Online Austen and our Internet selves
It’s been more than two years since we fans bid a sad farewell to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the delightful web series that recast Pride and Prejudice as the Internet video blog of a struggling communications grad student in California. And now comes LBD: The TED Talk (or, at least, the independently produced talk in a TED-ish format).
In an engaging fifteen-minute lecture called “What Jane Austen Can Teach Us About Our New Internet Selves,” writer and critic Julie Salmon Kelleher argues that new communications technology changes the way we see ourselves – and that old communications technology, like the novel, did too.
The literary technique known as free indirect discourse, pioneered and popularized by Austen and other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novelists, implies the existence of a private self that is both distinct from and more real than our public self, Kelleher argues. By contrast, the self implied by Internet-enabled social media is a collaborative, collective project.
Kelleher illustrates her point with a passage from Pride and Prejudice – Elizabeth’s reaction to Darcy’s letter – and with the equivalent scene from LBD, in which Lizzie, bemused to receive a wax-sealed, handwritten (in cursive!) missive from the rejected William Darcy, decides not to share its super-sensitive contents with her Internet audience.
That decision, which maintains the privacy of Lizzie’s consciousness despite the public nature of her video blogging project, suggests that the new world isn’t quite as far from the old as we sometimes think, Kelleher says.
“Finding our new Internet selves – finding our new selves – doesn’t mean leaving our old selves behind,” she concludes. “Maybe it’s not an either/or between our individual and our collective selves. Maybe we can aim for both.”
I’m too private a person – or perhaps too old a person -- to find social media’s all-sharing-all-the-time ethos anything but off-putting. So it’s a relief to know that, just maybe, there will still be a niche for me in this brave new world. If not, at least I can watch LBD again.