Hello, my friends! It's my stop on the Death in Highbury Blog Tour! Riana Everly is here to with some fun Regency parlour games! Plus, there's a chance to win an e-copy of Death in Highbury! Details are at the bottom of the page.
Thank you for letting me stop by your lovely blog today as part of my blog tour for Death in Highbury: An Emma Mystery. It’s always a pleasure to be here.
Death in Highbury is the second of my Miss Mary Investigates mysteries, where Mary Bennet steps out of her sisters’ shadows and shines as a detective. In the first book, Death of a Clergyman, she helped prove her sister Elizabeth innocent of killing Mr. Collins. In this new release, she finds herself in Emma’s Highbury, where she helps solve a series of strange deaths in the community.
While the storyline does not follow that of Jane Austen’s Emma, it does include Jane Austen’s beloved characters, and that includes what they do for amusement. In Emma, Emma and Harriet amuse themselves with parlour games and collecting riddles. In fact, it is through these riddles that Mr. Elton makes some of his first overtures towards Emma – ones which she misinterprets as being directed toward Harriet.
These activities do not stop just because Mary Bennet is staying at Hartfield, and Mary sometimes finds herself engaged in the planning and collecting of the same.
So what, exactly, were Regency-style charades? The term was used synonymously with “riddle.” They were not the contemporary game, where a word is acted out, syllable by syllable. Instead, the clues were spoken, and you had to guess each syllable and then put them together.
For example, in Emma Mr. Elton offers a well-known riddle:
My first doth affliction denote,Which my second is destin'd to feelAnd my whole is the best antidoteThat affliction to soften and heal.
Here, the “first,” or first syllable, is woe. The second syllable is man. And the “whole” is woman.
When asked to come up with his own, Mr. Elton then provides the following:
My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.Another view of man, my second brings,Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!But, ah! united, what reverse we have!Man's boasted power and freedom, all are flown;Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,May its approval beam in that soft eye!
Here, the first syllable is court, where a king’s wealth is displayed, and the second is ship – the monarch of the seas. And together they make courtship. A not very subtle hint, which Emma completely misunderstands!
Here is another one by Jane Austen:
When my first is a task to a young girl of spirit,And my second confines her to finish the piece,How hard is her fate! but how great is her meritIf by taking my whole she effects her release!
You might have seen this, but if not, any guesses? I’ll put the answer at the end.
Now, I am the first to admit I would be a complete flop at Regency parlour parties. I have no head for these things whatsoever. They are like cryptic crosswords to me: I understand the theory but am totally unable to do them.
Let me try to make one, though. See if you can guess it.
My first with scones and toast is often servedMy second that which hovers near the tableMy whole a lovely image, well deservedThat flits and takes what nectar it is able
Yes, I know. It’s not very good, is it? What about you? Are you good at these word games? Would you like to try one to challenge us with? Put it in the comments and let’s see how we all do.
Here are two short excerpts from Death in Highbury. In the first, Mary is not too happy about sitting all afternoon with Emma and Harriet.
Mary had, by now, become sufficiently accustomed to Mr. Woodhouse’s laments that she imagined “poor” Isabella to be quite well settled.
“Isabella?” Emma called from her seat. She must have heard the name. “I had a letter from her just today. The boys are all very well, and baby Emma is growing as you watch her! Isabella,” she explained to Mary, “is my sister in London, and she is married to none other than Mr. Knightley’s brother! Is that not amusing? We quite adore our shared nieces and nephews, and when he is very angry with me, Isabella’s children are our path to reconcile. I was still in the schoolroom when they married, but Mrs. Weston will tell you how I foresaw they would do very well for each other. And so it has transpired!”
She gave a wide and self-satisfied smile before returning to her conversation with Harriet about the best sort of charades, and if poetry were superior to verse, or the opposite.
Mary listened to the discussion for a while with her accustomed detached boredom and believed that Mr. Woodhouse had dropped off to sleep, for he had not spoken in a while. Suddenly he raised his head and gave her a quizzical look. “We often played charades in my younger years. It was a great favourite in the neighbourhood on a summer evening, or in the winter if the roads did not become too covered in snow for the carriage. I was not the most adept at the game, but Mrs. Woodhouse—that is Emma’s dear mother, now departed—was most proficient, and Mrs. Bates the cleverest of the lot of us. Though we might try and try, we never were able to catch her out, for she got all of them. She had a fine mind, better at figures and puzzles than many men I knew, always with an eye to the future. Pity she was not born a man, for she would then have been very smart indeed.
Mary’s head snapped up and only with difficulty did she hold her tongue. Foolish old man, to believe that a woman could not be as intelligent as a man! One’s sex had nothing to do with one’s ability to think, to reason. What ridiculous and ancient ideas he had! Prudence triumphed, and she refrained from making a sound.
Her host stared into the flickering fire and continued, “Young Jane Fairfax promised to be as quick-witted as she. As a very young thing, all Mrs. Bates could do was boast about how Jane was counting to ten by a year of age and reading by four and playing the fortepiano at five. She seemed destined for such great things, a splendid match, no matter that her father left her with nothing but his name. Poor Miss Fairfax. Perhaps if her poor mother had eaten more gruel…”
He returned his eyes to the hearth, and in short time soft snores wafted to Mary’s ears. She would learn nothing more from Mr. Woodhouse this evening. With a resigned sigh, she left her chair and moved to the sofa, asking if she might join Emma and Harriet at their contemplation of tableaux and parlour games.
In this second excerpt, Alexander has gone to interview some townsfolk, and Emma has decided to join him against his wishes.
What was the man not saying? He was so certain there was some other iota waiting to be learned. But he also knew when he would hear no more. Abdy did suggest another person to seek out, who had a farm near the woods where Smith had made his home when first he arrived, and who had allowed the tramp to sleep in his barn on the coldest or wettest nights.
Alexander thanked the clerk for his time, and then thanked the bank’s supervisor, and led Emma back out onto the streets.
From here, matters followed the same pattern. Every man they spoke to had some small crumbs to offer, but with each, Alexander suspected they knew more than they were willing to say. Emma would often interject her own questions with the same glee as if she were solving a delightful charade, as often interrupting a useful response and thereby distracting the teller to the point of forgetting what he was about to say, as offering anything helpful. She was lovely and charming and everybody to whom they spoke wished greatly to please her, and Alexander rued the moment he ever first spoke to her. How he would prefer to have Mary beside him: quiet, thoughtful, calm Mary, who had the gift of melting into the background to the point that his witnesses forgot she was there. They would then speak easily, telling him what he needed to know, without deference to a woman’s delicate sensibilities.
Instead, he heard only what the men believed Emma ought to hear, and when Alexander at last walked Emma back to the village where she was to meet Harriet, he had discovered precious little.
The answer to Jane Austen’s charade is “hemlock.”
The answer to my riddle is “butterfly.”