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
One week from this Thursday, the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will hit one hundred episodes and call it quits. This, of course, is probably our cue to sneak a little LBD action in around here. We at Austenacious are nothing if not standing on the cutting edge of culture and technology, right?
Here’s one thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I think it’s good. I think it’s smartly written and well-performed. I like the transposing of romantic situations into professional situations, in sometimes surprising ways—I can’t be the only one who, for example, was pleasantly surprised when, duh, Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins was wasn’t Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins at all, because modern-day Charlotte doesn’t need to marry for practical reasons! Catherine de Bourgh is a venture capitalist, OBVIOUSLY! I think the writers made a lot of smart choices and came up with something that’s a lot of fun.
Here’s another thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I do not have a lot of things to say about it, except “Aww!” and “Well, that was clever,” and “How can I have hair like Laura Spencer‘s?” (HER HAIR, YOU GUYS) and “Okay, just one more.” If that were less true, I can assure you I’d have talked about it more here. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed it without much comment.
What I DO want to discuss is the fandom that’s cropped up around the series—a discrete fandom, separate from Pride and Prejudice itself, complete with all the trappings: fanart, fanfiction, pre-episode squee spills all over Twitter and Tumblr and basically the rest of the Internet where people hang out, and, of course, a hearty band of trolls, presumably in empire-waist dresses. People are INTO IT, easily as taken with Ashley Clements and Daniel Vincent Gordh as they are with plenty of traditional Lizzie/Darcy pairs. They’re agonizing over the ending: where will we leave Lizzie and Darcy, and will there be making out (“fingers crossed” seems to be the consensus, or maybe “THERE HAD BETTER BE MAKING OUT OR ELSE”), or will there be vague maybe-someday dating implications, or everything, or nothing, heaven forbid? They’re also discussing it—its relationship to the original text, its relationship to the ancillary series by Lydia and Maria Lu, a kitty named Kitty, the triumphs and vagaries of the web series medium, and especially the portrayal of Lydia, and whether the writers got her right or got her wrong, or were true to Jane’s vision or turned her into something new and incorrect. Some of this stuff is super smart, and some of it’s less smart, and some of it’s silly on purpose, and some of is decidedly not. Put it all together, and it’s a real live fandom.
And that, my friends, is a little amazing. All this for a story people already know, have already read and seen and talked through a million times and in a million forms. Much of the credit, of course, goes to Jane—she wrote a story that resonates with people, even if the regiment is really the swim team and a decent job at a start-up is just about as exciting as finding your true love. But the team behind the series must be doing something interesting, or I don’t think the discussion surrounding the LBD would be as vibrant as it is. It’s the difference between rehashing Pride and Prejudice and thinking about something new, with new creative choices—even when people don’t like what’s happening, they want to talk about it. And that seems, to me, like the real accomplishment: a new discussion of an old story. For me, watching the fans has been at least as exciting as watching the series.
So, tell me, readers: Are YOU in the LBD fandom? How are you doing with things coming to a close?
Hi, my name is Miss Osborne. I’m a rage-aholic. But only when I have to sit in traffic! (Or when people mangle grammar.) And this summer, I’ve had many, many hours sitting in traffic. My 50 miles of good road is not a very easy distance. It’s actually only 13 miles, yet it can take an hour and a half to travel. Oh the pains of commuting across a city and over a bridge! I’ve found that I can subvert the rage if I keep myself occupied. First, you have to keep snacks around. I know it’s not the best idea to have food at your fingertips when you’re bored and trapped in your car, but being hungry ensures a lightning-fast downward spiral. Second, have music, audio books, or podcasts at the ready. Listening to the radio is fine, but listening to a musical allows you to follow a story and sing, sing, sing like you’re Norma Desmond ready for her close-up. (Side note: You are sure to entertain other poor suckers who are stuck in traffic when they see and hear you crooning your favorite ballad! Everybody wins!)
I’m not always a big a fan of listening to audiobooks because the quality varies depending on the narrator. Miss Ball and I—both fans of Sarah Vowell—nearly drove off the road from the sleepiness induced by listening to audio version of The Wordy Shipmates while on a cross-country road trip. But I recently listened to Simon Pegg narrate Nerd Do Well, and I smiled the entire commute for a few days.
