Austenacious
Jane will keep us together.
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You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers.

A few weeks back, we solicited your questions—Austen-related or not—and the Austenacious team will be answering them in upcoming posts.

First up! Reader Kaye asks:

“Well, my dear,” said he, when she ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy.”

We’re all familiar with these lines, but I can never decide how he means this. Does he mean no one could be less worthy than Mr. Darcy? This seems plausible, given the way his behaviour came across on previous occasions. Or does he mean that by virtue of Elizabeth’s glowing statements in the previous paragraph, he has suddenly become worthy in Mr. Bennet’s eyes?

Miss Ball answers:

To be honest, I had never thought about much the intention of this statement—I assumed the latter. Now that you point it out, Reader Kaye, I see what you mean—but I haven’t changed my mind.

Textually, I think the evidence is in that penultimate sentence: “If this be the case, he deserves you.” I don’t think this is any kind of ironic jab; I think Mr. Bennet means what he says.

Non-textually, by which I mean “manufactured entirely by my brain,” I think Mr. Bennet trusts Lizzy’s judgment. He may, on the evidence of his own experience, believe Darcy to be an uptight jerkface (again, non-textual), but he also knows Lizzy’s head is screwed on straight—and I think this is him giving his sincere blessing based on that knowledge.

(Incidentally, this relates to something I noticed, but failed to mention, during my reading of Death Comes to Pemberley—P.D. James asserts that Darcy and Mr. Bennet ultimately become BFFs, dismissing the awkwardnesses of the past and bonding over their love of books and solitude (and, ostensibly, Lizzy). I balked a bit at first—Darcy’s good opinion having been lost, and all—but eventually we see Mr. Bennet essentially vacationing in the Pemberley library….which actually sounds about right. Anyway, for what it’s worth, Mrs. Fitzpatrick didn’t think it was such a crazy idea.)

 

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I don’t know what happened to me this week…but I read Death Comes to Pemberley.

I don’t really read Austen sequels/take-offs/embellishments/reinterpretations, and by “don’t really read,” I mean “have never read, not even one.” But I was at Miss Osborne’s and raiding her bookshelves, and she told me about the copy of Death Comes to Pemberley she’d found on the book-trade shelf at a friend’s apartment building. I don’t know what came over me, but I took it home.

I read the whole thing, and…I still don’t get it. I like Jane Austen, of course, and I like a good mystery novel, and I see the theoretical pleasure of mixing the two; it’s just that, in practice, the two don’t really mix in any substantive way. They can’t, really, unless you make someone big and important—say, Elizabeth or Darcy—the killer, in which case you’re kind of veering into Pride and Prejudice and Zombies territory, messing with the genre just for the sake of it. And because—spoiler alert!—that’s not the case here, the mystery lives in the realm of supporting and original characters, and we essentially have a historical mystery existing alongside familiar background that doesn’t actually mean anything.

This isn’t to say the book was bad; it wasn’t. It was fine—solid mystery, a little funny, mostly well-written. It’s just…I don’t see the point.

A few specifics (nothing TOO spoilery, but if you don’t want to know anything, consider yourself warned):

- Oh, Denny. He always seemed like a good guy! I think he’s actually a great choice of victim—being somebody we know, but not somebody we care about in particular—though he would also have made a good up-and-coming character, had he lived.

- My favorite parts, by far, are the moments where James executive-decides that the Austen canon is, in fact, a single Austen Universe, and incorporates the other novels in small ways. Wickham gets a job with Sir Walter Elliott! Something spoilery happens to Harriet Smith! This kind of goofy continuity is insubstantial but makes my heart sing nonetheless.

- One moment that stood out to me was James’s assertion that Darcy and Mr. Bennet are friends—not just friendly, but some kind of genuine kindred spirits. I’m undecided. These guys love their books, and they love Lizzy Bennet, and maybe that’s enough…but maybe I just think Mr. Bennet doesn’t really have any friends.

- Well, I’m glad Georgiana ends up with cute Henry Alveston, because he is cute. Not that there’s anything wrong with Colonel Fitzwilliam! But: cute. Get it, girl.

- I have nothing to say about Elizabeth, which I think sums up my whole feeling about this book. How can there be nothing to say?

Have any of you read Death Comes to Pemberley, Austen Nation? What’d you think?

