Pride and Prejudice and Card Games, a Guest Post from Lelia Eye

When you think of Jane Austen, you often think of ballrooms and conversations, but the characters who her novels focus on are often playing card games! I initially intended to showcase quotes from all of Austen’s novels concerning different games, but as I looked at Pride and Prejudice for certain key terms, I found myself entertained by what the text surrounding them revealed. Part of it is just my renewed interest in card games lately. As a child, I played a lot of different card games, but it has been quite some time since I’ve been able to play them, and I miss having the time for such things!

I found no mention of more exciting terms like “Snapdragon” or “Charades.” But I did find success with card game terms:

  • Game
  • Card
  • Fish
    • A gambling chip.
  •  Loo
    • “Loo” is short for “Lanterloo.” It involves 3 to 8 players who play for tricks.
  • Piquet
    • Piquet is a two-player card game.
  • Whist
    • Whist is a 4-player card game that involves playing for tricks.
  • Lottery
    • In this game, you win if you hold the winning card.
  • Cassino
    • A “fishing” game for 2 or 4 players (preferably 2).
  • Quadrille
    • A trick-taking game involving 4 players.
  • Commerce
    • This involves 3-10 players. The goal is to have the best three-card combination.
  • Vingt-un
    • “Vingt-un” is French for 21, so naturally the game is about trying to reach a score of 21. There are typically 3-7 players.

When you look at these games in a simplistic sense as plot devices, you can see how the number of players and the method of winning can be quite important. (More later on that.)

We will start with just some simple references to card games:

  • Elizabeth was so much caught with what passed, as to leave her very little attention for her book; and soon laying it wholly aside, she drew near the card-table, and stationed herself between Mr. Bingley and his eldest sister, to observe the game.
  • When Lady Catherine and her daughter had played as long as they chose, the tables were broken up, the carriage was offered to Mrs. Collins, gratefully accepted and immediately ordered. The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine determine what weather they were to have on the morrow.
  • Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued talking together, with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham’s attentions.
  • Elizabeth, who had a letter to write, went into the breakfast room for that purpose soon after tea; for as the others were all going to sit down to cards, she could not be wanted to counteract her mother’s schemes.
  • She then hastened away to her mother, who had purposely broken up the card party, and was sitting up stairs with Kitty.
  • When Lady Catherine and her daughter had played as long as they chose, the tables were broken up, the carriage was offered to Mrs. Collins, gratefully accepted and immediately ordered. The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine determine what weather they were to have on the morrow.

Here is a brief reference to a few card games we do not otherwise see in action:

  • “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.”

The game of lottery tickets is one of luck, and as such, it appears to be especially enjoyed by those who do not seem, shall we say, as intelligent as others:

  • This was agreed to, and Mrs. Phillips protested that they would have a nice comfortable noisy game of lottery tickets, and a little bit of hot supper afterwards.
  • Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had lost and the fish she had won; and Mr. Collins in describing the civility of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, protesting that he did not in the least regard his losses at whist, enumerating all the dishes at supper, and repeatedly fearing that he crowded his cousins, had more to say than he could well manage before the carriage stopped at Longbourn House.
  • 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 anyone 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, though what she chiefly wished to hear she could not hope to be told—the history of his acquaintance with Mr. Darcy.

In all fairness, however, Mrs. Phillips does seem to enjoy the 4-player, trick-taking Whist:

  • When the card-tables were placed, [Mr. Collins] had the opportunity of obliging her in turn, 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 in life—” Mrs. Phillips was very glad for his compliance, but could not wait for his reason.

Quadrille being a 4-player game and Cassino being a game for 2 or 4 players, you can see here how the games fall in line here:

  • When the gentlemen had joined them, and tea was over, the card-tables were placed. 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 everything 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.

However, despite the fact that money seems to be frequently involved in card games, the notion of someone being a “gamester” (gambler) and owing debts to folks is a horrifying one:

  • He owed a good deal in town, but his debts of honour were still more formidable. Mr. Gardiner did not attempt to conceal these particulars from the Longbourn family. Jane heard them with horror. “A gamester!” she cried. “This is wholly unexpected. I had not an idea of it.”

