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,
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.
But.....in 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.
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
2 weeks ago