Thinking with Games in the British Novel, 1801-1901
My dissertation explores how nineteenth-century novelists imagined rational thinking as a cognitive resource distributed through physical, social, national, and even imperial channels. Scholars studying nineteenth-century discourses of mind frequently position rational thinking as the normalized given against those unconscious and irrational modes of thought most indicative of the period's scientific discoveries. My project argues, in contrast, that writers were just as invested in exploring rational thinking as multivalent procedure, a versatile category of mental activity that could be layered into novelistic representations of thinking by "thinking with games": that is, incorporating forms of thinking as discussed by popular print media. By reading novels alongside historical gaming practices and gaming literatures and incorporating the insights of twenty-first century cognitive theory, I demonstrate that novelists Maria Edgeworth, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, and Rudyard Kipling experimented with models of gaming to make rational thinking less abstract and reveal its action across bodies, objects, and communities. If Victorian mind-sciences uncovered "thinking fast," games prioritized "thinking slow," a distinction described by psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2013). Scenes of games often slow thinking down, allowing the author to expose the complex processes of rational, cognitive performance. Furthermore, such scenes register the expanded perspective of recent cognitive literary studies such as those by Alan Palmer and Lisa Zunshine, which understand thinking, at least in part, as externalized and social. In effect, by reading scenes of thinking along the lines proposed by strategic gaming, I demonstrate how novels imagined social possibilities for internal processing that extend beyond the bounds of any individual's consciousness. Of course, games easily serve as literary tropes or metaphors; but analyzing scenes of gaming alongside games literature underscores how authors incorporated frameworks of teachable, social thinking from gaming into their representations of rational consciousness. For strategy games literature, better play required learning how to read the minds of other players, how to turn their thinking inside out. The nineteenth-century novel's relationship to games is best understood, I suggest, within the landscape of popular games literature published at its side - sometimes literally. An article on "Whistology" appears just after an installment of The Woman in White in Dickens's All the Year Round; the Cornhill Magazine published a paean to "Chess" amid the serialization of George Eliot's Romola. As a genre, strategy manuals developed new techniques for exercising the cognitive abilities of their readers and, often along parallel lines, so do the novels I discuss. Prompting the reader to think like a game player often involved recreating the kinds of dynamic, active thinking taught by games literature through the novel's form. My dissertation explores how authors used such forms to train their readers in habits of memory, deduction, and foresight encouraged by strategy gaming.