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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Game Theory in JA: Another Interesting Scholarly Treatment of Same

By serendipity this morning, I was very surprised to stumble upon the following:

 "Whist, quadrilles, and social hierarchy: "Pride and Prejudice" as a game", a 2012 dissertation written by Sheri Gaches. Here is her abstract:

 "Jane Austen begins her novel P&P by informing readers that what they are about to read is a story about competition. Throughout the novel, Austen's audience becomes aware of the elements of competition in her work, such as a motif of card games, expression of a battle on the dance floor through the rules of nineteenth century dances, and the limiting factors within the rules of social order. Such plot in a novel opens the door for game theory application and analysis of characters, scenes, and plot. By using game theory as a focal point of competition, as well as for sociological, psychological, and historical analysis, readers gain a better understanding of Jane Austen's P&P and form an educated opinion of the storyline, the characters, and the game itself, specifically who wins and who loses."

 I took a quick skim through Gaches's dissertation, and a couple of passages leapt out at me.

The first is her description of Charlotte Lucas, which shows Gaches's awareness of Charlotte as a secret schemer:

 "Charlotte Lucas becomes a difficult character to place in a category. At first, Lucas appears to be a member of the cast of victims; however, she later presents herself as, in the game of Pool, a shark. "Sharks" in the game of Pool are players who deceive opponents, often convincing the other players they are easy prey. However, as soon as the game begins to progress, the shark reveals him or herself to be a professional con artist and wins, leaving their opponents in confusion and frustration. The eldest Miss Lucas is one such character. Charlotte's lot in life seems meek and without hope. She is not a romantic woman and seems to have no future. However, readers soon discover that she is a stealthy character, who catches them by surprise. According to Steven J. Brams' ideas of game theory, Miss Lucas exercises "deceptive strategy", hiding information from Elizabeth and the other characters in order to persuade them to move in a way that allows her plan to be achieved. Charlotte almost uses her minor character status as a wall to hide behind to sort out her game plan. Her readers only figure out what she is doing when she decides to reveal it. In game theory's concepts of rational decision-making, Charlotte rises as an ideal example. " END QUOTE

 Gaches was apparently unaware of how much her brief comments are in accord with Kim Damstra's brilliant, detailed, and pioneering 1999 analysis of Charlotte Lucas as secret schemer...

Women’s Writing, Volume 7, Number 2, 2000 "The Case against Charlotte Lucas"

 ...which, as I have previously pointed out, the well-known literary pundit John Sutherland (admittedly, but, he said, unconsciously) copied in the title chapter of his well known book Who Told Lady Catherine?.

My own latest thinking about Charlotte is that her scheming is benign, and actually....romantic:

The second passage in Gaches's dissertation that particularly caught my eye, was her final sentence:

"Peter Swirski says that literary game theory 'can model the reading process as a tacit game between the author and the reader'. The game may not be in the story after all; perhaps JA has readers in a game of which they are unaware."

My entire understanding of Jane Austen as an author is, in a sense, an expansion of Swirski's passing comment, and it is the area of game theory analysis that both Chwe and Gaches fail to address.

Otherwise, as between Chwe's book and Gaches's dissertation, not surprisingly, Chwe's is the better written and more cogent of the two, which makes perfect sense given that he is an experienced academic with a great deal of experience as a scholarly writer, whereas Gaches was, at time of writing, a young graduate student just getting started in the difficult field of scholarly writing.

Aside from the writing, overall, it appears that Michael Chwe's book is a much more comprehensive survey and analysis of game theory applied to the characters of all of JA's novels, whereas Gaches's dissertation is almost entirely focused on P&P. support of Gaches, I note with approval that her dissertation devotes a significant portion of its analysis to card games, dance, and other similar matters which Chwe gives very little attention to, treating them (if I have understood him correctly) as a distraction from the more significant game theory applications to JA's writing. I agree with Gaches and not Chwe on this important point, as I believe JA is constantly winking to her readers, via the frequent appearance of formulaic games, dances, charades, puzzles, etc., in the text, and hinting that her novels are themselves a very sophisticated and serious form of those very same games and other artificial metaphysical structures.

In short, I think that Chwe's book and Gaches's dissertation complement each other, each addressing a gap in the other, therefore it's worth reading both of them, as there is very little repetition between them.

Cheers, ARNIE
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