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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, February 12, 2010

More on Quadrilles

I could not resist going back and doing a second round of Googling, to seek out a few “quadrillion” more connections between JA and quadrilles.


The Sociable; or One Thousand and One Amusements Containing Acting Proverbs; Dramatic Charades; Acting Charades, or Drawing Room Pantomimes; Musical Burlesques; Tableaux Vivants; Parlor Games…., 1858, by George Arnold: “The Blind Quadrille. This is performed when a great number of forfeits are to be disposed of. A quadrille is danced by eight of the company with their eyes blindfolded, and as they are certain to become completely bewildered during the figures, it always affords infinite amusement to the spectators.”

Given the often-noted saturation of Emma with words pertaining to blindness, which we find in no other Austen novel in anywhere close to that density, AND given the centrality of the significance of the “courtship” charade for the whole novel, I find the metaphor of a blind quadrille, where the participants are blindfolded (or to borrow another term from Garrick’s Riddle recalled by Mr. Woodhouse, ‘hood-wink’d’) and find themselves bewildered as they struggle to find their “proper” partners, to be uncannily descriptive of the action not only in Emma, but also in one of its most important literary ancestors (as so brilliantly described by Jocelyn Harris 24 years ago), A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I already hear Nancy asking whether the “blind quadrille” was thought of during JA’s time? The earliest reference to blind quadrilles is from 1846, in a memoir of a young woman (who I believe, based on the snippets I could read, died as a young adult) named Ellen Parry, where we read the following:
“We had a dance in the evening. The harper played to us, and we danced a blind quadrille. Those who danced were blindfolded, and it was very funny to see them all knocking each other…”

But as I was searching around in that same 1846 Memoir, I came across the following curiosities:

“Mrs. Jowett, the Rector’s wife, at Hartfield…” and also references to Ellen Parry visiting a “valued friend” named “Mrs. Bertie” at Weymouth… And, by the way, the memoirist, Charles Henry Parry, whom I suspect was also the father of Ellen Parry, happened to be a physician (and the son of another famous physician whose medical discoveries included significant ones relating to the digestive system of the body, and the grandson of the Revd. Joshua Parry, a famous nonconformist minister)…and CHP also wrote a memoir of a guy named Peregrine Bertie, who just happens to be someone JA was connected to and about whom she wrote in her letters!

Make of all that what you will…..I am eager to move on to the next area of interest, to wit:


I was VERY intrigued to find the following:

The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Vol. VII. (1823):
“[Letter from a bashful bachelor]: I would….read a library of romances at her desire, and spend hours in writing out quadrilles, charades, or sonnets, to please her…”

It seems crystal clear from the above, written only 7 years after the publication of Emma, that quardrille was the name not only of a form of dance and a card game, it was also apparently the name of a form of short verse—but was it akin to a riddling charade or a poetic sonnet? My vote is the former, because that would make the “courtship” charade itself literally also a quadrille, and would fit like a glove with all that has been presented so far re quadrilles.

But there’s more….


The following delightful dramatization of a game of quadrille strikes me as almost supplying the dialog we might have heard if we’d had a secret microphone at Hartfield to listen in on the conversation amongst Mr. Woodhouse and his three lady-friends. My guess is that this is yet another one of the jokes of Emma’s cluelessness, that she perceives Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates as being out to lunch, mentally, and yet they are able to play this game that, per Wikipedia, went out of fashion and was supplanted by whist precisely because it was so complicated.

Read, and enjoy. I would like to think that JA at some point actually read this delightful mini-play, which also stars a man and three ladies! And it provides a lot of incidental detail as to how the game itself was played, which clearly was a betting game related to whist or bridge (because of having trump suits being declared for each hand). From the Wikipedia description of the complex rules of the game, I discern that ‘mattadores’ were what we would today call, in poker, “wild cards”, and a “vole” seems to be an early ancestor of what we would today call, in bridge, a “slam”.

Poems, &c. &c By Mary Alcock, 1799 “A Party At Quadrille”, p. 139 et seq:
Lady P.: Ladies, your servant. This indeed is kind to come to one so much distress'd in mind; since Friday last, the day poor Pompey died, no soul I've seen, nor left my fire-side.
Lady W.: Well, dearest Madam, talk no more of that. Nothing is like a game at cards, and chat, to ease the mind. I'm sure I found it so when poor Sir Simon died; you all well know how very much reliev'd I was by play; when morn was over I began the day.
Mr. C.: Come ladies, then 'tis best to lose no time, to dwell on griefs I always deem a crime.
Lady P.: Pray, ladies, take your places as you chuse; In every seat I know I'm sure to lose.
Mrs. F.: To lose! dear Ma'am, I think to leave off play, such cards I sat with all the other day, when in this very house your La'ship won; 'tis what I never do, I've such a run. Boasted such hands! I lost on Tuesday night three double mattadores, they broke me quite.
Lady P.: Ladies, your stakes. We play our usual rate.
Mrs. F.: Here, Madam's, mine; 'tis gone as sure as fate.
Lady P.: Sir, you have pass'd, I now may shew my cards; six mattadores; four fifths are my reward.
Lady W.: Indeed! this way the cards are sure to go, whatever game I play, or high or low. The other night I lost at Lady Vole's my twenty shillings, now at Lady Poole’s this night I'm like to lose three times that sum; I swear I'll keep from Mrs. Fuzz's drum.,
Mrs. F.: I take a king if no one plays alone.

Lady W.: Madam, I do; I'll not sit like a drone with mattadores, six trumps; 'tis monstrous hard to have a vole within one single card. Might I have took a king I'd had it clear, but some folks cards will always play severe.
Mrs. F.: Severe indeed! Sure mine the hardest cafe is, to sit thus long, and never see the aces. And now, the first time I could take a king, I'm superseded, that's the very thing. I sometimes get a hand, but never play; I owe your La'ship four, I've none to pay.
Lady P.: I'll mark you up, dear Ma'am, the usual way.
Mrs. F.: Well, now by chance at last I've got a game, and if you all give leave, my trump I'll name; hearts then it is; spadille I lead, oh fie! One hand without a trump! how hard they lie.
Lady P.: Madam, you have your game, no trump is in.
Mrs. F.: Yes, Ma'am, because this hand of course must win.
Lady P.: Upon my honour, now, I've never play'd but one poor hand, and now six fish have paid. I vow next time I deal I'll make a fuz.
Mrs. F.: I wonder how your next door neighbour does. I heard last week he lost his only son.
Lady P. : Yes, and his wife is dying. What is done? I think your La'ship ask'd? I pass of course; upon my life my cards get worse and worse.
Mrs. F.: I'm quite supriz'd, I'm really call'd this time. It is your La'ship's trick, 'tis none of mine; for if not call'd I'd been a bitter foe. Let's see those cards, I know not how they go.
Mr. C.: Ladies, I think the vole's at your command, at least I can't prevent it by my hand.
Lady W.: Ma'am, you're to speak; pray search the tricks again.
Mrs. F.: My dearest Ma'am, I fear 'tis all in vain, one fatal chance would overset the whole; and yet 'twould make us both to win a vole. Can you forgive me ? May I now declare.
Lady P. : Madam, proceed; this is not quite so fair.
Lady W.: Oh, Mrs. Frett, you've ruin'd me indeed; how could it e'er be won, and you to lead? My Lady Poole did well to bid us play when she'd that knave; we've all the world to pay.
Mrs. F.: Indeed, I think so too; she drew me in; yet sure the chance was great that we should win.
Lady W.: By no means, Ma'am; your play I can't excuse; I'm sadly wrong'd, for I could not refuse.
Lady P. : Well, Ladies, please to lay your money down, the pool's my constant care, 'tis always known; I'm sure you'd mattadores, so give us five; now this may turn my luck, and I may thrive. Poor Mr. Carder was without a fish, but now he's rich, and just as he could wish.
Lady W.: I know not who is rich, I'm sure I'm poor, and lay my ruin at that Lady's door.
Mrs. F.: Indeed, dear Ma'am, you see I'm quite undone; ‘tis very hard to twit, when if we'd won, you'd been the first to justify my play; but let it pass your Ladyship's own way; this fine lone hand some of my debts will fettle; 'tis but my due to ride on my own cattle.
Lady W. : 'Tis very lucky, Mrs. Fret, for you, but with these losses what am I to do? I wish with all my heart the pool was out, for I'm engag'd to Lady Racket's rout.
Lady P. : That's quite distressing, Ma'am, but I submit; 'twill break our set; but just as you think fit. The pool is out, upon my word I win.
Lady W.: Indeed, I thought your La'ship's pawn was in.
Lady P.: Oh no, I took that oat an hour ago;.I'm sure, Sir, you will witness it was so.
Mr. C: Madam, I always think your La'ship right; I just have lost three guineas by the night.
Lady P.: O lack-a-day ! 'twas unpolite to beat our only man—'twas an unlucky feat. We've won an even share, or very nigh. The cards to-night have not run very high. Ladies, your humble servant, Sir, good bye.


"O ! then," exclaimed the sister, " do indulge us with a country dance, that we may get an appetite for our dinner."—It was no sooner said than done; and the ladies having arranged their dress for the purpose, danced a quadrille, with all the grace of a court ball, and all the glee of holiday folks at a fair.”


Nancy: “There is debate about the date of Quadrilles in England. I wonder if Jane Austen knew the dance. However that can be researched. “
Nancy, are you suggesting that JA, by the many connections she had with French culture, most importantly cousin/sister-in-law Eliza, would have been unaware of the dance that was the rage of France before becoming the rage of England within a year after Emma was published?

And take a look at the following comment from an 1885 book: “In those days the contre-danse had not hardened itself into the quadrille. It was danced, not in fours, but in sets of varying numbers, and of characters and figures mostly undefined.”

I don’t have to tell you the significance of country dancing in JA’s novels, and the above quote shows that country dance and quadrille were intimately related.
And speaking of the metaphor of dance for courtship, I also don’t need to remind you of the following immortal words spoken by Henry Tilney to Catherine: “I consider a country–dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.”
Indeed, one could call JA’s charade (aka quadrille) an ‘emblem of marriage”!

Nancy: “The Lady Jersey who is said to have brought the Quadrille to England and the Ton was Darah not her mother in law Frances. Frances was the one who was the mistress of the Prince of Wales.”

It’s every bit as telling, and far beyond the realm of coincidence, if the “courtship” charade which conforms so extensively to the structure of the dance famously associated with the daughter in law, just happens to also be a covert and extensive skewering of the famous man who was notoriously associated with the mother in law. Especially when you then add in all the other connections I outlined in my previous post, as well as this one.

But if you remain in doubt, then I have ANOTHER bridge to sell you if you think these are all coincidences. ;)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!