. Brooks’ tweets are very basic and merely state the events as they were occurring to her, without any of the long form prose in the book. With only the barest narration of events, the twitter medium loses much of the drawn out suspense and dread that builds in the novel. Hardy draws out the discovery of Alec’s body over three tense and climactic pages, whereas through Twitter it is all condensed into fifteen brief tweets, less than 2,000 characters.

The other interesting thing about Twitter is that it gives only one person a voice in narrating the events. This is important for Tess of the D’urbervilles because Tess is rarely the narrator of her own experiences and many important moments are shown through the eyes of secondary or tertiary characters. Twitter is a strong medium for showing this disconnection because it openly displays point of view for each event simply by which character is posting updates. I think this is an important feature of the Twitter novel because it creates a clear path of narration and voice that can be ambiguous in novels. Additionally, for this scene Twitter clearly shows how far removed Tess is from her own story. She only appears in one of Mrs. Brooks’ retweets because it is Mrs. Brooks who filters Tess and Alec’s entire conversation and who later discovers the body Tess left behind.

Another thing that the tweets emphasize that Hardy does not is each character’s inner monologue as events are unfolding around them. The live tweets throughout the scene place highlight a character’s instinctive and reactionary emotions and feelings. Mrs. Brooks’ confusion and nervousness are more present in the tweets than the novel because of the first person, direct nature of the medium.

Overall, I really enjoyed this assignment and the process of applying and creating hashtags to fit a novel as classic as Tess of the D’urbervilles such as, #freetess1891. While the twitter novel may be able to accurately portray a series of events, like the discovery of Alec D’Urberville’s lifeless body, it lacks much of the descriptive nature of the novel form that makes reading such a rewarding and comprehensive process. The storyline may have remained the same, but the prose and narration that gave Tess such longevity is sacrificed to the hasty, primitive nature of Twitter.