Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 6 2017 02:00PM

Nearly ten years ago, Jeanne Kiefer, an Austen fan with a background in journalism and corporate surveys, conducted what is, as far as I know, the only published study of Janeite demographics. (Please correct me if you know of others!)

Kiefer’s work, based on a survey of 4,501 Janeites, was chock-full of interesting details and served both to confirm and refute stereotypes of the community. (Yes, we’re mostly female; no, we don’t all own cats.)

An update of that wide-ranging research would be a welcome development. In the meantime, however, we’ll have to make do with something a bit different: two more efforts to survey us, albeit on a narrower set of topics.

1. An American graduate student in Ireland, Meredith Dabek, is at work on a project about transmedia and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the delightful 2013 online series that updated Pride and Prejudice to contemporary California.

Mostly, Dabek’s survey seeks to discover how respondents interacted with LBD: Did they follow the characters’ Tumblr accounts? Send them Twitter messages? Create fanfic or GIFs about the show? (I am old, so all I did was watch.)

But Dabek also asks a set of questions of more immediate Janeite interest: Had you read P&P before watching LBD? And if not, did the show make you want to read the book? Here’s hoping that respondents answer yes to that one! Because while LBD is charming, P&P is sublime. . .

2. Someone is writing a dissertation on Austen’s contemporary popularity. I know this because at several social media sites, s/he posted a link to a Google Docs survey that asks questions like “How do you feel about the hardcore Janeites?” (you mean, like the one I see in the mirror every day?) and “If you could ask Jane Austen any question, what would it be?” (possibly “How do you feel about the hardcore Janeites?”)

Strangely, however, I cannot find any identifying details about the individual seeking this information. The post in which I found the survey link, on the Republic of Pemberley’s Facebook discussion group, seems to have vanished, and similar posts at several Tumblr sites (for instance, here) are attributed to “anonymous.” Nor does the survey link itself explain who the researcher is, list an academic affiliation, or give any details about the nature of the project.

Although the dearth of detail looks fishy, it’s hard to detect an ulterior motive; it’s not as if the questions include requests for bank account information or Social Security numbers. I suspect it’s just slapdash and somewhat less than professional (and the slightly arbitrary nature of the survey questions seems to bear out that impression: Why, for instance, ask whether respondents have written Austen fanfic, but not whether they’ve read any?)

So I’d have to chalk this one up as Answer At Your Own Risk. But if Jeanne Kiefer ever gets in touch again, you should definitely reply.

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 11 2016 04:37PM

You remember 1995, right? The beginning of that halcyon eighteen-month stretch during which six Jane Austen film adaptations, ranging in quality from pretty good to totally classic, were released on big and small screens? Happy days.

Well, it’s beginning to look like happy days might be here again. As I reported previously, already this year we’ve seen the Sundance Film Festival premiere of Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Lady Susan; the Hallmark Channel screening of Unleashing Mr. Darcy, based on a fan fiction update of Pride and Prejudice; and, just last weekend, the release of the movie version of the best-selling 2009 mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

And now comes word that a UK production company is getting ready to shoot a film based on Sanditon, the novel Austen left unfinished at her death. Charlotte Rampling, currently up for a Best Actress Oscar, will star as Lady Denham. This is great news: except for the extremely uneven web adaptation Welcome to Sanditon, the sophomore-slump effort of the folks who brought us the fabulous Lizzie Bennet Diaries, no one has ever tried to film Sanditon, whose seventy-five-ish pages tantalize with the promise of another great novel.

So far, it must be said, this current film boomlet hasn’t lived up to the high standard set by its1995-97 predecessor, which included the immortal Clueless, the iconic Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice, and the sublime Emma Thompson/Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility. While Love and Friendship has earned excellent reviews, P&P&Z got a decidedly mixed reception and looks to be a financial failure. I haven’t seen either of those yet, but I can attest that Unleashing Mr. Darcy was execrable.

Still: Sanditon! Can’t wait. And as long as we’re mining lesser-known Jane Austen, do I have any takers for The Watsons? This seems like the time to do it.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 2 2015 01:00PM

It’s been more than two years since we fans bid a sad farewell to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the delightful web series that recast Pride and Prejudice as the Internet video blog of a struggling communications grad student in California. And now comes LBD: The TED Talk (or, at least, the independently produced talk in a TED-ish format).

In an engaging fifteen-minute lecture called “What Jane Austen Can Teach Us About Our New Internet Selves,” writer and critic Julie Salmon Kelleher argues that new communications technology changes the way we see ourselves – and that old communications technology, like the novel, did too.

The literary technique known as free indirect discourse, pioneered and popularized by Austen and other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novelists, implies the existence of a private self that is both distinct from and more real than our public self, Kelleher argues. By contrast, the self implied by Internet-enabled social media is a collaborative, collective project.

Kelleher illustrates her point with a passage from Pride and Prejudice – Elizabeth’s reaction to Darcy’s letter – and with the equivalent scene from LBD, in which Lizzie, bemused to receive a wax-sealed, handwritten (in cursive!) missive from the rejected William Darcy, decides not to share its super-sensitive contents with her Internet audience.

That decision, which maintains the privacy of Lizzie’s consciousness despite the public nature of her video blogging project, suggests that the new world isn’t quite as far from the old as we sometimes think, Kelleher says.

“Finding our new Internet selves – finding our new selves – doesn’t mean leaving our old selves behind,” she concludes. “Maybe it’s not an either/or between our individual and our collective selves. Maybe we can aim for both.”

I’m too private a person – or perhaps too old a person -- to find social media’s all-sharing-all-the-time ethos anything but off-putting. So it’s a relief to know that, just maybe, there will still be a niche for me in this brave new world. If not, at least I can watch LBD again.

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 24 2014 01:00PM

Squee! Only nine months late (but who’s counting?) my nine-disc, gazillion-hour edition of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” finally arrived this week.

LBD, a witty and romantic web series that updated the story of Pride and Prejudice to twenty-something tech entrepreneurs in California, won tens of thousands of fans during its online run in 2012-13.

After an epic Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly eight times more than its $60,000 goal, LBD’s creators set out to produce a DVD package. Those of us who forked over a $55 pledge were told to expect our discs in July. Of 2013.

Judging from the apologetic updates that landed in my in-box with some regularity, turning dozens of hours of web content into a slickly packaged DVD is. . .more work than you’d expect.

But finally I’m the proud owner of all one hundred of LBD’s five-minute core episodes, plus assorted spinoffs and DVD extras. (I’ll skip the gag reels, but count me in for the inside scoop on the casting and the writing.)

Now all I need is a very long weekend. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 10 2013 01:00PM

"Emma Approved," the new web series from the creators of "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," launched this past Monday, airing the first of what will apparently be twice-weekly installments updating Jane Austen's novel Emma to the twenty-first century. (The characters' Twitter and Pinterest accounts were up even before Monday: social media will again be an integral part of the storytelling, we're promised.)

Monday's four-minute episode introduced us to an appropriately, if obnoxiously, self-involved style guru named Emma Woodhouse -- in this version, she runs "the matchmaking and lifestyle division" of the Highbury Partners Lifestyle Group -- taking credit for the coming marriage of her friends Ryan Weston and Annie Taylor. We even got a look at Alex Knightley, presumably the love interest: no putting him off until Episode 60 this time.

It's early days, of course, and those of us who suffered through this team's misfiring "Welcome to Sanditon" over the summer are bound to be wary, but it looks promising so far. Austen's Emma -- poised, bossy and socially self-confident -- has the personality for a video diarist. Personally, I'm looking forward to meeting the Eltons. . .

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