Tag Archives: interdisciplinary work

Interview: Dr. Judith Page and Dr. Elise Smith

Dr. Judith Page and Dr. Elise Smith’s article, “Writing a Book Together,” featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, documents their experience working on Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape: England’s Disciples of Flora, 1780-1870 across the disciplines and across several states. Page and Smith explain that from the beginning, they had two objectives: To bring together the disciplines of art history and English, and to find a topic that would yoke their “mutual love of gardening.” These two goals resulted in their brilliant argument, that “gardens provided women with a new language and authority to negotiate between domestic space and the larger world,” while it simultaneously “offered expanded possibilities that re-centered domesticity outward” (2).

Page and Smith’s friendship is partially rooted in gardening. In fact, one of Page’s first memories of their friendship is planting her first vegetable garden with Smith and her children. “Our children were also friends,” Page says. “They grew up together and thought of her as a second mother, so it made sense for us to want to do a book together.” In this way, Page and Smith’s book is more than a well-researched, fascinating study of women and gardens; it is a carefully constructed document between friends.

INTERVIEWER

How did you initially meet?

PAGE

We met each other as faculty members at a small liberal arts college, Millsaps College, where Elise still teaches. I taught for a long time until I moved to the University of Florida. I loved the kind of collaborations that can occur at a liberal arts college because you really are very connected to people in other departments […] We became good friends and realized that we shared a lot of interests. At first, we actually team taught together. […] We taught a couple classes on images of women in art and literature. We went from very early images through the twentieth century and mostly focused on European art.

SMITH

It was a big change for the two of us because although we already had a lot of teaching experience, at that point, it was always just us in our own classes, me, as an art historian, and her, as a literary historian. […] Thinking about women was the baseline for what brought us together from our various fields. Those courses were such fun to teach. I think it was marvelous for the students to have a way to see alternative perspectives, not just in what they read, but in seeing us with our different viewpoints there in the classroom. That really helped later when we came up with this idea of writing a book together. It was an important foundation for us in terms of thinking collaboratively.

INTERVIEWER

How was this project similar to or different from your other collaborative processes?

PAGE

I would say that the project is different from the collaborative project of teaching together because when you teach a course together, you have to sit down and shape the course and perhaps make changes as you go along. When you’re writing a book together, you really have to read the work, collaborate, change it, revise for each other, and we found that process worked really well. People joked with us and said, “You’re such close friends. Are you still friends after writing a book together?”

INTERVIEWER

How did you come up with your idea?

PAGE

I think it moved from that very early amorphous images of women to something that was much more specifically grounded in the garden and what we might be able to do with that […] I don’t remember what actually sparked the initial idea except our love for the garden and our interest in writing a feminist piece on the garden and our interest in women artists and writers, so it all just came together. […] This was after I had left Millsaps. I’ve been at the University of Florida for 13 years. We both had finished book projects. I had finished my book on Romanticism and Judaism and she had finished a book on the Victorian painter, Evelyn De Morgan, which was her first piece of work in the 19th century.

SMITH

One of the advantages of us not living in the same town anymore is that we’ve got a lot of emails that relate to the project. One dates back to August, 2003. I had written Judy an email at 1:16 in the morning. I started by saying that I had been trying to get to sleep and just wasn’t able to because my mind was full of thoughts about this book that we had begun to think about. Initially, we had been thinking very broadly and loosely about something relating to gardens and landscape issues in the 19th century.

In this middle of the night email that I sent to Judy, I was sort of moaning about this article that I was working on about Gainsborough […] and I said what was really getting me a lot more excited was the thought of working with her on 19th century women gardeners or rather women and gardens, since some of the women might not necessarily be gardeners themselves […] She responded that same night at 2:51 AM, which is kind of bizarre. And she said, “This is so strange because I’m sleepless in Gainesville and decided to get up with hot milk, dry cereal, and a computer check. I love the idea of focusing on women and gardens although we might find that pushing back in the 19th century could be interesting too.”