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A handful of Jane-osities this week:

1. The trailer for Austenland is out!

SO. Having not read the novel—you know how we can be about modern Austen take-offs around here—I keep trying to suss out what I think about this, purely via the trailer. Part of me wonders about the codification of Austen fans as such a Type: sad single women (who may or may not knowthey’re sad) so engaged in a fictional universe as to ignore the non-fictional one, particularly the handsome men inevitably trying to get their attention. (Which is an obnoxious assumption, but also…if only.) This isn’t a new phenomenon, but I find it interesting that we’re essentially one step below Trekkies in our identification by the outside world. Another part of me assumes we’ll be subverting this paradigm, hopefully in smart and interesting ways. The rest of me is silently screaming JANE SEYYYYYYMOUUUUUR IN A MOOOOOOVIE! So there you go.

2. From reader Sophie: Caroline Bingley’s chicanery to appear on England’s money! We’ve all heard by now that our Jane’s been chosen to appear on the new British ten-pound note. Less widely recognized is that Jane’s portrait—the Cassandra one—will be paired with what looks like a statement of sincere enthusiasm for books, but is actually Caroline Bingley’s thinly veiled attempt at convincing Darcy that she’s into reading. On one hand, this seems like the kind of thing a basic Google search could have caught; on the other, I kind of like it. It seems kind of appropriate for Caroline to elbow her way into everything, no?

3. Jane Brocket, chronicler of all things cozy, has just finished Mansfield Park  for the first time, with—what else?—mixed feelings. Her main concern is that Jane builds a cast of complex and well-realized characters, only to bow out on them in the end: “the bad ‘uns must be punished and the good ‘uns rewarded, and the stock endings go against all our carefully raised expectations and vested interests.” What do you think, readers? Could, or should, Jane have done better by Fanny & Co.?
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10. Baseball!

9. Walks. Lots and lots of walks.

8. Someone’s sitting in the shade on a fine day, looking upon verdure, getting perfectly refreshed

7. Someone wants to sit in the shade on a fine day with a cute boy, but is too afraid to cross the ha-ha

6. Someone’s getting seduced at the seashore

5. Someone’s falling off a wall at the seashore

4. Someone’s in a constant state of inelegance

3. Someone’s being mean at a picnic

2. (Non-canon) It’s awfully hot! Better jump in the trout pond.

1. Someone’s too busy to go to the north, and settles for vacation in Derbyshire, the land of large houses and loooooove

 

 

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So, it seems that our dear Jane Austen might be turning up as the face of the new British ten-pound note.

I love this because, although I’m sure the guy who comes up with these things was probably just thinking, “Hey, there’s a British person with ladyish bits; let’s put her on a tenner,” anybody who’s read any Austen knows that Jane felt some feelings about money. It’s everywhere in the novels: Bingley has five thousand a year, and Darcy has ten thousand, and it’s the first thing we know about either of them; the Dashwoods are suddenly impoverished, and there begins the story; Fanny Price is suddenly un-impoverished, and there begins the story; Emma Woodhouse is “handsome, clever, and rich.” A debate-team captain of average skill could probably convince me, without undue effort, that the Austen canon is as much about finances as it is about love and respect between equals.

Jane herself was a gentleman’s daughter—not necessarily champagne wishes and caviar dreams, but enough. But being ON money? Like, printed there to (apparently) represent the female gender to the entirety of her own United Kingdom?* Along with the Queen? I’m pretty sure she couldn’t even have imagined. And THAT—the fact that it makes so much sense to us—makes me really, really happy.

I hope they choose a flattering picture, anyway, because: PRIORITIES.

 

*My favorite part is actually this: “‘[Governor Sir Mervyn King's] comments followed fears that the imminent removal of social reformer Elizabeth Fry from the £5 note would mean there were none in circulation featuring women – other than the standard image of the Queen’s head.” A country that worries about gender representation on its currency! HOW NOVEL, she says, side-eyeing the Sacagawea dollar, which only ever comes from public-transit change machines.

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Image via Jane Austen is for lolz

Austen Nation, it has been a long week, and it is summer, and I think that if we are not ACTUALLY on a beach somewhere, forgetting all the drudgeries of our everyday lives, that we should be VIRTUALLY on a beach somewhere, forgetting all the drudgeries of our everyday lives. And I have to ask you: Where else but Tumblr? Where else but Tumblr can you feel like your brain is actually losing valuable cells taking a vacation? Nowhere, that’s where. So let’s take this end-of-week by the horns and enjoy the many Austenian joys of the Tumblr universe. Shall we?

May I refer you to:

The Jane Austen Tumblr tag: Unfiltered, uncurated. Like the real world, but with more .gifs.

The Other Austen: Still pretty amazing.

Jane Austen is for lolz: Ignore the name. There is greatness here.

Jane Austen Confessions: Post Secret stresses me out big time. This, not so much.

The Jane Austen Project: Pretty, fun. Yay.

Jane Austen Ryan Gosling: Obviously. Hey, girl.

 

Oh….you meant to be productive today? Sorry about that.

(P.S. Not sorry.)

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Come one, come all, to the Jane Austen Fight Club, where the very best from Jane’s world and the very best from everywhere else match wits and fists for all to see! The prizes: pride, honor, and the adoration of Jane fans everywhere, or a “The first rule of fight club is, we don’t talk about Mr. Darcy” t-shirt and possibly some Regency medical care for all your combat-induced wound-care needs!

Today’s contestants: Mr. William “Pride” Darcy, disastrous proposer and saver of family reputations, and Gilbert “Slatehead” Blythe, who knows now not to resort to name-calling. Both won over the high-spirited ladies of their dreams, but who gets the upper hand in this Clash of the Dreamboats?

In their corners:

Darcy’s handsome, wealthy, good-hearted, and determined (but not so determined that he won’t let it go…and then pi

ne heroically forever and ever).  He proposes awkwardly, but then saves the Bennets but doesn’t want them to know about it. He’s nice to his little sister, but calls Caroline Bingley out on whatever it is she’s doing. And we love him. LOVE HIM.

Gilbert’s handsome, not very wealthy, good-hearted, and determined. He saves Anne Shirley from drowning by Tennyson, gives up his job so she can have it, outwaits Roy Gardner (SIGH), then becomes a doctor and has lots of kids, and it’s wonderful, okay? WONDERFUL.

Handicaps:

Darcy is…how do we put this? Awkward. Rude at parties. Sometimes a giver of bad advice to his BFF. In fact, you kiiiind of can’t take him anywhere.

Gilbert, well, he did call the girl of his dreams Carrots. I guess he’s pretty full of himself as a kid, but he gets over it. Right?

Decision:

Um, are you asking me to make a DECISION? Have we met? AM I NOT HUMAN? DO I NOT HAVE A HEART, AND OVARIES?

Readers, help me out! Which literary unicorn of handsomeness wins this fight? Leave your explanations in the comments.

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Today, readers, is the big day: the end of the era of Emma! Should we all hug and cry and say we’ll see each other during summer? Shall someone play ”Free Bird” as our class song? I don’t want to make a speech. Someone else should do that. And then in four to six weeks, someone can mail us that all-important piece of paper, to declare that we all read this really long and cringe-inducing novel and came out the other side. Ready?

First, a few minor observations:

- You know, I WANT to be cool about Mr. Knightley and his crush on the junior-high set, because it was a different time and I don’t think Jane meant anything by it (though we’re certainly allowed to be scandalized by Wickham and fifteen-year-old Georgiana Darcy, over in that other universe), and we all know Mr. Knightley is nothing if not an obnoxiously upstanding citizen. But that “saucy looks” comment is totally not helping.

- I do, however, love Mr. Knightley’s comments about the inconvenience of giving a large musical instrument as a gift. Once, a college friend spontaneously gave my roommate and me a betta—Simon the Wonder Fish!—who was beautiful and a source of great joy for about six days, when he died, probably because we were keeping him in a plastic lychee-jelly bucket, which in retrospect was likely  full of BPA and other fish-murdering toxins. That was one dramatic fish funeral (in the bathroom, naturally). I feel like a pianoforte at a house that isn’t even your own is probably kind of like an unexpected pet that’s going to die in less than a week.

- And, okay, it makes me so happy that Mr. and Mrs. George Knightley live happily ever after in her home, or rather her father’s home—that Mr. Knightley gives up his estate for the good of goofy old Mr. Woodhouse. Because he is judgy, yes, but sweet! Which I suppose is the conclusion I’ve come to in general. Judgy, but sweet. I think I can live with that.

- As delightful as Paul Rudd is in Clueless—and everything else; let’s be real—I keep trying to insert him into a plain old Regency adaptation of Emma, and failing. I just don’t think he’s stern enough unless he’s talking Clinton-era environmentalism, you know?

Sooo, this is the end of Emma. And…what? We started this read-along primarily because Mrs. F couldn’t hang with Emma herself long enough to get through the book. I guess the question is: do we feel differently now, about her or about the novel?

I think I’m mostly relieved: not because Emma marries Mr. Knightley in the end, though I enjoyed the romance portion about a thousand times more than I remembered, but because she doesn’t stay who she was at the beginning of the novel. (This is my main complaint about Mansfield Park—Fanny Price never learns anything, so what, exactly, is the point?) I don’t know that I hate Early Emma as much as many of you, but can you imagine—nobody points out the horror of her comment to Miss Bates (or anything else), and Emma remains exactly who she is and continues leaving a wake of social and emotional havoc behind her, and maybe she never marries, or maybe she marries somebody like Frank Churchill, who thinks she’s always right. Hartfield and the surrounding area, and eventually Earth and the moon and the sun and the universe, are sucked into a black hole of her self-regard. And that’s the end. And all because Mr. Knightley failed to deliver that key lecture in that benevolently affronted tone of his!

Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that, but…kind of. In any case, Emma is the Austen heroine who most harms other people with her flaws—the rest simply hang themselves with their judginess/lack of self-control/overabundance of self-control/overabundance of imagination—which I think makes her redemption seem extra necessary. When she finally does change, the release of tension is palpable.

I still have my doubts about Frank and Jane Fairfax, but you all already know about that. I just don’t know, you guys.

So. Now that it’s over, how are you and Emma? Lay it on me.

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So am I right, or am I right, or am I right: this penultimate section is where Emma gets good.

Because: the strawberry patches of Donwell, and then Box Hill. Ohhhh, Box Hill. What I love about the climax (or whatever the bad version of “climax” is) of the novel is how very Emma it is—just a thoughtless remark, something true but unspeakable, aimed at someone so helpless that it’s like a hawk attacking a baby bird without realizing that it’s a terrible thing to do. Like, maybe it wouldn’t get EATEN so much if it would stop being such a BABY BIRD.

But after the carnage (and Mr. Knightley’s lecture; I don’t know WHAT kind of bird HE is, and maybe this simile is dying anyway) comes what I see as the greatest single moment of character growth for Emma in the whole novel. Of course the best recompense for Emma’s words is the one thing she never wants to give Miss Bates: her time, and therefore her respect. I love this—it’s not an elaborate apology, which would only embarrass Miss Bates further. Emma’s deliberate visit to the Bates house displays the kind of thoughtfulness she’s never been thoughtful enough to realize she was missing. It’s a nice moment, is what I’m saying.

(I forgot to say earlier that I love the part where Mrs. Elton is pleased to see the strawberry patches of Donwell, but would have been just as happy with the cabbage fields, because she really just wants to go somewhere. Anywhere! It gives me such comfort to know I’m not the only one who gets this way, even if it’s me and Mrs. Elton. Usually, it ends with my mom and a spontaneous ice cream cone. So that’s nice.)

And then scandal—scandal!—comes to the Bates-Fairfax home, and you guys, I have such conflicted thoughts about Frank Churchill. On one hand, I think he’s the least of the Austen scoundrels. Can we even call him a scoundrel? How about just a garden-variety tool? So he flirted with the ladies while he was secretly engaged to a nice girl. Because my previous memory of this book was practically nonexistent, I kept waiting for him to have defiled somebody and left her pregnant and alone. But no! He got cranky in the heat, kept his engagement on the DL (by mutual consent, though), and anonymously bought the lady a pianoforte. Gee, that guy’s the worst!

But then I also think: is this the ending we want for sweet, pretty-much-awesome Jane Fairfax? Jane the author presents Jane the character’s happy ending with Frank Churchill as…well, a happy ending. And I just keep thinking that, pianoforte aside, she could do better than that guy. Doesn’t Jane deserve someone noble, who has a good relationship with his mom and doesn’t use his undercover-taken status to hit on girls in front of his fiancee?

Maybe this is just Jane being realistic: the nice girl ends up with the guy who’s kind of a jerk without being actually THAT bad, and likes it. I guess that’s a thing that happens.

Aaaand then we waltz our way into the home stretch of romantic-comedy territory, and seriously, it’s so much fun. Emma loves Mr. Knightley, but oh no, maybe Harriet ALSO loves Mr. Knightley, and Emma’s really trying to stop screwing poor Harriet over, but maybe in this situation it would be worth it, and Harriet thinks MAYBE Emma might be wrong about something, but anyway it’s all okay because Mr. Knightley loves Emma too. And only since she was thirteen! So THAT’s a relief.

“…If he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he would have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.” IS THAT A JOKE ABOUT MR. KNIGHTLEY? (This is like that one time in Jane Eyre where there’s a joke, and it throws me off every time.) Not a natural comedian, and not really a graceful subject of humor, that George Knightley—he’s too busy being noble. But I guess in his moment of romantic bliss, Jane gets away with it.

What do you think, readers?

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Math in Pride and Prejudice!

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
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