Rethinking Austen: Pride and Prejudice on TickTock

Sophie Macdonald 9 February 2021

Caught in a seemingly endless day of lockdown, and fruitlessly scrolling through TikTok, I stumbled across BookTok. After welcoming a change from the fatiguing noise of unbroken TikTok sounds, I convinced myself that, as an English student, watching BookTok’s would be a positive form of procrastination. It was then that I was exposed to its heavy focus on Jane Austen.

The world of BookTok was booming: within it there was movement, conversation, and connection-qualities which were lacking in a post-COVID society. As the world came to a halt once more, TikTok was roaring with book recommendations, ideas, and criticisms – especially on Pride and Prejudice. Its users were challenging Mr Darcy’s gesticulations, admiring Elizabeth Bennet’s proto-feminism, and highlighting Austen’s ubiquity in modern society. Pride and Prejudice was being considered from Postmodern, Marxist and Feminist perspectives, as well as being academically deconstructed in an attempt to make canonical works more accessible for the masses. It was an English student’s, and a hopeless Romantic’s, dream.

Ticktock’s users were challenging Mr Darcy’s gesticulations, admiring Elizabeth Bennet’s proto-feminism, and highlighting Austen’s ubiquity in modern society.

Undeniably standing the test of time, Austen’s irrefutable sharpness and wit has been idolised, and Pride and Prejudice’s society has been idealised by millions. Despite her obvious faults, Elizabeth remains relatable. Her unwavering intelligence and strong opinions have been greatly admired by readers, and her enjoyment in reciting Shakespeare certainly would undoubtedly have been a hit at Cambridge’s Shakespeare Society. BookTokker’s, such as ‘@caitsbooks’, for example, have also begun to run online book clubs, encouraging wide discussion about literary favourites, and giving people the opportunity to connect with a locked-down world.

What was especially interesting about BookTok, however, was the freedom it granted its users to be controversial in their opinions – almost mirroring Austen’s subversiveness in her own writing. TikTok’s clever, and scarily accurate, marketing strategies have ensured that its users have a personalised ‘For You Page’; thus, it was as if BookTok was providing its own form of visual annotations, allowing people to entirely engage with and re-frame literary classics.

On the other hand, framing Pride and Prejudice in such a way has also provided TikTok users with a creative outlet to experiment with 19th century fashion. Some users designed their own Bennet inspired dresses, or Darcy inspired suits, romanticised the 19th century aesthetic, and others created comical parodies of Austen’s novel (notably comparing Pride and Prejudice to the Netflix series ‘Bridgerton’). Moreover, differing editions of the book have also been shared, including some beautiful editions of Austen’s works. Talented artists have posted their own beautiful designs, almost evoking the days of Early Modern Literature.

Differing editions of the book have also been shared, including some beautiful editions of Austen’s works. Talented artists have posted their own beautiful designs, almost evoking the days of Early Modern Literature.

Interestingly, in the closing years of Elizabeth I’s reign, the publication of printed satires was banned. This inspired ‘underground verse’ in which manuscripts and ideas were shared – as close to a ‘mass media’ as Elizabethan England ever achieved. Creative parallels can be drawn between this ‘underground’ culture and BookTok, demonstrating the perseverance of literary discussion and innovation in *unprecedented* circumstances.

The circulation of books, resources, and ideas on BookTok has very much mirrored this Elizabethan ‘underground’ culture: when social, in-person, interaction were banned, education was moved online, and people were locked down, BookTok allowed for the circulation of literary discussion to blossom.