Archive: January 8th, 2009

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

[Readings] (01.08.09, 10:17 am)

These notes are adapted from something I wrote earlier, but had not yet moved to the new bibliography system. I am still regularly turning over ideas, so much of what I am writing is only a partial view of my larger set of notes. I do have a very large set of notes, and will be posting those soon. I am posting this now because I want to have a completed entry for P&P in the bibliography.


Pride and Prejudice, as a narrative, is about the extended courtship between Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth is the second daughter of a well to do (but not wealthy) country family and Darcy is the son of a very wealthy and well established family. The Bennett family has five daughters and its household is entailed, meaning that it must pass to a male heir. Given this, the family is in a very dangerous predicament because the estate will be taken away when Mr. Bennett dies. At the same time, the daughters of the family are an unruly bunch, with the senior two daughters insisting on marrying for love, and the younger daughters being wild and not very well behaved.

Darcy first appears with his friend Mr. Bingley who has bought a house near where the Bennett family lives. Bingley appears to be a very charming and congenial member of the aristocracy, but Darcy comes across to all who meet him as arrogant, aloof, and haughty, looking down on those around him. Similarly, the Bennetts come to pick up this negative impression as well.

To condense matters a bit: Eventually Darcy comes to realize that he was incorrect in his initial judgement of Elizabeth Bennett, and he comes to appreciate her charm and intellect. Elizabeth simultaneously comes to realize that she was rash in her initial dislike of Darcy. The two spar, but later on reunite after Darcy has done much to restore the compassion of his character.

On the surface, much of the play in Pride and Prejudice is about class, and it is true that class is the spur and the staging ground for many of the conflicts and impressions that span the novel. However, the book is much more importantly about pride, forming impressions, and then re-evaluating those impressions. There is focus on changing of character, but the strongest weight is on understanding and judging other characters.

To explore Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of simulation, it would be important to put a lot of value on the subject of impression forming and managing attitudes and complex relationships between characters. To be a participant in Jane Austen’s world, a player must be able to pay attention to how she appears and comes off in the setting, and also be able to form and voice her impressions of other characters.

Literary Style

For a faithful adaptation, it would be important to echo Jane Austen’s literary style. It may not be possible to reflect it entirely, but it would be important for it to come through and be noticeable in some explicit way.

Most notably, Austen has a distinguishable style that uses free indirect speech, where she periodically exposes an internal look into characters thoughts amidst third person description. Every so often, Austen will give a little bit of extra information illuminating for the reader what is taking place inside a character’s head, noting changing opinions, justifications for some actions, and attitudes that are only partially divulged by the character’s actions. These glimpses are not given to only one character, but many, allowing the reader a privileged position to understand the events playing out in the novel.

To adapt the introspective style to a simulation, it may be worthwhile to represent certain events that might be taking place inside of a characters mind or state, and make these visible to the user via icons. One thought would be thought bubbles, but this may provide too deep an insight, given that the player is participating as a character. Another thought would be to produce icons reflecting good or bad opinions, moods, etcetera, as is often done in The Sims.

Austen also has another habit of eliding over many events very quickly. Some conversations will be described abstractly, others will be rendered in dialogue. Sometimes complex and significant events (at least ones complex to do via simulation) will be described briefly, and then the reader will have the chance to get some detail on an interaction. The effect of these is that the reader is positioned like an unnoticed guest or a ghost in the story, occasionally getting distant, long perspective views of the events playing out, and occasionally getting very intimate and close perspectives on the characters. This quality makes the book very hard to adapt to any other narrative medium, and the BBC series often makes some conversations explicit that were glossed over in the text itself.

The occasional omission of explicit dialogue from description, even though dialogue is clearly taking place, is reflective of the fact that speech acts are intended for a purpose, rather than just means of information transition. Given that Austen manages to omit some dialogue in her characters’ interactions in lieu of more abstract symbolic description, a procedural adaptation would not be inaccurate if it used symbolic language in place of some conversational interactions.

Simulation Domain

To describe the simulation domain is to answer the question of what is managed by a simulation of this story setting. That, in turn, provokes a great many other questions: What sorts of characters can players be? What sorts of interactions do characters have? What is important within the world? What states and characteristics do characters have? What conventions and tropes are in the source domain, and how are they carried over?


To be a player within a game world requires being in that world. The player must be a participant and a character in the world like any other character. As such, the player must interact like any other character. In this sense, interaction means both in terms of appearing to others, and in terms of actively performing actions. Within Pride and Prejudice the book, only a little attention is given to given to dress, some is paid to appearance, but most is in terms of manner. A player must be able to control the manner of their character. In terms of action, attention is paid to nearness, gaze, games (especially card games), but most action is dialogue.


Conversation is very important within literary worlds, and it has been a perpetual bane of AI projects since the earliest days of computation. Nonetheless, many conventions have been developed around simplifying conversation so that it works effectively (examples: Sims, Indigo Prophecy, Mass Effect). I think with these in mind, it will be possible to come up with a conversation system that is effective but not too severe.

Conversation is notable in that it is a real time phenomenon. It is highly referential, very loose in structure, transitioning between topics and ideas, and overall very volatile. At the same time, it is a natural pehenomenon. As humans we can easily recognize when something is a conversation as opposed to something that is not. To accomodate this, I pose that this simulation requires a real time conversation mechanic. Furthermore, it should be context dependent, and constructed via a symbolic interface (as opposed to free text). It should be possible to state a large number of things, and it should be restricted so that most of the things it is possible for a player to say be things that might make some sense in the situation.

Conversation speech acts should be built interactively, and be strongly aided in their construction. Essentially, topics that might be relevant for a character’s current situation or might be pertinent to things that the character has been thinking about should appear readily accessible, while more off-topic and tangential speech choices would be harder to access.

Defining character by conversation: Characters should be able to have voices, manners of speech, and particular habits and ways of speaking. A number of these should be accessible to the player. If the player chooses a character to play who has a well established personality and manner, then the types of conversation styles (as well as topics) should be prioritized when the user goes to select them. However, with a more neutrally defined character, it should be possible to choose options that will help define that character’s manner and personality.

Conversation in Pride and Prejudice is fairly complex, with a great many topics and means of going about approaching them. However, it should be possible for many of these to be representable by the conversation system.

Character Actions

While most all of the substance of interaction between characters occurs via dialogue, there are still many more activities that the characters do while speaking. The social caste to which the characters in Pride and Prejudice belong is slightly (and more than slightly) aristocratic, and spends a great deal of time in leisure activities. Characters read, play cards, write letters, play music (one character plays piano, and another might sing), they dance, play outdoor games (which the females ususally do not get involved in), have coffee, tea, breakfast, or dinner, and go for walks in the countryside. Generally, these activities are the locus for certain types of conversations. But the types of activities pursued are telling on the nature of the performing characters.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorAusten, Jane
TitlePride and Prejudice
Tagsspecials, media traditions, fiction, settings
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon