Deborah Yaffe

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Surveying the landscape

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.


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