In fact, Austen seems to indicate that an obsession with cards is something to beware:

  • Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.
  • When tea was over, Mr. Hurst reminded his sister-in-law of the card-table—but in vain. She had obtained private intelligence that Mr. Darcy did not wish for cards; and Mr. Hurst soon found even his open petition rejected. She assured him that no one intended to play, and the silence of the whole party on the subject seemed to justify her. Mr. Hurst had therefore nothing to do, but to stretch himself on one of the sofas and go to sleep. Darcy took up a book; Miss Bingley did the same; and Mrs. Hurst, principally occupied in playing with her bracelets and rings, joined now and then in her brother’s conversation with Miss Bennet.

Elizabeth remains cautious when the stakes are high, as her family is on the poorer side, which leads to a misunderstanding of sorts:

  • On entering the drawing-room [Elizabeth] found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.
    “Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”
    “Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”
    “I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”

Mr. Collins seems glad to indicate he has no need to worry about losing a bit of money at cards:

  • “I know very well, madam,” said he, “that when persons sit down to a card-table, they must take their chances of these things, and happily I am not in such circumstances as to make five shillings any object. There are undoubtedly many who could not say the same, but thanks to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I am removed far beyond the necessity of regarding little matters.”
  • The whist party soon afterwards breaking up, the players gathered round the other table and Mr. Collins took his station between his cousin Elizabeth and Mrs. Phillips. The usual inquiries as to his success was made by the latter. It had not been very great; he had lost every point; but when Mrs. Phillips began to express her concern thereupon, he assured her with much earnest gravity that it was not of the least importance, that he considered the money as a mere trifle, and begged that she would not make herself uneasy.

Here we see evidence of the importance of numbers when determining what card games can be played, who can sit with who, and how the presence or absence of a player can make a difference:

  • The entertainment of dining at Rosings was repeated about twice a week; and, allowing for the loss of Sir William, and there being only one card-table in the evening, every such entertainment was the counterpart of the first.
  • When the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed, the ladies all rose, and Elizabeth was then hoping to be soon joined by him, when all her views were overthrown by seeing him fall a victim to her mother’s rapacity for whist players, and in a few moments after seated with the rest of the party. She now lost every expectation of pleasure. They were confined for the evening at different tables, and she had nothing to hope, but that his eyes were so often turned towards her side of the room, as to make him play as unsuccessfully as herself.
  • [Mr. Collins indicates that Lady Catherine had] asked him twice to dine at Rosings, and had sent for him only the Saturday before, to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening.
  • It now first struck her, that she was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors.
  • Mr. Collins: ” . . . Twice has [Lady Catherine] condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford—between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh’s footstool, that she said, ‘Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way.’”

In fact, cards can be exclusionary in a way due to the need to match numbers to the game. Piquet is a two-person game, so when Hurst and Bingley play it, that means no one else can play with them:

  • Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley had spent some hours of the morning with the invalid, who continued, though slowly, to mend; and in the evening Elizabeth joined their party in the drawing-room. The loo-table, however, did not appear. Mr. Darcy was writing, and Miss Bingley, seated near him, was watching the progress of his letter and repeatedly calling off his attention by messages to his sister. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley were at piquet, and Mrs. Hurst was observing their game.

These quotes make me appreciate Austen’s humor all the more. What were the alternatives to traditional occupations like card games, reading, playing the pianoforte, and the like? Well, Sir William, as we saw earlier, chose to store “his memory with anecdotes and noble names.” The Rosings party at one point gathers “round the fire to hear Lady Catherine determine what weather they were to have on the morrow.” (I suppose she is like the proverbial groundhog!) And at one point, Mrs. Hurst occupies herself “in playing with her bracelets and rings.” These all seem like quite important occupations, no?

Do you have a favorite quote that seems to be a sort of snide Austen comment like those? Have you played any of the games referenced? It’s always fun to hear from you! When my kids are older, I am hoping to pick back up War, Spades, and Bridge, along with some new ones. At this point, I’ll even go for “Go Fish” and “Old Maid” if I could just find some time to play!



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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