So you might have heard that this guy named Michael Chwe has written a book called Jane Austen, Game Theorist. Austenacious reader Mr. Henke pointed us to The New York Times’ article about it. (So did three of my friends—thanks, Ms. Hobza, Ms. Reynolds, and Mr. West!)
Mr. Chwe, game theorist, watched Clueless and was impressed with Austen’s grasp of the technical elements of strategy. In 2010 he wrote a paper about game theory in Austen, but only the alert Miss Ball noticed: it was a scoop for Austenacious! (We’re in ur discipline, teaching ur colloquia) And I attempted to explain things a bit in Game Theory, SCIENCE!, and Other Hobbies of Jane Austen.
Now the book’s out, and it should totally be my thing. It combines three of my main pursuits: Austen (duh), math, and games. But this Slate article summed up my thoughts at first: “Political Scientist Realizes Jane Austen Knew Something About Human Relationships.” Kind of “Aw, isn’t that cute? I like it when scientists discover the arts … But humanities get no respect unless scientists are into them, grrr…. He’s just riding on Jane’s popularity wave with a tenuous connection like that Proust was a Neuroscientist book… Bah!”
However, I thought that instead of grumbling at length, I’d tell you a little about game theory and how YOU can use it in your own lives. (I figured you’re probably good on the Austen part.) Which meant I had to read up on game theory, and hey, I got all excited and into new things about math! Go, learning! So I thank Mr. Chwe for that, and will probably read his book after all. Meanwhile. . .
Game theory is the mathematical study of games, such as card games and board games. Game theorists want to know how to “solve” a game—determine an optimal strategy for the players. This is more complicated than it sounds, unless the game is tic-tac-toe. You probably know (or is it just me?) the exact best move to make in any situation in tic-tac-toe, whether you are X or O. That’s an example of a solved game.
There are a lot of different types of games in terms of strategy: is the game cooperative or not? symmetric (strategy doesn’t depend on WHO is playing it) or not? do you know everyone’s previous moves? do you know their strategies and possible outcomes? are there A LOT of possible moves at any given time (think chess or go)? Etc.
I know this sounds really abstract, but game theory is also super-useful in economics, biology, politics, and whenever people are trying to figure out the best outcome for a “player” in a situation, and how they should go about getting it. For example, apparently biologists have used the game of chicken to analyze fighting behavior and territoriality. (That sentence is a direct quote from Wikipedia and I think it’s one of the most hilarious things ever.)
How do you actually analyze a game? Probability comes into it a lot—if the words expected value mean anything to you, you’re doing well. But there are actually other methods, ones that don’t assume that players will act “rationally,” or realize that acting rationally may not mean choosing an outcome based purely on the payout (as you probably would in a casino, but not in the Real World). This is where fuzzy logic comes in, and other hard-core math/computer science stuff I could go on about but will spare you.
Here are a few ideas you may think about that are used in game theory:
- How to fairly divide something—Mr. Fitzpatrick and I used to split our pizzas in half meticulously. One of us chose the cut to split along (pizza cutters are not very precise) and the other chose which half to take. I think all moms know this method, which is called the cake-cutting problem.
- Zero-sum games—In a zero-sum game, anything you gain is someone else’s loss, and vice versa. Do you think this is a fundamental rule of life? I don’t, but a lot of people do! Whether you believe this in different situations can really affect your outlook.
- Minmaxing—Formally this means minimizing the possible loss for a worst case (maximum loss) scenario, or maximizing the minimum gain. Day-to-day I think about this in terms of taking small precautions against relatively large risks and NOT taking large precautions against smaller risks. Sometimes I also think about it in terms of efficiency, but I’m not sure that’s right.
- And actually, something new from Mr. Chwe’s book, the concept of “cluelessness”—that highly privileged people, AKA Lady Catherine, cannot know the strategies of “lower class” people, AKA Elizabeth Bennet. I think this one is called “white privilege” these days. I shall be interested to see how game theory tackles it.
OK, that’s probably FAR MORE than you wanted to know about game theory! Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Emma, the originator of cluelessness.
Photo credit: Michael Chwe’s video for Jane Austen, Game Theorist
Hey, Emma fans! Did you get through Emma’s snobbery and manipulative jerkiness, part 1? Good job! I really do hate this part of the book. . . That’s why we’re a little behind posting, but I’ll try to make up lost time.
Chapters 6–10, Scheming: Emma decides Harriet should marry Mr. Elton and not Robert Martin. So she makes Harriet fall in love will Mr. Elton and reject Mr. Martin, and she convinces herself that Mr. Elton loves Harriet.
OK, let’s cut to the chase. Emma, WTF are you doing to Harriet? Why do you make her reject this guy that she really seems to like? Emma seems diabolical here—Machiavellian, evil. It is so off-putting that I spend a lot of time finding excuses for her behavior.
- It’s interesting, I think, that Miss Woodhouse could never visit Mrs. Robert Martin. Snobby and weird to us, but everyone agrees about that. Mr. Knightley, everyone. So it’d be sort of like convincing one of your friends that she shouldn’t take a job 3,000 miles away. Your friend kind of likes it there, but also likes it here. You don’t have many friends and you’d be lonely without her. You also think you can get her a better job here. This is selfish of you, sure. But more understandable than convincing her not to take a job 3 miles away.
- It would be less evil if Emma just said these things. But Emma isn’t really a straightforward person. And Harriet really is pretty clueless! So Emma gives us a lesson in Machiavellian tactics and misdirection. There’s no excuse for that.
- Also interesting that Mr. Knightley thinks Mr. Martin is Emma’s inferior in society just as much as Emma does. The difference is that Mr. Knightley thinks Harriet is socially inferior too. It’s purely Emma’s imaginings about Harriet’s background that make Emma think Harriet is not inferior to her.
- And, my favorite argument about this: Mr. Darcy does exactly the same thing to Mr. Bingley! And boasts about it to Colonel Fitzwilliam! Yet we don’t hold it against him, dislike him for it, as we do Emma. Maybe if we heard how Mr. Darcy dissuades Mr. Bingley, and how Mr. Bingley responded, we would think about it more. It’s so off-camera that it’s easy to ignore. We can imagine them acting in the best possible way—we don’t have to hear Mr. Darcy manipulating Mr. Bingley explicitly.
OK, enough of that. Here are some other scenic points along the way:
- I’m fascinated by the description of Emma’s natural talent and lack of application when they’re talking about her portraits in Chapter 6. She is like the quintessential slacker gifted kid. I can relate.
- Check out the conversation on What Men Want between Emma and Mr. Knightley in Chapter 8. Emma says (playfully), men like pretty girls better than smart ones. But Mr. Knightley says, “Men of sense . . . do not want silly wives.” I love Austen and her women-respecting heroes! Mr. Knightley acknowledges Emma has “reason”—rational thought. No surprise to us now, but this was a debate that went back and forth at the time. Could women think rationally or were they entirely governed by emotion. Emma’s a flawed person, but she is intelligent. I’d love to know how readers of the time viewed that—I know they didn’t like her, but was her “reason,” her brain, a thing people doubted?
- Mr. Elton is the Justin Bieber of Highbury—everybody’s crush! So popular! So beautiful!
- Mr. Woodhouse is almost a caricature of old people in general – anything new or any change is terrible! But Emma is like her father in supposing what’s good or bad for her is good or bad for everyone. Jane makes fun of Mr. Woodhouse explicitly: “his spirits [were] affected by his daughter’s attachment to her husband.”
- It’s interesting that we see Emma’s charity to the poor family—maybe Austen felt like she needed to show us that Emma is objectively a good person. Also, Harriet is the complete yes-woman!
- I like the John Knightleys—I like the inclusion of the kids, I like the character of John Knightley as being good but not perfect—considerate and kindly, but no nonsense
But I am glad Emma’s mistreatment of Harriet is almost over. She doesn’t do her best by Jane Fairfax, but it’s all much more understandable. I guess our lesson here is, don’t make a friend of someone who worships you. No good will come of it!
We need more letter-writing in our lives, right? More cute drawings of lace, gossip about balls (no comment), and generally dipping quills in ink and sealing things with wax. I mean, how can you fan yourself with a steamy text?
So! I am doing the Month of Letters challenge this year, and I invite you to do it with me! The goal is to write a letter every mailing day this month. I know we’re starting late, but since that really means writing 23 letters/postcards/parcels, there’s time to catch up. There’s forums and even Achievement Badges. One of them is for writing an Austen-style letter, because Mary Robinette Kowal, the founder, is clearly one of us.
If you want to be snail mail penpals, just friend me. I’m “Heather Dever” on their site.
I’m off to catch up on my correspondence!
Hi, Emma fans. Alas, yes, this post is almost a week later than I promised, and I also read only half as much! What can I say? Life has been too medical around here (nothing life-threatening or picturesque, just time-consuming.) Plus, I underestimated my Emma Resistance Level.
