Digital project explores similarities between classic works of English literature

The texts of two critically acclaimed and very different literary works are being adapted for the digital generation.

#ParadiseWaves will see daily messages posted on Twitter using words and phrases from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.

The aim is to celebrate the two works and introduce them to new audiences outside of a classroom setting, but also to show how literature from two different eras can sit together without losing its appeal and relevance.

The project is the brainchild of Dr Min Wild, Lecturer in English at Plymouth University, who originally envisaged it as nothing more an interesting and fun exercise but has herself already become fascinated by how it is progressing.

“Paradise Lost is an epic poem and The Waves is a poetic novel, but on the surface of it, there are no connecting themes in the text,” says Dr Wild.

“At their beginnings for example, Milton says he will ‘justify the ways of God to man’, while Woolf launches with the description of a sunset.

“However, despite these differences, what is already developing is a form of conversation, where Milton’s work is starting a sentence and Woolf completes it. It is fascinating to think how that may develop.”

Paradise Lost is considered by critics to be John Milton’s major work, and helped ensure his reputation as one of the greatest English poets. It was first published in 1667, and is centred around the biblical story of Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The Waves first hit the shelves in 1931 and is widely recognised as Virginia Woolf’s most experimental novel, consisting of a series of soliloquies broken up by descriptions of a coastal scene at various stages in a day.

But despite their different beginnings, there is a commonality of language already being reflected in the #ParadiseWaves tweets.

For example, one tweet (with Milton’s words first and Woolf’s responding) reads “Thou, from the first was present and with mighty wings outspread *** as if the arm of a woman couched beneath the horizon has raised”, while another says “I may assert Eternal Providence *** flaming in red and yellow fibres like the smoky fire that roars from a bonfire”.

Dr Wild has started from the first page of each work and will post a phrase a day, all fitting within the 140-character limit. It means the project is likely to last many months.

Dr Wild adds: “There is sometimes a mindset in English Literature that historical and 20th century works do not, and should not, sit together and that time periods should not be messed around with. By contrast, this project can show the changes in language over that period, but along the way I am sure we will uncover some tiny gems of verses in their own right.

“Using Twitter as the medium provides another exciting element, and the short bursts really enable you to focus on the use of language at the level of the writers’ very choice of each individual word, rather than getting lost in long prose and sentences.”

Existing and future tweets in the #ParadiseWaves project can be viewed via the @EnglishPlymUni Twitter account.