If you’ve got a soul-sucking commute, here are some recommendations to pass the time:
• BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects podcasts—The director of the British Museum talks about artifacts from the museum in the context of the state of the world when that object was made. I bought the book a few months ago, and I’ve been reading about a few objects every night. But listening to the podcasts is interesting because you have to picture the object based on the description, and they vary the audio with interviews and sounds.
• Audiobooks of Jane Austen novels—Okay . . . what I was really hoping for was a novel narrated by Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, or Patrick Stewart . . . you get where I’m going here. Unfortunately, not all of the audiobooks listed on Amazon state the name of the reader. However, there is a version of Pride & Prejudice read by Lindsay Duncan that sounds promising. (Who, strangely enough, is exactly the face I saw in my head when I was reading Lady Susan. Perhaps because she often plays really unlikeable people in her TV appearances.)
• When Love Speaks CD—Speaking of listening to the delightful sounds of British voices, I bought this CD when I was in the middle of an Alan Rickman obsession. (My library had a copy of Return of the Native narrated by Alan Rickman, but even though I love listening to him speak, the thought of twenty bazillion hours of Thomas Hardy prevented me from borrowing it.) Take turns imagining you’re Marianne Dashwood and Willoughby reading sonnets to each other on a cold, rainy day sitting by the fire! When Love Speaks is a set of Shakespeare sonnets read by the likes of Alan Rickman, Diana Rigg, Juliet Stevenson, Ralph Fiennes, Ioan Gruffud, and more. I promise, hearing Colonel Brandon say, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” is swoon-worthy. Just remember, you’re driving! Keep your eyes open!
• If Alan Rickman doesn’t rock your world, perhaps Loki is more to you liking? Tom Hiddleston’s the new British sexy! And he’s narrated The Red Necklace. One fan says, “I have been listening to The Red Necklace audiobook as read by Tom Hiddleston, and oh, my lord, my ears are pregnant now.” Could you ask for a better recommendation than that?
• The End of the Affair, read by Colin Firth. I wasn’t going to list this, but then I started listening to the audio on YouTube, and I figured you just can’t lose listening to Colin Firth for six and a half hours.
• Believe It!—You know that old guy who plays Gaius on the so-bad-it’s-enjoyable Merlin? That’s Scottish actor Richard Wilson. He’s best known for his ten-year run in the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave. Anyway, he’s the main star of the BBC radio show Believe It! And for an extra special bonus, you get David Tennant, too.
I’m sad to say, no one has made an audio book of Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women. But if you’ve got any other recommendations to keep us sad commuters smiling while we drive, please chime in!
Photo Credit: Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/153778544/
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.
What is Mother’s Day without fondly remembering the times when our mothers were looking out for our best interests? Mrs. Bennet certainly took great pains to ensure the future happiness of all of her daughters. When Jane asked for the carriage to visit the Bingley sisters, Mrs. Bennet replied, “No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.” Always thinking ahead, that Mrs. B. And she wasn’t wrong, was she?
To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, I have collected some wisdom bestowed on me and my friends by our dear mothers.
On marriage prospects…
• When you get on the plane, you have to be nice if there is a man sitting next to you. He might be single and marry you.
• The entire family is going to fast for one meal every day until you find someone and get married.
• After receiving an email saying I was dating someone, her response was, “I’m so happy! I’ve been praying for this for so long!”
On personal safety…
• No, you can’t go to the New Kids on the Block concert. If you were to go to a concert, you’d probably stand up on a chair to see better. Then you might fall off the chair and break you neck!
• Whatever you do, don’t try on clothes in a Parisian boutique. If you do, you will be abducted and sold into white slavery in Saudi Arabia! I read about it in a magazine.
On the lack of hardiness of subsequent generations…
• Your Great Grandmother Lizzy would wipe her arse with a broken gin bottle.
On becoming a lady of musical accomplishment…
• Don’t bother playing those country songs. Just scream rock ‘n’ roll and kick up your leg and shake your bum!
On the importance of an heir…
• Just get pregnant, you don’t have to get married. I want great grandchildren.
• What? Why would you adopt? You don’t know where that baby came from! If you can’t find a husband, just go out and get pregnant. (Note: This occurred when I was in my 30s.)
