Parlour games were a common way of passing an evening with friends and relatives. They might be mentally stimulating, physically assertive or even somewhat messy (like snapdragon or bullet pudding!) The Austen family is known to have enjoyed many types of mental games, which required memorization, or rhymes on the fly.
Book such as Winter evening pastimes; or, The merry-maker’s companion, by Rachel Revel (1825) offered stimulating and sometimes even daring diversions from the staid entertainments of reading, writing, music and card playing, featured at the Netherfield Park house party.
This illustration would seem to depict “The Bridge of Sighs” or possibly “The Beast of Burden”, as described in Winter evening pastimes; or, The merry-maker’s companion. It’s fairly risque stuff for the era, but a look through the book shows that the games were far more than just a way to pass the time. Like a turn around the dance floor, they allowed men and women a freedom to interact in an intimate setting that normal social restrictions forbade. I cannot imagine them being played at Pemberley, perhaps, but certainly they would be popular among Lydia’s set at Brighton or with the Crawford’s London cronies. The Rules are as follows:
Laura Boyle is the author of Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends. Through her shop Austentation: Regency Accessories, she offers a large range of custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and Jane Austen related items.