The time framing of the book—that may have been one of the hardest things for us to figure out, because, of course, there was only a certain amount that we could do. But, any time we got ourselves a tentative beginning and ending date, one of us would kind of stretch an elbow out and say “Oh, but you know, if we just go ten years further or ten years earlier, I could include such and such.” It really was not until late in the writing process that we finally settled on the framing device that we had.  I think it was, in part, some of the frustration that both of us felt at having to leave out some of the later 19th century stuff that got us going on our second project that we’re working on now.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us more about working between the disciplines? Within “Writing a Book Together,” you touch upon the clash of verb tenses and working together to achieve a seamless writing voice–a “we” rather than an “I”.  What were some of your other struggles or victories? How did you approach them?

PAGE

We found it a very congenial process and almost always took each other’s criticism and felt that it was right. We’re coming from different disciplines. Elise is a trained art historian. I’m trained, of course, in English. […] There really were some funny moments in sharing our work where we would see different conventions that would guide us. For instance, in my previous books that were not collaborations with Elise, I had illustrations, and some of the illustrations were what she might consider to be decorative. In other words, I did not engage the illustration in the text. Elise’s ground rule was if you have an illustration in the book, you have to engage with it in the text. Of all the 75+, or however many it turned out, nothing was just gratuitous. We talked about each one of them. There was a purpose for having them. That is something that I really had not thought about before. When I wrote my book about Wordsworth and women, I had illustrative illustrations […] and I didn’t necessarily engage them. […] Some of the pictures of the home places I did talk about, but I didn’t have such a strict guideline that I was working with. I liked it. It makes a lot of sense and it’s a good way to justify the illustrations to your publisher.

SMITH

I was also particularly concerned about being sure that we incorporated images in all of the chapters, not just in the chapters that I was working on, and that we incorporated them in what I thought was a substantive rather than a relatively cursory or merely illustrative way. I wanted significant analysis as much as possible to be done with all of the images, rather than just having them there as an illustration on the page.

PAGE

There was that issue, and another one, which I also think is a disciplinary difference that we had. I’ll give you an example: I am the primary author of the chapter on Dorothy Wordsworth. That chapter had even more in it when I first shared it with Elise that was very speculative about Dorothy Wordsworth and her relationship to her brother. Elise wanted evidence. […] On what grounds are you making this statement? What can you point to? What evidence is there? I took it out when it was purely speculative and I didn’t really have the evidence. I worked according to that and I think it was good for me. It certainly made our writing more compatible because she is devoted to really careful scholarship and all of her evidence and references are very precise. It was a good discipline for me to have that because I think that we, as literature scholars, perhaps tend to have more flights of fancy and things that we can’t absolutely justify [with hard evidence], but that we still think we’re right.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us more about your collaborative process?

PAGE

We were collaborating from the very beginning. As soon as we would write a chapter, we would share the chapter. We agreed from the outset that each of us would write four chapters. The book has eight chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion. One of us drafted the introduction—I did—and one of us drafted the conclusion. Then, we each revised them, so they were all truly collaborative.

I also think that our voice is pretty close. […] Maybe someone who analyzed the chapters with some kind of technological program could tell there are certain ticks or ways of writing that are distinctive, but I think we’re actually quite close in our writing styles and I think that it made for a greater harmony in terms of the voice.

SMITH

We assigned ourselves key chapters to draft up and then we would send that draft to the other person. I’d send my draft to Judy and would get all kinds of responses from her and vice versa. Often, something that I might have been working on, for example, related to images, I realized didn’t really fit in my chapter anymore but could easily fit into one of Judy’s chapters as additional visual material […] or a literary passage could really fit well into one of my chapters, so that worked well in the later stages of drafting.

