When is it digital literature?

I’ve been busying myself with looking through a number of different formats of digital texts in order to write some reviews for my next assessment item.  According to the (adapted) criteria of Nesbit, Belfer and Leacock (2004) one can look at (cited in Leacock and Nesbit, 2007):

Category of resource

  • Content quality
  • Alignment with curriculum or program purpose
  • Value of digital affordances for the literature Possibilities for feedback and/or adaptation
  • Intrinsic motivation of the digital environment for users
  • Presentation design
  • Interaction and usability
  • Accessibility and reusability

Today I was looking at a few audio-visual formatted items.  A Calendar of Tales, Beowulf in a Hundred Tweets,and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,  Each of these were in different resource categories, however they all overlapped in the fact that I could access and read them on my computer, and with the exception of the first two (Calendar of Tales and Beowulf) involved a greater percentage of looking and watching time than reading time.

I foundCalendar Tales a Calendar of Tales a wonderful selection of stories, and found the concept of basing writing on questions in tweets to be an interesting way of involving the audience.  Neil Gaiman writes very well, and the stories would stand up to literary scrutiny on their own without any digital bells and whistles. 

There was however a considerable amount of redundancy over formats – you could read the story online, you could read it as a pdf, or you could listen to it as an audio file.  So the various formats did not enhance the experience in a new or unexpected way.



Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 5.48.45 pmAs someone who did not have prior literary knowledge of Beowulf, nor any particular interest in the poem / ancient English language, (shock horror!) I found the Twitter Beowulf to be an interesting experiment, but not one which I wanted to spend any amount of time reading through in detail.  It also didn’t pique my interest in the original text.  Which one would hope would be one of the aims of such an endeavour.  I can imagine this had a following and would be a useful addition to a curriculum, and apparently had a very avid following as it unfolded – I think also due to the (academic) authority of the author.



Lizzie Bennett Diaries The Lizzie Bennet diaries have had extraordinary success and won an Emmy Award in 2013– which recognises excellence excellence in the television industry. And that’s the point where I start to wonder where the line can be drawn between what is digital literature and what is an audio/visual/digital adaptation of literature.

Prima facie it is a Vlog (video blog) based adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  The question is what makes it different from say the BBC series Pride and Prejudice, besides being updated to fit current times.


(Lizzie Bennet Diaries: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ncnZjwF50k)

(BBC – Pride & Prejudice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgkS5_PTfZQ)

The interactive elements of the Lizzie Bennet diaries include: a twitter account and feed;  Facebook accounttumblr account,  google+, and pinterest.  Are these merely marketing devices in order to promote the main product – the videos – or those an integral part of the package?  Whereas one could watch all the videos and not feel a lack for having missed out on the other channels, I doubt the other channels would be equally “stand alone”.  However, the series has received some serious academic and literary interest, for example in this article from the Jane Austen Society of North America, as well as being the topic of various theses and a conference presentation.

In her presentation, Marilyn Francus made some interesting points about multiple levels of immersion in a literary work and how the unmediated interactive experience through the social media channels enhanced this immersion. This made me wonder if the experience and engagement is different if one is following and participating in the type of medium as it unfolds versus in retrospect as I have been doing.

All in all it has been an interesting experience and one that has perhaps raised more questions than answers for me.



2 thoughts on “When is it digital literature?

  1. Here is a response I received from Dr. Francus:
    Thanks so much for sending me the link to your blog, which I enjoyed reading. Your final query — about the experience of interactive media while it unfolds versus retrospectively is an important one. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries acquired much of its momentum while it was unfolding. (It did not hurt that Hank Green was a producer of the series, and clued in the Nerdfighter fandom as well.)

    A number of commenters (on youtube, on Tumblr, etc.) anticipated that their experience would be different from those who would watch the series once it was completed: that later viewers would lack the sense of dramatic tension (by being forced to wait days for episodes to be posted online), the excitement of speculation (in terms of how the series would adapt aspects of Austen’s novel), and the sense of community as viewers blogged about their anticipation, created fan art, commented on the transmedia, developed their own rhetoric for aspects of the series (“Darcy Day” for the first time Darcy appears, etc.) and in some cases, started meeting in cafes (as the Seahorses in California did) to talk about the series. I think that The Lizzie Bennet Diaries community still exists, but it lacks the sense of immediacy that the unfolding of the series generated.

    Of course, those who experienced the series as it was unfolding felt that their experience would be superior to those who would watch it retrospectively. And there’s a related phenomenon: people watching episodes repeatedly, and the ways that repetition shapes the viewing experience. Food for thought.


  2. This post was written in response to the blog post When is it digital literature? by Nadine and is also located in its comments field.

    Great post Nadine, it really got me thinking and I have to agree with you that it has “raised more questions than answers”. I think the best point that you made was the idea that the experience of and to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries would be different for people that experience it as it unfolds versus people that experience it retrospectively. Personally I experienced it retrospectively and all though I love the series, I didn’t have that sense of immersion that could have occurred had I been involved with the social media channels that were associated with it. I know that Emma approved just finished but Frankenstein, MD has recently started (they are 8 episodes in) and I would like to experience it as it is released to determine if the experience are different, so maybe I can catch up and see the difference between The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Frankenstein, MD.

    The question you raised about “where the line can be drawn between what is digital literature and what is an audio/visual/digital adaptation of literature”, also got me thinking. And I must admit that I have no answer and I just keeping going around in circles. And pointing out that “what makes it different from say the BBC series Pride and Prejudice”, made me even more confused and raised even more questions: Is it the medium that makes one digital literature and the other a movie? Is it the transmedia story telling of The Lizzie Bennet diaries that differentiates it from the BBC Pride and prejudice adaptation? Would the BBC Pride and prejudice have be classified as digital literature if it was a digital version of the movie? Or does digital literature refer to any item where digital literacies are required to access and understand a text? Where text is defined by the NSW Board of Studies (2014) as “Communications of meaning produced in any media that incorporates language, including sound, print, film, electronic and multimedia representations. Texts include written, spoken, non-verbal, visual or multimodal communications of meaning. They may be extended unified works, a series of related pieces or a single, simple piece of communication”.

    Another great point was the criteria suggested by Nesbit, Belfer and Leacock (2004). Another criteria for evaluation that I found was by Parrott (2011) who suggests that their is only five criteria to examine when evaluating digital literature. These are:
    1) Does it expand and enhance the traditional reading experience?
    2) Does it allow a linear reading experience?
    3) Does it engage multiple literalise and learning styles?
    4) Is is intelligently designed? Is it intuitive, flexible and customisable?
    5) Does it have legs (i.e., longevity)?
    Parrott (2011)
    Although worded differently their are similarities between these criteria which suggests that these are the main points to consider when selecting digital literature.

    Again great post Nadine and thanks for giving me a lot more questions to consider about digital literature.


    NSW Board of Studies. (2014). Glossary. Retrieved from syllabus.bos.nsw.edu.au/english/english-k10/glossary/

    Parrott, K. (2011, July 18). 5 questions to ask when evaluating apps and eBooks. [Blog post.]. Retrieved fromhttp://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2011/07/5-questions-to-ask-when-evaluating-apps-and-ebooks/


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