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Recommended Resource

The Card Games of Jane Austen

by Beverly S. Krueger

When reading a Jane Austen novel or watching the film version of a classic novel, it’s often fun to imagine what it would be like to live as the characters in the novel do. In particular, the lives of the gentry seem excruciatingly boring, especially if, unlike the reader, you were not allowed to pass over the long periods of monotony. Putting yourself in their shoes, you wonder how they managed to spend hours doing essentially nothing. What did they do to pass the time? Well, the novels themselves give a clue. They read. They gossiped. The women did needlework. The men hunted. They went on walks. They wrote letters. They also played games like Whist or Piquet.

In many respects, a day of leisure in an Austen novel resembles the Thanksgiving celebrations I remember growing up as a child. My extended family always gathered and spent the day eating, talking, and when the meal was past and everything cleared away, the adults would all settle around the table and play cards. I remember when I was little pulling in close to watch my parents and other adult relatives transform into merry laughing people. They said things I’d never hear otherwise telling jokes and tidbits of gossip about people I’d never met and shooing us away when they realized they were straying into areas that little pitchers didn’t need to overhear. I remember wishing that Thanksgiving came more than once a year.

If you regularly hold a family game night, you understand that playing games offers a social context for spending time together talking, laughing, and enjoying one another’s company. Somehow, the game makes all the difference. The leisure classes of the Regency Era played many card games for amusement, although they also used card playing to gamble. If you’d like to add a little historical card playing to your own family game night or teach a new game to your family this holiday, we invite you to explore the possibilities in our list of historical card games.

Card Playing in Regency England

"Do you prefer reading to cards?" said he; "that is rather singular."
Pride and Prejudice

18th Century English Playing Cards
Reproduction cards are available from MacGregor Historic Games. The classic style of this deck makes it a good representative of decks used in both Britain and the U.S.A. from the early 18th century up to the late 19th century. Available for $5 plus $! Shipping.

Cassino

After some time spent in saying little or doing less, Lady Middleton sat down to cassino; and as Marianne was not in spirits for moving about, she and Elinor luckily succeeding to chairs, placed themselves at no great distance from the table.
Sense and Sensibility

Casino: Rules of Card games
Introduction to the rules and play of cassino.

Commerce

“Not as you represent it. Had she merely dined with him, she might only have discovered whether he had a good appetite; but you must remember that four evenings have been also spent together -- and four evenings may do a great deal.”

“Yes; these four evenings have enabled them to ascertain that they both like Vingt-un better than Commerce; but with respect to any other leading characteristic, I do not imagine that much has been unfolded.”
Pride and Prejudice

How to Play Commerce
Instructions for Commerce.

Loo

On entering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high, she declined it, for the short time she could stay below, with a book.
Pride and Prejudice

The Game of Loo
Rules of play.

LOO: A mild or bitter game of scant renown
David Parlett's description and background of old traditional English card game called Loo

Piquet

Here, however, the kindness of Mrs. Jennings interposed most acceptably; for to send the Colonel away while his love was in so much uneasiness on her sister's account would be to deprive them both, she thought, of every comfort; and, therefore, telling him at once that his stay at Cleveland was necessary to herself that she should want him to play at piquet of an evening…
Sense and Sensibility

Piquet: Rules of Card Games
Instructions, advice on play, and an illustrative hand.

Quadrille

Lady Catherine, Sir William, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins sat down to quadrille; and as Miss De Bourgh chose to play at cassino, the two girls had the honour of assisting Mrs. Jenkinson to make up her party. Their table was superlatively stupid. Scarcely a syllable was uttered that did not relate to the game, except when Mrs. Jenkinson expressed her fears of Miss De Bourgh's being too hot or too cold, or having too much or too little light. A great deal more passed at the other table, Lady Catherine was generally speaking -- stating the mistakes of the three others, or relating some anecdote of herself. Mr. Collins was employed in agreeing to every thing her Ladyship said, thanking her for every fish he won, and apologising if he thought he won too many. Sir William did not say much. He was storing his memory with anecdotes and noble names.
Emma

Quadrille: Courtly ladies' game of 18th-century France
Information and instructions on play.

Speculation

“What shall I do, Sir Thomas? Whist and speculation; which will amuse me most?”

Sir Thomas, after a moment’s thought, recommended speculation. He was a whist player himself, and perhaps might feel that it would not much amuse him to have her for a partner.
Mansfield Park

Speculation: As played by Jane Austen at Mansfield Park
Information and instructions on play.

Vingt-un

Vingt-un is the game at Osborne Castle. I have played nothing but vingt-un of late. You would be astonished to hear the noise we make there -- the fine old lofty drawing-room rings again. Lady Osborne sometimes declares she cannot hear herself speak. Lord Osborne enjoys it famously, and he makes the best dealer without exception that I ever beheld, -- such quickness and spirit, he lets nobody dream over their cards. I wish you could see him overdraw himself on both his own cards. It is worth anything in the world!"
The Watsons

Pontoon (Vingt-un)
Rules of play for what is now known as Blackjack.

Whist

When the card tables were placed, he had an opportunity of obliging her in return, by sitting down to whist.

"I know little of the game, at present,'' said he, "but I shall be glad to improve myself, for in my situation of life --'' Mrs. Philips was very thankful for his compliance, but could not wait for his reason.

Mr. Wickham did not play at whist, and with ready delight was he received at the other table between Elizabeth and Lydia. At first there seemed danger of Lydia's engrossing him entirely for she was a most determined talker; but being likewise extremely fond of lottery tickets, she soon grew too much interested in the game, too eager in making bets and exclaiming after prizes, to have attention for any one in particular. Allowing for the common demands of the game, Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisure to talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear him…
Pride and Prejudice

Whist
Information about the game and rules for play.

Whist free software download
This is a suite of two Whist games, the classic (standard UK/US rules) Whist and the Minnesota Whist, which, as the name implies, is played in Minnesota (both northern and southern variants are available).

Whist Portal
Whistportal is a multiplayer whist game that allows you to connect to other live opponents to chat and play classic, minnesota, and bid whist.

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