PAGE

We were also both committed to the “we”. We were committed to writing the book together, so it was something that we accepted. I know at one point, Elise said, “I feel really funny using the word “we” in the chapter on Dorothy Wordsworth. It’s so clearly your chapter. You’re the Wordsworth scholar.” There were moments like that where we both chuckled a little, but even the chapters […] where one obviously wrote more of that chapter than the other, at the end of our process, we ended up taking some things out of one chapter and putting it in another with no regard for who wrote the chapter originally. I would say our process, if I had to have a metaphor for what it was like, was like making a quilt. We got the parts, we thought of the chapters, and then we pieced things together in them, so it’s quilt making, if you think of quilt making as an organic process.

INTERVIEWER

In your book, you mention collected specimens, exotic flowers, and how “the microscope suggested a hidden life rich with possibility and meaning” (58-9). If we consider female botanists collectors, can we compare them to famous male botanist and collector, James Banks? Could they be following his example, set in 1771, when he returned from Captain James Cook’s first voyage to South America with samples in tow?

PAGE

Some of the women that we wrote about, for example, Agnes Ibbetson, who is a very accomplished botanist, did have an interesting system of categorizing and collecting in that sense, but we didn’t find this grand design of women as collectors in the sense of Banks or some of those great collectors and adventurers. […] It’s almost a kind of gendered distinction. Male adventurers have a strong desire to conquer and collect and to bring it all back as a part of the empire and put it on display in Kew and other gardens in Britain.

We found less of that in women writers and artists. We found more of an interest in teaching that a lot of this knowledge goes into an educational function […] That educational interest that is very strong, so that you find women who have great knowledge of different parts of the botanical world. That knowledge takes the form of dialogues between mothers and children and various kinds of scenes of instruction in books, so that the botanical knowledge is often put toward that kind of advancement of intellect.

That said, I just read Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, The Signature of All Things, which was published a couple of months ago. The main character is a woman botanist who has an amazing collection of moss and becomes an incredible expert. I was fascinated by the portrayal of this character not just because she was a collector and wanted to get to the heart of it, but because of what she saw when she studied the moss really closely under the microscope. Gilbert’s character demonstrated this notion that we see in Chapter Two, this discovery of this interior world, an amazing world that was represented when you could actually see into the life of this species, this plant. I think there was this sense of wonder in the world. A lot of women botanists write about wonder, often putting it in a religious perspective too.

INTERVIEWER

Interesting! You discuss the garden as a liminal space of education and exploration, especially for girls before they become women. Did the garden have the same erotic connotations as other well known liminal spaces of education and exploration, such as boarding schools?

PAGE

We do indeed focus on the garden as a place of exploration and education, a place where women and girls can extend their sense of themselves. […] The garden for both men and women always has this erotic charge. It makes me think about the Garden of Eden and all of those kinds of metaphors that go with that. The book is not comprehensive and we didn’t talk a lot about that, but if I had added another chapter, […] I would’ve loved to talk about writers in that context—one of them is Austen. I did a paper for the Cambridge Companion to Pride and Prejudice that just came out last year on the landscapes and estates and gardens. One of the things I talk about there is not the garden narrowly defined as a garden per se, but certainly the outdoor space and the outdoor world in Austen’s novels is a place of freedom. It’s a place where many of the really important scenes and activities take place and discussions between characters that are highly charged and couldn’t take place in the drawing room. They take place out of doors.

Think about the moment in Emma, at the end of the book, where Emma is described as hurrying into the shrubbery. She’s overcome in that moment. She’s recognized that, “I’ve loved Mr. Knightley all along—Harriet can’t have him because I love him!” And she’s pacing the garden, the shrubbery. In that moment, Mr. Knightley appears. That moment can only take place out of doors. It’s highly erotic, and Austen handles it so beautifully.

SMITH

I think that you can particularly see erotic fears perhaps most prominently and ironically in children’s literature–this fear of the children escaping past the wall and the kind of punishment, the literal and metaphorical fall, that these children might have if they climb up on top of the wall. And, of course, the idea of the fall takes on so much resonance symbolically. That could be read as sexual metaphor. I have not made that explicit in the chapter that I wrote, but I think it’s a really neat way of thinking further about that work.

PAGE

We describe this in the beginning of the book that we use the term garden very fully and loosely and we take in botanical writings, landscape, and a whole range of ways that people can engage with the natural environment in the book.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us more about your next project?

PAGE

We decided that we loved writing this book together so much that we’re going to write one more book together. […] If critical books could have a sequel, I suppose it’s a sequel. […] What we found looking at the later 19th century is that if in this earlier period, we talked about the way that so many women writers and artists negotiate their relationship between the public and private, in the newer project, one of the things we talk about is an increasing professionalization of the way that women writers and artists talk about the garden, the garden as a potential profession. If women were amateur gardeners in the 19th century, and many of them did move into professional garden writing […] at the end of the 19th century, you have women thinking of themselves as professional writers, professional gardeners, and that there’s a kind of conjunction between women and the garden and women who worked in the city, New Women, if you will. The whole notion of the New Woman fits into this.

Some of the figures, for instance, that I’m interested in, begin to write important gardening histories. They see themselves as historians of what has taken place in the garden not only over the last century, but going back for many centuries. […] There are examples of women who have university educations and see themselves as historians of the garden. We’re going to look at some of those writers.

SMITH

Mostly, I’m working on the time between the very tail end of the 19th century through World War I. That’s where most of my stuff is leading right now. […] I’ve drafted a chapter on garden memoirs written by women who were gardeners themselves and were really thinking about how to create a space for themselves outside of the city. The city/country dichotomy is very important because many of these women travelled back and forth between their country retreat and the city. In fact, I’ll be giving a talk at the 19th Century Studies Association in Chicago in March, which is a conference centered on the city in the 19th century. I’ll be talking about these women in the country and the way in which they contrasted what they valued about their lives in the country, in their gardens, as opposed to what they saw as really problematic about the city, the noise, the dirt, and also the city as standing for some of the violence that they associated with the war torn years.

One of these garden memoirists wrote in defining this contrast between the city and the country, “Asphalt or turf? Pose or repose?” She was referring to the idea of the pose, the sort of artifice of the poseur life in London, as opposed to being able to let that all go when one is rooted in the countryside. That was a lot of fun for me to write. I hadn’t heard of a lot of the women before, but very few other people now have heard of them either. As an art historian, I’m finding myself pulled into text based writing and text based image making, because there is very little imagery involved as I dig into these memoirs and write about them. My other chapter, so far, is about an artist from the Bloomsbury group who knew Virginia Woolf. Her name is Dora Carrington. She was working in the 1910s and ‘20s before she committed suicide. She did a lot of paintings of the land around the three homes that she lived in. One was her childhood home and two were houses that she lived in with the Bloomsbury writer Lytton Strachey. I argue that these landscapes that she painted are really a way of attempting to make a psychological home base for herself because of the way she felt increasingly removed from friends and lovers, and even the actual homes themselves, which she didn’t own. […] She was afraid of being a hanger-on with Lytton Strachey. […] My next chapter will be on children’s stories and illustrations centered around Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden, but I will also look into other children’s books written by women that deal with children in the garden in some way, which will be an extension from the chapter that I wrote about children’s literature in the last book. I’m not sure what my fourth chapter will be. That is sort of giving you an indication of how Judy and I are feeling our way into what we might want to write about.

 PAGE

I’m very interested in figures like Beatrix Potter and Vita Sackville-West, women who saw themselves in terms of a kind of mission that they had to revitalize the English landscape. Beatrix Potter is an example of someone who is best known as a children’s author. She wrote the Peter Rabbit books that we all grew up on. However, after she wrote the Peter Rabbit books and settled in the Lake District, she became a conservationist and someone who dedicated her life to the restoration of the countryside. […] Sackville-West wrote books where the garden features very importantly, but she also developed and designed with her husband and then worked in one of the most important gardens of the 20th century, Sissinghurst, which is still regarded as one of the great gardens in England. I’ll be looking at what the relationship between her life as an actual gardener and what she wrote about her gardening life. In this project, we’re also going to be very interested in looking at the effect of the First World War, but we’re going to take it through the Second World War and the effect of the war on the sense of the landscape, the place of the garden in the landscape, and women’s relationship to it in particular. One of the things that developed during the First World War is the Women’s Land Army, and women increasingly took the place of men as workers on the land as men were drafted into the army. Many of those women became committed to those skills and to that life, even after the war. Looking at those kinds of changes in how women contributed to the land and the landscape during the war years is something that we’re going to be very interested in.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any advice for scholars interested in collaborative work?

PAGE

I would say that productive collaborations arise from shared interests and passions, and when each contributor brings a different knowledge or disciplinary perspective to the mix. Once you get going on the collaboration, think of it like other relationships that always require give and take—and compromise.

SMITH

I think my main advice would be that you have to give up turf possession. That’s a good metaphor to use when we’re talking about gardening. You have to give up the sense of, “Oh, I’m an art historian, and thus what I write has to be situated in art history.” I learned long ago by coming to Millsaps and being the only art historian here for many years, to give up turf ownership of any particular period in art history because I teach from ancient all the way up to contemporary. […] Now, by working with Judy collaboratively, I’ve had to broaden out beyond being just an art historian to being a thinker about the world, open to all kinds of questions, and then following those questions to whatever kind of evidence might come to bear on those questions. I think about texts as well as images. That advice is important advice for any scholar in whatever field, whatever they’re doing – go where the questions lead you.

 

 

 

 

Interview: Dr. Michael Chwe

Emma Woodhouse reflects upon notions of truth and strategy, stating, “Seldom, very seldom does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.” Famous for being the only one of Jane Austen’s heroines who “no one but [herself] will much like,” Emma reveals a dangerous fact that we all know instinctively: the complete truth rarely exists without some sort of agenda.

But, sometimes, an interpretation of Austen’s agenda is inspired by complete coincidence. Dr. Michael Chwe explains that finding the children’s book Flossie and the Fox at a garage sale was the beginning of his project, titled Jane Austen, Game Theorist.  Much has been said about our Austen in the past several years—we’ve asked questions about her sexuality, questions regarding her censored letters, and questions about her publication history, but we’ve never considered her a game theorist until now.

Chwe’s book Jane Austen, Game Theorist supports Emma’s assertion, and argues that “Jane Austen systematically explored the core ideas of game theory in her six novels, roughly two hundred years ago” (1). Chwe looks at how Austen’s characters negotiate the main principles of game theory: choice (a character does something because they want to do that action), strategic thinking (a character does something based upon how they think others will perceive and respond to it), and preferences (a character does something because they prefer it over another option). The result is an interesting, interdisciplinary analysis of Jane Austen and her work.

INTERVIEWER

You mention in the preface of your book that this project started when you found Flossie and the Fox at a garage sale for your children. You used this experience and paired it with all the years you spent teaching and reading folktales and Austen to create Jane Austen, Game Theorist. Can you tell us more about how you came up with your idea and how it changed over time?

CHWE

The original title of the book was called Folk Game Theory, which revolved around the idea of people who use game theory who are not traditional game theorists. The examples were folk tales, and I actually had a whole chapter on Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, the musical. But, most of it was Austen.  Seventy, eighty percent was Austen. So, one of the [manuscript] reviewers said, “You should just say that this is about Austen.” It was a good choice. The original idea was to say that this book is many instances of people who are developing game theory, not necessarily in a theoretical way, but through narratives […] In my teaching, I use examples from movies and other things to show students, so I’m always on the lookout for more examples […] I got interested in Austen after I saw the movie Clueless. Then, I started watching Austen movies. And then, I started reading her books. That’s how the whole Austen thing came about.

INTERVIEWER

That’s incredible. So, Clueless was your gateway into Austen.

CHWE

It was indeed. Yeah, I never read Austen in college or in high school […] In college, I never took a literature class, so I didn’t read Austen until I was like forty. I’m glad because if I had read Austen in my twenties, I wouldn’t have understood a lot of it, to be honest.

 INTERVIEWER

Was Emma the first of Austen’s novels that you read?

 CHWE

I originally thought the book [Jane Austen, Game Theorist] would talk about Emma as just one case because it is so clear that Emma is about manipulation and meddling […] I thought I’d focus this book on Emma, but then I wanted to read the other books and see what I could say about them […] I think that if Austen had written twenty or thirty books, I wouldn’t have been able to read all of her books, but because she only had six, I thought I’d just go ahead and do it.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a favorite Austen novel?

CHWE

No, I really like them all.  Pride and Prejudice is a little shallow to me in the sense that most of her characters are fully formed at the start. To me, Mansfield Park is better because it’s about the development of a human being. People change more. Persuasion, I also like a lot. So, those are my favorites, but, of course, I like them all.

INTERVIEWER

In terms of your book, what was the publication process like?

CHWE

I was lucky in that I had already published a book with Princeton […] back in 2001.  So when the time came around to think about writing a book again, I sent it to Princeton. I also sent it to Oxford University Press. Neither place had problems with the idea being a little bit non-standard, but it was hard to find reviewers on the literature side […] Everyone talks about how important it is to do interdisciplinary work, but it is harder in a sense because people have a harder time judging it.

 INTERVIEWER

What do you make of EverJane, the online role-playing game based upon Jane Austen novels? Have you played it? What might it say in terms of your argument?

CHWE

I haven’t played it, but I think that it’s a great idea and that it has potential. I saw the Kickstarter page. I think, potentially, it is a great way for people to get into Austen and I think Austen’s world view is very much about the decisions you make to get ahead and how important a single decision can be. I think that Austen’s literary worlds are worlds where […] you think about yourself in terms of decisions. Other people’s worlds might think in terms of visuals or characters or history, but when you think about Austen’s worlds, it’s about […] what would you do? What would you think about? What connections would you make?

INTERVIEWER

What I’m wondering right now is do you see EverJane as a physical representation of your argument? Or, I guess, a virtual representation?

CHWE

I haven’t worked with the game, but maybe. I’m not sure how they structured the game […] I think because Austen emphasizes decision making so much, maybe her novels are most suited for this kind of thing…For example, if I made a game out of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, I’m not sure what that game would look like.  So, some novels don’t necessarily lend themselves, but I think Austen’s do.

INTERVIEWER

I understand your argument as an interpretation of Austen, herself, as a game theorist, as well as the notion that she portrays her female characters as game theorists—that is, Austen extends her own strategic thinking to her characters, which is demonstrated through their culminated marriages. How might readers navigate your argument if we don’t view Austen’s novels as strictly heteronormative? How might Austen’s game theory change?

CHWE

I don’t see Austen’s novels as all that heteronormative. There’s a whole thing with Henry Tilney […] [and] gender roles. There’s the discussion with Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, where he says that women have so much talent that they don’t need to use more than half…I think its representative of the questions: Are women better at strategic thinking than men? What are the social determinants of that?

When Henry Tilney buys the muslin for his sister, that’s like him being in drag or being gay or bisexual…But back to marriage—I’d say that you can think of [game theory] more in terms of social advancement. I think that Austen is trying to be general and is saying: this is how you can understand human behavior […] Marriage is just one of those possible objectives, so [game theory] doesn’t hinge on the idea that marriage is the final goal. For example, in Northanger Abbey, if you think of Henry Tilney as not as stereotypically masculine as other characters, maybe he could have been in touch with his feminine side. He’s one of the better strategic actors in the novels. He doesn’t make huge mistakes like Mr. Darcy does. I think Henry Tilney, more than any other male character, explicitly says things about strategic thinking. He talks to Catherine Morland and says,  “When you think about other people’s motivations, you think about them in terms of what you yourself would do, as opposed to what a person of their age or their status would do.” That’s a very clear explication of the problem of strategic thinking. We always tend to think of people in terms of ourselves. We’re not necessarily good at putting ourselves in the mindset of others. Henry Tilney says that. He has a definite feminine side. He’s not as stereotypically masculine as some of the other male heroes […] I don’t think [Austen] takes heterosexuality as necessarily as a given.

INTERVIEWER

So, the game theory wouldn’t necessarily change at all, even if marriage wasn’t the end goal.

CHWE

No, not at all.   Austen thinks getting married is important to their world, but she doesn’t necessarily see [marriage] as a sacred life goal. Her interest is more about the process. She’s not interested in what happens to people once they’re married […] She’s interested in how people get to that goal.

INTERVIEWER

You argue that Austen, herself, was a game theorist. How might considering Austen’s own strategic thinking complicate traditional ways of viewing her work as domestic narratives?

CHWE

I’ve never myself been concerned with the critique that just because she talks about five or six people […] that somehow her work is not significant. All game theorists and a lot of social scientists realize that you can explore interactions amongst a handful of people. Those can have applications to a very large group of events. When I teach game theory, the most interesting parables are those between two people and then you generalize them. A parable or story about people deciding whether to cooperate or fight each other over painting a fence […] can be a parable for international relations or war. The very fact that Austen doesn’t talk about historical things or a huge world event has nothing to do with whether her ideas are applicable or generalizable. Any social scientist would say that.  There’s no reason to think that just because it’s a domestic narrative that the insights there may not apply to lots of other things. I think that we shouldn’t think necessarily of a narrative or novel in terms of its subject matter but in terms of its vision for how people interact with each other. Those insights can apply to many different cases.

It’s like slave folktales. Slave folk tales are tales about animals, but they’re not about animal behavior. They’re used to talk about uprisings or strategic techniques that slaves can use against their masters […] They tell narratives about rabbits and foxes—it’s obvious that these slave folk tales are about, in terms of their subject matter, animals. But what’s relevant about these specific strategies is that they express techniques that these animals use against each other.

INTERVIEWER

Interesting! How does game theory apply to scholars in Romanticism? How might game theory be used to enhance literary criticism, appreciation, or cultural study?

CHWE

I think that the obvious thing is to use game theory to illustrate aspects of novels. Game theory might come from a situation like a prisoner’s dilemma—these are situations where people can gain if they all cooperate, but no individual person wants to cooperate–so [scholars in romanticism] might say, “In this novel, I’ve found an example of a prisoner’s dilemma and this is how they solved it.” You could do that. With Austen, I did something a little bit different, which is to say that we’re not using game theory to understand her work, but rather, we’re trying to understand her as a game theorist herself. This won’t be the case for every single author. Some authors may be more interested in emotions or social context or irrationality or self-perception or delusion […] If you’re aware of how people in the social sciences try to make explanations for things, you can maybe use them to understand how certain authors seem to be expressing theories of human behavior. It might be another way of analyzing their work.

For example, since I was working with game theory, I was really monomaniacally thinking in terms of choices and in terms of purposeful action […] so I was really sensitive to those issues. […] People who are interested in psychology or how we constitute the self can also take that to literature. Some people have taken that to Austen.

It can’t hurt to be aware of certain [social science] ideas and where they come from […] If you’re sensitive to these things, then you might find another avenue for reading other people’s work and understanding their objectives […] In Austen’s time, there wasn’t anything called social science or a systematic discipline for understanding human behavior. If you were interested in human behavior and wanted to analyze it, probably, you ended up going to the novel. That’s what you did back then. If we think of understanding human behavior, we shouldn’t think of this as a specialized thing—it’s something that we all do. It’s not surprising that if you’re a novelist or a writer and thus you have to think about human behavior, part of you develops some sort of theory about it.