Also, I underestimated the length of the book—I figured with 55 chapters, we’d better keep moving, but I forgot how long they are, so we’re now doing 5 chapters/week until roughly Easter. So, yes, if you’re just now joining us, grab a copy of Emma and snark away in the comments!
Chapters 1–5: The Exposition. In which we meet most of the main characters. Emma adopts the beautiful but dim Harriet Smith as her friend project, and is concerned that Harriet’s crush is beneath her.
- I can’t get over the first few lines. Jane, you want us to hate Emma, don’t you? You are deliberately setting her up to be unsympathetic—I see where this is going!
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
- Interesting that Emma’s mom died “too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses.” Apparently that did not distress or vex her?—or maybe it was too common to be a big deal? In the recent BBC version (Romola Garai) they did this emotional intro about all the kids losing their mothers. Clearly trying to thwart Miss Austen’s plans for how we view Emma.
- I know I’ve got to get past the first page, but Jane makes this big thing about Emma being sad over Miss Taylor’s marriage, and I can’t decide if we’re supposed to think she’s being selfish or what? Or just has complex emotions like a normal person!
- Oh Mr. Woodhouse! I do love Mr. Woodhouse! I do love that I don’t have to live with him, because I’d go crazy. I’m remembering now how much chitchat there is in this book—how vividly Jane gets people talking on and on about the most trivial things. (That never happens in real life of course.)
- Jane really has Views on schools, doesn’t she? “not any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality upon new principles and new systems…” She doesn’t usually get this worked up, does she? (BTW, I work in education, and unfortunately this is still very pertinent!)
- And so it begins—the Harriet Smith trauma. Ouch ouch ouch, this gets so hard to read! I do love how Harriet is struck Mr. Martin’s birthday being “just a fortnight and a day’s difference! which is very odd!” Poor little Harriet!
- Also, I am always struck by “the real good-will of a mind delighted with its own ideas.” When you are happy, you do more good in the world. Very true, I think, but so debated!
- Emma attacks Mr. Martin for having no “air,” not being “genteel,” and compares the air and manners of the other men in the book. I’ve read this a dozen times, but I realized I don’t really know quite what this means! I certainly can’t put it into words. Can anyone explain what she means by this? We know it isn’t that Mr. Martin is rude…
- And then, when Mr. Knightley says, “I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good.” Ooh, the first time I read that, I was so mad! (I had never been in love myself, and was always in control.) Now I don’t know what I think. It still seems kind of callous—the sort of thing that’s easy to joke about, but hard to experience yourself… I don’t know.
What did you think of Chapters 1–5?
I am not looking forward to Chapters 6–10 (AKA Emma the Manipulative B-word), but I promise to forge ahead!
Hi. My name is Mrs. Fitzpatrick. I am a co-founder of Austenacious, and I have trouble reading Emma.
There! I said it!
I’ve read Pride and Prejudice roughly 42 times, and I read all Austen’s novels about once a year. I can read Persuasion in one sitting. But Emma . . . I keep putting it down and not picking it back up. I originally tried to read it three times before I got to the end—this is unprecedented.
Why do I stop? Well, I think it’s mainly because it’s too good. (“Gah! So brilliant! So true to life! Ooh, I just want to shake that girl . . . Am I like her? Hmm . . .”) I have to share, and going into rants about the Eltons leaves most people just befuddled.
So! Join us for our Emma Read-along! Starting next week (January 21–25) we’ll be reading 10 chapters a week. Grab a copy and read with us, and you too can complain about barouche-landaus like a boss.
Good job, guys! According to a study by people who track library loans, Pride and Prejudice is the most loaned classic in the UK! (Wuthering Heights is #2.) Jane takes three more of the top 20 spots as well:
- #8 Emma
- #11 Sense and Sensibility
- #17 Northanger Abbey
The Telegraph‘s article says, “The study involves a comparison of lending data from Britain’s libraries for 50 classics by British and Irish authors from the literary canon from the early 1990s, a decade ago, and last year.”
Mission #1: People of Britain, read more Austen! I want to see Persuasion and Mansfield Park on this list next time too. We can’t leave Anne Elliot out in the cold and Fanny Price sitting on her bench, now can we?? And let’s get those other numbers up, too. (Special Sneak Preview: Austenacious will do our part by hosting another read-a-long soon!) People of Not Britain: don’t think I’m not watching you too!
Also according to The Telegraph, “Works by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and EM Forster have seen their popularity plummet over the last two decades . . ..”