On appropriate clothing…
For immediate release: Austenacious requests proposals for a JANE AUSTEN THEME PARK!
Goals: To have a fun place irl to hang out with our peeps, being sarcastical, laughing at our neighbors, and trying not to be sport for them in return. Why? Why not, she said!
Rules for theme park proposals:
Note, we are not talking about some kind of holodeck adventures where we roleplay with low-rent actors dressed up as Mr. Darcy, ala Austenland. That is not a theme park. Nor is it, as AustenBlog pointed out, ironic enough for the Austen fans. We are as ironic as all hell, damn it. That is why we are Austen fans!
Nor, actually, do we want some kind of honest attempt to immerse tourists in Jane Austen’s Bath, or her villages, or even her country houses, with actors waylaying you and attempting to interact or something. How pathetically embarrassing! (OK, I am scared of those people. I admit it.) That sort of thing may be fine for Dickens’ World, but honest, vulgar sentimentality is not for us.
And we have no desire to sully Chawton, Bath, or even Lyme Regis with our water slides. You are talking to someone who almost cried when she saw the Anne of Green Gables theme park, Rainbow Valley.
But Austen is not Brontë. (I guess you knew that.) We can have some ironical, Austen-spirited fun, right? Sure, Bath is practically a Regency theme park, but the essence of Austen isn’t the world—it’s the snark. So we need a theme park with some snark, some fun, a Louisa Musgrove Drop ride, OK, yes, a Colin Firth splashing into the water roller coaster, and maybe Lady Catherine vs. Elizabeth Bennet paintball. The rest is up to you.
That’s the goal. Now hit us!
My name is Miss Ball, and I’m a knitter.
(This is the part where you all chorus back, “Hi, Miss Ball.” Because we’re…addicts, I guess? Don’t you love where this is starting?)
It’s a rare day that one’s desire to knit constantly and one’s desire to blog about Jane Austen meet in a convenient location, but apparently that day has come: last fall, Interweave Press released Jane Austen Knits 2011, a collection of Austen-inspired patterns and gabbery, and now here I am, trying to type while considering the usable contents of my yarn stash. Congratulations, universe! You did it! Now: let’s all learn to knit and write simultaneously, because I cannot tell you how many hours of my life that would save.
The meeting of Janeiana and knitting is both natural and, I think, risky. It all comes down to two subsets of the population and one grand, defining question: What are you using this for? It’s one thing if you’re preparing for your local Regency costume ball, or stockpiling a collection of authentically old-fashioned knits, and a completely different thing if you’re just trying to incorporate a little English Country aesthetic into an otherwise modern wardrobe. Jane Austen Knits incorporates patterns for both populations, and does so rather seamlessly (…see what I did there?); there are patterns imitating Regency clothing and patterns merely suggesting Regency clothing and themes, which means most knitters (and knitted-goods recipients) should be able to find something to enjoy. This, by the way, is no mean feat.
One thing we must address right away is the Austen-knitterly obsession with spencers—the long-sleeved, cropped jackets originated by men and soon adopted by Regency women—and shrugs, both of which tend to come up in Austenian knitting with a frequency somewhat in excess of the number of people who actually wear either of them. (No Austenian pattern collection would be complete without one, or eighty-seven, and yet: how many cropped jackets does a modern lady need?) (Answer: One. IF she wears a lot of strapless dresses.) Jane Austen Knits devotes six patterns (out of a total 36) to spencers and shrugs, which a) actually seems fairly reasonable, given the subject matter, and b) means five-sixths of the patterns in the collection are NOT spencers or shrugs. For this, I am grateful.
My favorite patterns are, I think, the ones not exactly meant for me–the stunning yet masculine An Aran for Frederick (worn in the magazine by, uh, an equally stunning yet masculine young man, not that this influences a lady of such fine character as myself) and the also-technically-for-men Fitz, a pair of mini-cabled mitts. For myself, I might choose the Chawton Mittens—the combination of the cameos and the graphic colorwork pattern behind them reminds me of something a hip person on the subway might wear. In a nice way! The colorwork and tailoring on both the Meryton Jacket (for ladies) and Mr. Knightley’s Vest (…and gents) come across as dapper, and possibly a smart challenge for an intermediate knitter. Further props to both the Northanger Abbey Hood and the Scarlet Capelet, which I think land firmly in the Very Regency camp, but which appeal to me anyway by being pretty and simple, if not practical for my life.
