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Palgrave Macmillan

Graphing Jane Austen

The Evolutionary Basis of Literary Meaning

ISBN 9781137002419
Publication Date April 2012
Formats Ebook (PDF) Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Series Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance

Building on findings in the evolutionary human sciences, we constructed a model of human nature and used it to illuminate the evolved psychology that shapes the organization of characters in nineteenth-century British novels (Austen to Forster). Hundreds of readers gave numerical ratings to the attributes of hundreds of characters and also rated their own emotional responses to the characters. We draw conclusions about the determinacy of literary meaning, interactions between gender and the ethos of community, and the adaptive function of morally polarized characterization. The broad patterns in the novels provide a framework for two case studies: the novels of Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Joseph Carroll is the Curators' Professor of English at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

Jonathan Gottschall teaches English at Washington and Jefferson College.

John A. Johnson is a professor of psychology at the Pennsylvania State University, DuBois.

Daniel J. Kruger is an assistant research professor at the University of Michigan.

A User's Manual
Agonistic Structure Differentiated by Sex
Determinate Meanings
Sexual Politics
Adaptive Function
Jane Austen, by the Numbers
Indifferent Tragedy in The Mayor of Casterbridge


"Graphing Jane Austen shines a spotlight that not only would make C. P. Snow proud but also helps better understand our culture's relationship with constructs like personality, gender, and introversion." - Brainpickings
"In merging literary and evolutionary approaches, this book is certain to bring delight to an evolutionary audience and a combination of interest and consternation to the literary contingent. This is wholly appropriate for a fascinating pioneering work." - Christopher Boehm, Director, The Goodall Research Center, University of Southern California
"[The authors] bring three vital ingredients to this study of nineteenth-century English novels: a love of the novels, a modern understanding of human evolutionary biology, and facility with modern methods of data analysis. The result is a stunning synthesis; many dream of some reconciliation between the sciences and the humanities. [This book] has actually stepped in and started us down that road." - Henry Harpending, professor of Anthropology, University of Utah
'Once every century or so, a paradigm shift erupts in how we perceive literature. Graphing Jane Austen is this century's revolution. It is a masterpiece of creative, synthesizing science that lays the groundwork for an entirely new way of looking at and understanding literature. - Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering, Oakland University and author of Cold-Blooded Kindness and Evil Genes
'This is a strikingly original book, full of surprising insights into human nature and the way novels work.' – R. Headlam-Wells, Professor Emeritus, Roehampton University London
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