Victorian Parlour Games: A Book Review By Cheryl Bolen

In today’s article, award-winning Regency romance author, Cheryl Bolen, reviews the book Victorian Parlour Games. As Cheryl tells us, despite its title, this book is a very useful reference for Regency authors who are planning to include the playing of games in their stories. Many of the games in this book were played long before the Victorian era and are quite appropriate to a novel set in the Regency.

Once you read Cheryl’s review, the existence of which game in our favorite period surprises you the most?

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Victorian Parlour Games
Patrick Beaver
Magna Books, 1974, 140 pages
(Originally published by Peter Davis Ltd.)

Not long after I sold my first Regency-set book in 1997 I purchased this glossy, hardback book. I seem to recall that I may have learned of its existence in the Quizzing Glass. While it’s not a book a take to read in bed (where I tend to do most of my pleasure reading), this book has come in handy many times over the years as a reference for various works-in-progress. It is especially helpful for explaining how various children’s games were played.

Forget that Victorian is in the title. Remember that parlor (American spelling) games enjoyed during Victorian times were probably also enjoyed in the Regency a few years earlier. Readers may wish to make allowances for some differences, though.

It also is helpful that this is a British book. While many of the games are familiar to Americans, many may not be.

Beaver has divided his book into these sections: party games, word games, table games, card games, marbles, and forfeits.

Party games include blind man games, games with chairs, hunting games, guessing games, talking games, action and movement games, acting games, kissing games, and romp games. Yes, they did have musical chairs, and hunting games we American’s might refer to more as “hiding.” The chasing and catching games have such charming names as Hare and Hound and Wolf and the Lambs. In addition to explaining how the games were played, Beaver also gives examples. For example, in the guessing games, he gives a prepared list of subjects and clues: muddy cloak for Sir Walter Scott, burning bush for Moses, or a parrot for Long John Silver.

Another familiar "action" game was Putting the Tail on the Donkey. (Americans use "Pinning" instead of Putting.) The game Americans call Simon Says is called O’Grady Says. Another charming name is Spinning the Trencher.

I’d always heard the rhyme about St. Clements, and this text explains the game in which it is recited, Oranges and Lemons. In addition, the entire rhyme – all 14 lines – is given.

I found one of the many illustrations amusing. It’s a depiction of a lady and girl playing drawing-room tennis with Japanese fans and balloons!

Charades was also played but appear to have been quite different from the game that is played a hundred years later. The kissing game of Postman was also played but was called Postman’s Knock.

Another game that’s been around a couple of hundred centuries is Hangman, also referred to as Gallows. Tit, Tat Toe was also played in nineteenth century England, as were dominoes, chess, and cribbage.

Their game of Solitaire was played with marbles and a special game board.

Being an Anglophile, I’d seen the game of draughts referred to in books but had no idea what it was or how it was played. This book thoroughly explains this two-person board game.

The card game Old Maid was played with regular cards, with a queen being the try-not-get-stuck-with card.

Some of the card games explained here were definitely around in Regency times. These include, German Whist, Three-Card Loo and Five-Card Loo, and Lansquenet.

Beaver explains hundreds of games in this book. Would I recommend this book to an author of books set in the Regency? You bet.

© 2011 – 2014 Cheryl Bolen
This article was first published in The Quizzing Glass, November 2011.
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.

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