One further note: Whether or not you fall in love with any of the patterns, the non-pattern sections of Jane Austen Knits are absolutely worth a read—varied and evidently well-researched, they’re a lovely resource and a fascinating read for Austen fans, history buffs, fashion addicts, and fiberheads alike.
Jane Austen Knits is a smart, accessible collection of patterns both traditional and less so, for knitters who want to look like a Dashwood sister and knitters who just want to look like they’ve read Sense and Sensibility—both of which are fine options. It’s available in print or as a download from Interweave Press.
N.B.: Non-Ravelry links have been provided where possible; the Ravelry link to the entire collection (and all patterns inside) is here.
By-the-bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many douceurs in being a sort of chaperon, for I am put on the sofa near the fire, and can drink as much wine as I like.
I do wonder, though, about how society determined when someone transitioned from being a young lady in need of chaperoning to being an old maid who did the chaperoning. Sure, it was a different time and place, but there’s no reason to think that old maids or widows weren’t interested in some hanky panky with available (or unavailable *gasp*) men, too. People haven’t changed that much, even if the rules of social decorum have. I guess I should be grateful that whatever people make of my single state, at least I’m not required to bring an escort to watch over my every move.
Apparently we’re moving away from cursive handwriting. My immediate reaction was, “That’s just stupid.” I mean, seriously . . . who doesn’t write in cursive? Upon further thought, I realized that I’ve hardly been required to write out anything by hand—cursive or not—in many, many years. Though I did have a pop quiz in class this week, and admittedly my hand was pretty tired after writing out a two-page of essay. Also, I was mad at myself for not having a pencil. I’m so used to editing my words as I type that trying to get the words correct when pen hit the paper wasn’t easy. Words were crossed out, and my handwriting drifted into a disgraceful mess by the end of the quiz.
With computers, it’s more useful to have good typing skills. With smart phones, I suppose we’re better off working on our thumb-typing skills by breaking out video games to improve phalangeal dexterity. I think my initial reaction was more about the loss of something that seems so basic. How many generations does it take to unlearn how to read something that’s slightly different? If I try hard, I can read a medieval manuscript with its uncial or blackletter script. But it takes time to decipher the words. (And it would probably help if I knew Latin.)
I think I’m also reacting to the sense of loss I feel about the demise of letter writing. Lately I’ve been reading a book of Jane Austen’s letters. They feel like dozens of emails or texts rolled up into daily or weekly groups, so you get some sense of her daily life. But it’s so much more fun looking at Jane’s handwritten letters. There’s more personality. Her handwriting is a mess, and she admired others who wrote neatly. She wrote to her sister, Cassandra:
I took up your letter again to refresh me, being somewhat tired and was struck with the prettiness of the hand: it is really a very pretty hand now and then—so small and so neat! I wish I could get as much into a sheet of paper.
Not that I hold her chicken scratch against her. My handwriting is no picnic, particularly now that I don’t try to keep it consistent. I guess I sort of miss the idea of everyone being taught penmanship. I used to marvel at how my grandmother’s handwriting looked just like her sister’s. And my aunt’s handwriting is also similar to theirs. (They were all teachers . . . maybe that has something to do with it.) But I guess it really doesn’t matter whether or not kids are taught to write in cursive. I draw the line at grammar, though. I will defend the need for good grammar (and the serial comma) to the death!
Photo Credits: Handwriting image from New American Cursive; Medieval manuscript is in the public domain; Jane Austen’s letter from The Morgan Library & Museum
It’s that time of year again. Yeah, that’s right . . . it’s not even Thanksgiving, and Christmas songs are on the radio and glittering lights are out on the streets. In case you’re like me and haven’t started buying holiday gifts yet, here are some suggestions.
Are you tired of searching through the piles and piles of holiday cards at Target? Try these handmade Regency Christmas Cards from Etsy:
Looking for some new wall art to remind everyone that you (heart) libraries? Try this photo of Bath (Circulating Library and Reading Room) from Etsy:
And for the bookworm who has everything, how about this Pride and Prejudice necklace from Etsy: