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Monday, April 29, 2013

Jane Austen – my theory

by Natacha Dudley


Michael Chwe, is an associate professor of political science at the University of California.  It was while watching  “Clueless,” the 1995 film based on Jane Austen’s “Emma” that he first realised that the film was all about manipulation. On April 22nd, Princeton University Press published his paper “Jane Austen, Game Theorist,” In it he states “Anyone interested in human behavior should read Austen because her research program has results.”  He argues that Jane Austen should be regarded as the unacknowledged founder of the science of Game Theory. Whilst I understand that Austen was indeed a shrewd observer of the social lives of the landed gentry, to describe her creative output as merely a research program is surely to miss the point of her appeal as an author.

To my mind, Jane Austen’s enduring popularity lies ultimately not in research or strategy, but in her ability to create strong characters. Take “Pride and Prejudice” for example. It regularly features in lists of favourite books, Top 100 books ever written, etc. etc. A significant part of that success is due to its feisty protagonist- Elizabeth Bennett. She is a young woman who is not only independent but also attractive. Like another strong female character I encountered in my youth- Jo March (Little Women) Lizzie Bennett is a rebel. She rejects her parents’ plans for her to marry Mr Collins and pursues her own path.

Of course, I could not discuss Elizabeth Bennett without mentioning her strong male counterpart -Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Initially portrayed as an arrogant figure, by the end of the story he has managed to see beyond her social class and love Elizabeth Bennett as a person. The protagonists’ interaction and compelling journey towards self -awareness is the beating heart of the novel.

Two hundred years after it was first published, Pride and Prejudice continues to inspire other authors. It has been used as the starting point for a zombie parody-“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Graham-Smith and a murder mystery- PD James “Death comes to Pemberley”. This is all due to Austen’s magnificent characters not clinical research. Well that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

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