Austen · NovElla

Jane Austen, Game Theorist

Two of the most interesting classes I took in college were Game Theory and The Fiction and Films of Jane Austen. When I saw them both combined in Jane Austen, Game Theorist by Michael Chwe, I knew I had to read it.

Game Theorist

As Chwe writes, “strategic thinking is the field of study of the ‘imaginist,’ whose academic specialty is no less important than the traditional fields of linguistics, grammar, and mathematics. ‘Imaginist,’ coined by Austen, is possibly the first specialized term for game theorist.” Austen uses the expression when Emma is plotting one of her matrimonial schemes for Harriet Smith.

Many Austen related texts focus primarily on Pride and Prejudice. In contrast, Jane Austen, Game Theorist gives a refreshing change of pace. Many of Austen’s completed works are mentioned, with Mansfield Park taking center stage. The book covers many scenarios, such as when Fanny Price gives her younger sister a shiny, silver knife. I was delighted to view Austen’s novels through the lens of game theory, and found Chwe’s analysis intriguing.

I highly recommend Jane Austen, Game Theorist to fans of Austen and game theory alike. Here’s a video trailer, followed by a short blurb of the book, both from the website, to give you an idea of the topic:



“Game theory–the study of how people make choices while interacting with others–is one of the most popular technical approaches in social science today. But as Michael Chwe reveals in his insightful new book, Jane Austen explored game theory’s core ideas in her six novels roughly two hundred years ago. Jane Austen, Game Theorist shows how this beloved writer theorized choice and preferences, prized strategic thinking, argued that jointly strategizing with a partner is the surest foundation for intimacy, and analyzed why superiors are often strategically clueless about inferiors…

Although game theory’s mathematical development began in the Cold War 1950s, Chwe finds that game theory has earlier subversive historical roots in Austen’s novels and in “folk game theory” traditions, including African American folktales. Chwe … considers how Austen in particular analyzed “cluelessness”–the conspicuous absence of strategic thinking–and how her sharp observations apply to a variety of situations…

Jane Austen, Game Theorist brings together the study of literature and social science in an original and surprising way.”



2 thoughts on “Jane Austen, Game Theorist

  1. Fascinating! I think I need to read that book. I studied a little about game theory in college because it’s an important area of animal behavior, which is my research interest. And I am so jealous that you got to take a whole class on Austen!

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