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A Fashionable Rout

“Lady Godina’s rout; – or – Peeping-Tom spying out Pope-Joan,” by James Gillray, 1796.

In my last post I talked about the riddles that appeared in Jane Austen’s Emma. Another form of entertainment that was popular in Georgian England and also features in Emma is a rout-party, or rout.

Routs were informal social gatherings hosted by the well-to-do in their homes. There were many types of routs – they could feature amusements such as conversation, music, card-playing, and, of course, plenty to eat and drink. In London a really successful rout could be thronged with guests, resulting in a “crush” that was sure to enhance the party-giving reputation of the hostess.

In Chapter XVI, Volume II of Emma, Mrs. Elton complains about the local routs she’s attended, noting “the poor attempt at routcakes [small, sweet cakes] and there being no ice in the Highbury card-parties.”

She plans on showing how a proper rout is done by hosting “one very superior party—in which her card-tables should be set out with their separate candles and unbroken packs in the true style—and more waiters engaged for the evening than their own establishment could furnish, to carry round the refreshments at exactly the proper hour, and in the proper order.”

In the wicked satire above, Gillray pictures a teen-aged Lady Georgina Gordon (i.e. “Lady Godina”) gambling at a crowded rout-party, playing a card game called Pope Joan. She’s holding the “Curse of Scotland” or the nine of diamonds, which is a winning hand. The gowns, and especially the huge feathery headdresses, are comically exaggerated.

These large evening get-togethers could get pretty rowdy, which is most likely why the military term of “rout” (meaning a disorderly retreat) became the accepted way to describe them. I’m sure, however, that Mrs. Elton’s rout-party would be a completely proper and sedate affair, as befits a vicar’s wife!


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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