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If emoji were available when Russel Crouse, Maria von Trapp and Howard Lindsay penned the Sound of Music we imagine it would look like thisvia

If works of literature were emoji

Ever wondered what Mikhail Bulgakov’s favourite digi face is, or what text-friendly picture would sum up Virginia Woolf? We pair our favourite emojis to their rightful novels

History will remember 2014 as the year we realised that emoji is an art form. We already had Emoji Dick, then Isaiah Toothtaker’s all-emoji art book. Surely, such works represented the pinnacle of emoji arts. But no! There are more emoji coming, and who knows what conceptual world they will unlock for us. As we wait with bated breath for this expansion of the human range of expression, Dazed has chosen excerpts from great literature which represent the spirit of ten of the most important emoji.


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: A taxi.

Movies are full of good taxi scenes, but novels, not so much. That said, Paulin Réage’s The Story of O opens with a very memorable one: our protagonist gets into a taxi, then, all of a sudden, an S&M masterpiece is underway.

The seat is made of some sort of imitation leather, which is slippery and cold: it's quite an extraordinary sensation to feel it sticking to your thighs. Then he says:

“Now put your gloves back on.”

The taxi is still moving along at a good clip, and she doesn't dare ask why René just sits there without moving or saying another word, nor can she guess what all this means to him - having her there motionless, silent, so stripped and exposed, so thoroughly gloved, in a black car going God knows where. He hasn't told her what to do or what not to do, but she's afraid either to cross her legs or press them together. She sits with gloved hands braced on either side of her seat. 


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: A ship.

There are all sorts of conceptual emoji that one could match with DFW. The tossing waves, or the spiral, perhaps? Instead of psychological turmoil, however, let us instead opt for the big, dull ship – the object to have occasioned some of the finest and most depressing of David Foster Wallace’s prose stylings.

There is something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that's unbearably sad. Like most unbearably sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes and simple in its effect: on board the Nadir – especially at night, when all the ship's structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased – I felt despair. The word's overused and banalified now, despair, but it's a serious word, and I'm using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture – a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as fear of death..


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: The glaring demon.

Very simply, there’s only one really scary emoji and only one really scary literary version of the devil, so they should go together. Mikhail Bulgakov’s tale of people getting their heads ripped off on trams and cats walking on their hind legs is not for the faint of heart.

Don't be afraid, Queen … don't be afraid, Queen, the blood has long since gone into the earth. And where it was spilled, grapevines are already growing.


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: A crashing wave.

Okay, this one is a bit too easy, since the book literally has the same name. But the contrast between Virginia Woolf’s gently lapping, sleepy waves and the great tsunami of the emoji version is delightful in itself.

As they neared the shore each bar rose, heaped itself, broke and swept a thin veil of white water across the sand. The wave paused, and then drew out again, sighing like a sleeper whose breath comes and goes unconsciously. Gradually the dark bar on the horizon became clear as if the sediment in an old wine-bottle had sunk and left the glass green. Behind it, too, the sky cleared as if the white sediment there had sunk, or as if the arm of a woman couched beneath the horizon had raised a lamp and flat bars of white, green and yellow spread across the sky like the blades of a fan.


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: An umbrella.

If there’s a better description of the social life of the umbrella, we haven’t read it. When Leonard’s umbrella is accidentally stolen at a concert, the whole novel’s action kicks off. A delightfully awkward beginning to a book.

Brahms, for all his grumbling and grizzling, had never guessed what it felt like to be suspected of stealing an umbrella. For this fool of a young man thought that she and Helen and Tibby had been playing the confidence trick on him, and that if he gave his address they would break into his rooms some midnight or other and steal his walking-stick too. Most ladies would have laughed, but Margaret really minded, for it gave her a glimpse into squalor. To trust people is a luxury in which only the wealthy can indulge; the poor cannot afford it.


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: A tortoise.

What does a tortoise mean? Who knows what they would say if they could talk, these long-lived creatures. Of course, the tortoise has popped up in all sorts of stories since Aesop’s fable of its race against the hare. Only Tom Stoppard, however, has used the tortoise in a great play.

No more you can, time must needs run backward, and since it will not, we must stir our way onward mixing as we go,disorder out of disorder into disorder until pink is complete, unchanging and unchangeable, and we are done with it for ever. This is known as free will or self-determination. (He picks up the tortoise and moves it a few inches as though it had strayed, on top of some loose papers, and admonishes it.) Sit!


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: A snowflake.

Many are the picturesque scenes of snowfall in the literary canon. Snow is beautiful and dangerous, so people write about it a lot. The Secret History’s passage about snow has always stuck with us for its banality and horror, however – it would have been a nastily boring death.

I lay face down in the snow for a few minutes. There was a rushing noise in my ears; in falling, I had grabbed for the phone and knocked it off the hook, and the busy signal the receiver made as it swung back and forth sounded as if it were coming from a long way off.

I managed to get up on all fours. Staring at the place where my head had been, I saw a dark spot on the snow. When I touched my forehead with my ungloved hand the fingers came away red. The quarter was gone; besides, I had forgotten the number. I would have to come back later, when the Boulder Tap was open and I could get change. Somehow I struggled to my feet, leaving the black received dangling from its cord.


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: A post horn. 

This little trumpet thing is surprisingly iconic. In the eighteenth century, postal workers would carry this instrument and blare it at other road traffic, so that they would get out of the way. Pynchon made it the main character in a book.

“Interested in sophisticated fun? You, hubby, girl friends. The more the merrier. Get in touch with Kirby, through WASTE only, Box 7391, L. A.” WASTE? Oedipa wondered. Beneath the notice, faintly in pencil, was a symbol she'd never seen before, a loop, triangle and trapezoid.


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: A nose.

There is only one story whose villain is a nose, and Gogol’s The Nose is it.

He bit his lips with vexation, left the confectioner's, and resolved, quite contrary to his habit, neither to look nor smile at anyone on the street. Suddenly he halted as if rooted to the spot before a door, where something extraordinary happened. A carriage drew up at the entrance; the carriage door was opened, and a gentleman in uniform came out and hurried up the steps. How great was Kovaloff's terror and astonishment when he saw that it was his own nose!


If we could sum this up in an emoji it would be: A tomato.

Tomatoes. A mundane fruit. And yet, fine poet Emily Berry has written about them in such a way to make you forget their ordinariness. 

The Tomato Salad

Was breathtaking. Sometime in the late 1990s

the Californian sun ripened a crop of tomatoes

to such a pitch you could hear them screaming.

Did I mention this was in California? There was

corn on the cob. She was English and her heart

almost stopped when her aunt served her a bowl

of red and yellow tomatoes so spectacular she would

never get over them.