I’m not going to say a word for Thomas Hardy. (Anyone want to take that on in the comments?) But, EM Forster, you guys! I love EM Forster. A Room With a View, anyone? Howards End? So beautiful! So smart! The article says maybe Austen got more popular because of the adaptations, and because of her “rather too light, bright, sparkling tone.” (Though George Orwell also got more popular, and he’s, like, super-funny, right?)
Forster is comic, just as much as Austen, so maybe we need more adaptations? I love the 1985 version of A Room with a View—Helena Bonham Carter, before she was crazy! Naked guys! … Good lord, has it really been that long? IMDB says there’s also a 2007 version, which I completely missed. Have any of you seen it? Thoughts? We could do better, though, right?
For Howards End there’s just the 1992 version with Emma Thompson. I’m conflicted here—I really don’t think this book is adaptable. But if anyone wants to have a go, feel free!
Then there’s our girl George Eliot. I’ll admit I’ve only ever read Middlemarch, and I only read that because of the 1994 version. (See, TV adaptations pay off!) Middlemarch is pretty awesome—though it’s not as joyous as Austen and Forster, it does have depth, without being as, um, self-conscious as the Brontës. Do we want a new Middlemarch adaptation? But Rufus Sewell and Colin’s brother Jonathon are so cute… Juliet Aubrey is so Dorothea…. I don’t know. What do you all think?
Mission #2: People of Britain and Not Britain, read more Forster! Read more Eliot! Demand quality adaptations, or make your own crazy vlogs! Or both! Think, live, breathe fiction!
P.S. (Mission #3: Contemplate Colin Firth’s legs.)
Photo credit: dbking. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
So… I was planning to post this before the World Series ended, but Detroit just didn’t have any stamina, did they? Let’s go, Giants! (The Beloved Sisters are Oakland A’s fans, but San Francisco is very nearby.)
“Oh, but you write a Jane Austen blog” they say. “That must be about tea and flowers. What does Jane Austen have to do with baseball?”
Ha! Sister and brother Janeites, remember that a Jane Austen book contains the very first reference to baseball in the OED itself!
Cue excerpt from Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1. Jane’s setting up Catherine Morland as someone you would never have picked to be a Gothic heroine, because she’s so ordinary.
…it was not very wonderful* that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least to books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all.
*Wonderful here means “full of wonder,” i.e. surprising.
Here is a Jane Austen heroine to-be not just watching baseball, but actually playing it! (Let’s put her up against the zombies…) Now, Catherine Morland goes on to learn to read Gothic novels and sigh artistically, and famously “curl her hair and long for balls,” the dancing kind, and not cricket or baseballs.
Jane Austen has a lot of affection for Catherine, and though she also likes Gothic novels, Northanger Abbey is a straight-up lesson in the folly of considering them a model for life. It contrasts the simple health and sanity of the Morlands with other peoples’ deceptions, follies, and evils.
So I’m going out on a limb and saying that Jane Austen also loved cricket, horseback-riding, books that are all story and no reflection, and of course baseball!
And I think we can totally see her at work when Miss Osborne bakes cakes for every A’s playoff game, when Miss Ball tweets about Josh Reddick’s hair, and when Mrs. Fitzpatrick calmly eats baseball cake and cheers when she remembers.
I think she would understand and laugh at us, I hope with affection. And I think she’d find the World Series pretty funny too. Pity we’ll never know…
Why, Colonel Brandon! How nice of you to drop by! And may I say how dashing you look—I’m sure Mrs. Brandon is quite proud! I didn’t know colonels could be promoted to admirals—I thought admirals were navy only? … Oh, really? How kind of Miss Austen!
And this must be Captain Picard, I mean, Wentworth, of course! A natural for the admiralty! Do I think Persuasion is ripe for a slightly more … mature… adaptation? Is it me, or is it getting very warm in here? Miss Osborne? Oh, she’s fainted. Miss Ball, stick a pillow under her head, would you?
Mr. Downey, do you know I don’t know why you have that on at all. Is it Iron Man, or Sherlock Holmes, or just some cosplay? Oh, Mr. Wickham makes admiral, does he? Anything is possible, I guess. And, uh, I think I finally see Lydia’s point. So! Moving on!
Did I just say anything is possible? I take it back. Shatner, stop staring at me like that or I’ll push you into the ha-ha. What? You’re Mary and Henry Crawford’s uncle? The Admiral Crawford who’s steeped in sin and vice? I certainly can believe it! Now I understand their messed up personalities so much better!
SO nice of you to call, gentlemen! Do stop by anytime you’re passing. We love us some gold tassels around here.
Photo credit: I don’t know who to credit for this, but would love to, as it’s awesome! Let us know if you do.
