Hemingway believed a great writer should be able to tell a story in six words. He wrote a famous example: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” When I mentioned this to Madame Tungate the other day, she commented, “I bet Hemingway would have been on Twitter.”
Which started me thinking: which literary geniuses would have used Twitter? Shakespeare is almost too obvious. To tweet or not to tweet, that is the question. But I think Oscar Wilde would have been even better. He seemed to be waiting for the internet to arrive when he wrote: “It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.”
Poets, I suspect, would find a natural home on Twitter. How about Rilke, secretary to Rodin and master of the atmospheric sentence? This one is from my favourite, Autumn Day: “Walk restlessly, when falling leaves dance.” Just 43 characters. Imagine what somebody like Rilke could do with 140? But I’m neglecting the French. Colette, I think, might have appreciated the gossipy aspect of Twitter. “You will do foolish things,” she once wrote. “But do them with enthusiasm.”
Twitter would also lend itself to the terse, clipped language of the thriller writer. Raymond Chandler, maybe. Down these mean tweets a man must go. Or Ian Fleming, who wrote: “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.” We’ve been following you, Mr Bond.
A version of this article first appeared in Stratégies magazine.