I’m so old that I can remember when Jane Austen was looked upon as a dusty classic author, whose best-known novel, Pride and Prejudice, was deemed appropriately penitential reading for 12th grade English.
Jane Austen’s virtuous, but critically intelligent young ladies have subsequently proven to represent flattering enough portraits of female-kind to appeal intensely to the modern liberated woman, and Austen’s novels in recent decades made a somewhat startling leap from the worthy-but-neglected category of high brow literature to a comfortable position in popular culture.
The latest incarnation of Pride and Prejudice, amusingly enough, I think, is as a 9-and-a-half hour. on-line, modernized adaptation.
No chainsaw, no BFG, you have to destroy your adversary with gossip! It was inevitable. An experienced (female) professional game designer is trying to Kickstart a Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Game set in the world of Jane Austen.
Will you get points, I wonder, if you successfully seduce (and ruin) one of the flightier young ladies? What if you (nefarious laugh) nail one of the very smart and principled ones?
Suggested caption: You have seduced, ruined, and abandoned Elizabeth Bennett. You become a member of the Hellfire Club, are awarded a cameo appearance in Pierce Egan’s Life in London, and are chosen by the Tory Party to represent Old Sarum in the House of Commons. You manage to evade a challenge to duel from FitzWilliam Darcy, and die (hiding from your creditors) in Calais at a great old age. Miss Bennett is obliged to leave respectable society, but becomes wealthy by becoming mistress to the Prince Regent.
The latest wrinkle in the contemporary Jane Austen boom is described at Science Blog:
Austenâ€™s novels are game theory textbooks,â€ Michael Suk-Young Chwe writes in â€œJane Austen, Game Theorist,â€ which Princeton University Press published April 21. â€œSheâ€™s trying to get readers to use their higher thinking skills and to think strategically.â€
At its most basic level, game theory assesses all the choices available to two (or more) people in a given situation and assigns a numerical value to the benefit each person reaps from each choice. Often, the choice that is most valuable to one player comes at the expense of the other; hence, game theoryâ€™s best-known phrase â€” â€œzero-sum game.â€ But just as frequently, there is a choice with unexpected benefits for both players.
â€œIn game theory, you make choices by anticipating the payoffs for others,â€ Chwe explains.
Chwe argues that Austen explores this concept in all six of her novels, albeit with a different vocabulary than the one used by Nash, von Neumann and other game theory greats some 150 years later. In Austenâ€™s romantic fiction, this type of strategic thinking is described as â€œpenetration,â€ â€œforesightâ€ or â€œa good scheme.â€
In â€œPride and Prejudice,â€ for instance, Mrs. Bennet, a mother eager to marry off her five daughters, sends her oldest, Jane, on horseback to a neighboring estate, even though sheâ€™s aware a storm is on the way. â€œMrs. Bennet knows full well that because of the rain, Janeâ€™s hosts will invite her to spend the night, thus maximizing face time with the eligible bachelor there, Charles Bingley, whom Jane eventually marries,â€ Chwe said.
In â€œPersuasion,â€ the unmarried heroine, Anne Elliot, is approached by Sophia Croft, the sister of a man whose marriage proposal Anne spurned eight years earlier â€” a decision she still bitterly regrets. Mrs. Croft casually asks Anne whether sheâ€™s heard that her brother has married. Anne flinches, thinking the reference is to her former beau, Captain Frederick Wentworth, but relaxes upon learning that Mrs. Croft is actually referring to their younger brother, Edward.
â€œItâ€™s hard to imagine a better way for Mrs. Croft to gauge Anneâ€™s visceral interest in her unmarried brother,â€ said Chwe, a UCLA associate professor of political science (whose last name is pronounced like â€œchessâ€ without the â€œssâ€). The rest of the novel involves schemes to give Captain Wentworth so many signals of Anneâ€™s enduring love that he finds the courage to propose to her again.
The ring, which featured a large oval turquoise gemstone, was sold alongside a handwritten letter by her sister-in-law Eleanor Austen bequeathing the rare jewel to her niece Caroline.
The note, dated 1863, confirms the item belonged to the 19th-century British author.
“My dear Caroline,” Eleanor wrote. “The enclosed ring once belonged to your Aunt Jane. It was given to me by your Aunt Cassandra as soon as she knew that I was engaged to your uncle. I bequeath it to you. God bless you!”
The rare piece is the latest in a series of the writer’s pieces to be sold at auction.
Last year, a handwritten draft of an unpublished Jane Austen book was sold for just over Â£1 million. It was said to be the earliest surviving manuscript of the author’s work.
The sale of Miss Austen’s jewellery at more than five times its estimate yesterday appeared to demonstrate that fascination with the Pride and Prejudice writer has yet to wane.
After a tense battle between eight bidders, the item was eventually sold at Â£152,450 to an anonymous private collector over the phone.
“Jane Austen’s simple and modest ring is a wonderfully intimate and evocative possession,” said Dr Gabriel Heaton, a manuscript specialist at Sotheby’s auction house.