The great ebook wars started innocently enough in June, 2012. A single alert blogger, Philip Howard, noticed that the Barnes & Noble version of War and Peace had erased all instances of the word Kindle—an competitor at the time—with their own brand-name, Nook. (“It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern….”) One or two blogs picked it up, the people lol’ed, case closed.
An simple mistake with search-and-replace, but it started people thinking. . . hackers had already inserted zombies into Pride and Prejudice in the careless spirit of the 2000s, so why not make some money by selling product placement in the books? Anyone can publish e-versions of books no longer in copyright. Starbucks was first on the bandwagon in late 2012, with their special Frappuccino Editions of the classics (Frappuccino was a curious coffee-like drink). These editions merely replaced all coffee and tea, coffeehouses and tea shops in the classics, with Starbucks. The changes to the coffee shop scene in Persuasion did cause some comment on the primitive “social networks” of the time, but marketers and companies eagerly lined up to have their products inserted in some edition, any edition of a classic, and by 2015 generic ebooks were becoming rare and collectible.
The sudden rebirth of the bowdlerizers, and their tireless campaign to find and replace smut where ordinary dirty-minded citizens couldn’t even see it, spun off into its own crusade. Of course, the main target in Austen was “intercourse.” The mere thought of Emma and Miss Bates having “a regular and steady intercourse” caused President Sarah Palin to mandate bowdlerized versions of all classics in 2020.
The fall of America into chaos, the rise of the underground movement for Pure Classics, and the petty in-fighting of the various Jane factions (Austen, Eyre, Bennet, and Cobb), need not be gone into. Every schoolchild knows that in 2072, the Pure Classics broke away from the Altered Versions, and the two empires have been fighting ever since. It has been a long and terrible history. But on this, the 1,000th anniversary of the first shot of this massive war, let us stop and remember that it need never have happened.
. . .
Ok, so this could also be called Leo Tolstoy Hates Your Search-and-Replace. But, you know, once you start down the Dark Side, forever will it guide your destiny! So, beware!
This week, only 13 years late: BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth!
As many of you know, I first saw this a few weeks ago. There’s nothing like some good MST3K time with my beloved sisters. But, I have to admit, I came out of it pretty meh. I am not the adoring fan that I know so many of you are. I can see why you love it! I can see it as a good intro to Austen. And I didn’t hate it. But it wasn’t enough to sway my persnickety self from the 1980 version, and, so much better than both, the book itself. Deep thoughts:
- It’s pretty close to the book, lots of word for word, even if they did leave out some of my favorite lines. Though the post-Lydia-eloping part gets really compacted in this version. Seems like all the characters do is get in and out of carriages.
- I actually liked the scene-setting parts that aren’t in the book—showing the countryside and town and all. You get a better sense of their world.
- Plus I liked Jennifer Ehle better than I thought I would! I thought she would be too sappy; she was not too sappy. Check.
- You want to talk Colin Firth? OK, let’s talk Colin Firth. Sure, he’s tall and cute, but he’s wooden. (Ha ha, get your minds out of the ha-ha, kids!) By which I mean he stares at Lizzie in a frankly creepy way for 3/4 of the movie. I’m spoiled by already having seen him in A Single Man and The King’s Speech, and I say he could tear the part up now 10 times better than he did it then. (Apart from being too old, and what do we think of Helena Bonham-Carter as Lizzie? . . . OK, back to 1995.)
- Let’s talk more Colin Firth! Why do we call it “the Colin Firth version?” Is fans’ love of this version simply based on the Firthy Goodness (thank you, Miss Osborne)? Is it because we’re not sure how to say “Ehle”? (AY-lee, I think.) I’m curious. Because she is after all the star, though this version does try to bring him closer to stardom than Jane put him, by showing us his Inner Feelings, and his butt, and his famous wet shirt. Thoughts?
- Jane Bennet is all wrong. No one thinks she’s prettier than Lizzie. (And she has a thick neck.)
- It was kind of amusing at first, but it grated on me more and more that all the supporting characters were seriously exaggerated from the book. Any complexity in them was left out, and they were all completely one-dimensional. It makes them more fun to laugh at and all, but it does hurt the story. I mean, who would really believe Miss Bingley was their friend? She’s totally scary! And Mrs. Bennet always shrieking flattens the drama and believability of her crazy mood swings. Etc.
So, as I said, some mixed feelings. However, at least I now know what all you crazy kids mean when you say “No one wants your concertos here!” and “Lord, I’m so fat!” And that is a comfort.