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  • Tweeting Tippins:Using Digital Media to Recreate Our Mutual Friend's Serialization
  • Lydia Craig (bio)

As the life and works of Charles Dickens become a subject of increasing fascination to a global audience through various media, particularly the Internet, the question arises of how best to expand online engagement with literary studies using different forms of modern technology. The University of London's Our Mutual Friend Reading Project at Birkbeck College addressed this challenge with an online endeavor which utilized Twitter, Storify, email, and Wordpress blog posts and reflective podcasts in order to digitally replicate, "update," and discuss the serialization of Our Mutual Friend (1864–65).1 Such media interaction can open the discussion of literary texts to interested parties and foster an online community of readers and scholars that could not be sustained by digitized works or journals alone. In this particular case, the Birkbeck project drew academics and students from European and North American universities and created a multi-media commentary that also attracted enthusiasts and general readers of Dickens from all over the world. My own involvement tweeting as the ravishing temptress Lady Tippins and authoring September 2014's blog post "'Cozeners at Large': Scurrilous Partnerships in The Alchemist and Our Mutual Friend," illuminates how a Dickensian online project using different media platforms and apps can revitalize contemporary interest in Dickens's novels, promote interdisciplinary exchange, and even recapture part of the initial excitement and anticipation experienced by Dickens's first readers.

Though I will focus on the tweeting, I should first mention the appeal of this project for graduate students. In my case, an e-mail message I received in 2014 from my former advisor urged me to participate in the OMF Project, whose operating principles had already been successfully [End Page 149] established.2 Casting prudence to the winds, I contacted Emma Curry and her colleague Ben Winyard at Birkbeck College and volunteered for the role of Lady Tippins, which was still available. As a Masters student I was encouraged to submit a blog post on the subject of my choosing, which resulted in the beginnings of one of my current dissertation chapters. By allowing both tenured academics and fledgling graduate students to offer their take on Dickens, the OMF Project invited multiple perspectives, treating the interpretations of all bloggers as equally valid.

Birkbeck's OMF Project

Carried on from May 2014 to November 2015, the OMF Project's serialization of Dickens's last completed novel represents a modern "update" of the original reading experience. Each month participants received an e-mail containing the link to PDF versions of Dickens's original serial (May 1864–Nov. 1865) together with one or two blog posts on various pertinent topics written by academics and/or graduate students. After each installment, volunteers acting as the novel's principal characters tweeted to each other's Twitter handles (@OMF_lastcharactername) and to the "home" account @DickensOMF. While simultaneously providing the original source text, the project brought immediacy and cultural relevancy to the characters' original personalities and peculiarities through innovative tweets containing a blend of textual references, anachronistic hashtags and wit, and actual historical fact. The project's originator, Birkbeck's Emma Curry, then collected these tweets through the social network service Storify, narrated them as a cohesive storyline, and e-mailed this link to participants. Tweeting commenced with the first installment released in May 2014, mirroring the publication of the first four chapters of Our Mutual Friend in May 1864. Tweeting in installments allowed the characters to live independently of the page, garnering many of them a fan base, if mostly academic, in the digital realm. Out there, Nicodemus Boffin, Mr. Wegg, the Veneerings, the Lammles, and perhaps even John Harmon, were all thriving and well; they might say or do anything at any time, since some participants, or actors, as I think they should be considered, tweeted not only when the link to each new part of the serial was sent out via e-mail, but also throughout the month. Interactions between characters ranged from supportive to bitterly antagonistic, especially when vying for money, love or social prestige. [End Page 150]

Isolating Tippins As a Character

Often during this project...