The first order of a Regency ball may be dancing (much to Mary’s woe!), but simply holding a dance does not a great ball make. What do young children do at a ball? What can a wild woman of eight-and-ten years partake in to catch a gentleman? Luckily, dear reader, you will find below instructionals of the most enticing parlor pastimes for your own Jane Austen party!
A popular game in the wintertime, especially around Christmas, Snap-Dragon is a dangerous game played with flaming brandy! First, place a large shallow bowl in the center of a table. Add a handful of raisins, and then fill the bowl with warm brandy. Set the liquor aflame! Dim the lights, and watch the brandy’s blue flames flicker. Brave guests will plunge their hand into the bowl seeking out raisins (the fire will be warm, but not hot enough to burn). The guest with the most raisins is destined to find true love in the upcoming year.
French for “living picture,” Tableaux Vivants originated as a major feature of royal weddings, coronations, and the like. Actors and artist’s models take on the positions of a famous painting, nursery rhyme, or play. They remain frozen, not speaking, on display for the guests. A more casual practice of Tableaux Vivants developed among the wealthy in England where party guests would participate in the scene themselves.
In this game, a blindfolded player kneels and puts their head in another’s lap. The other players take turns striking the blindfolded player who must guess who delivered the blow. This game was very popular in the Victorian Era, but evidence suggests that it had been played over 200 years prior. Whether or not Jane played this game is unclear; however, Hot Cockles was probably not a proper game for a lady.
A very common activity in the Regency era was making “profile shades.” The French called them silhouettes, which is where we get the word! It is rather simple to do: just hang blank paper on a wall next to a person’s face in profile. Next, place a candle on the other side of their face and trace their shadow. The profile was typically darkened with lampblack or watercolors to more closely resemble shadows.
Pass the Slipper
This is a child’s game, which Fanny Austen played at a Twelfth Night ball. Children simply sit in a circle, feet drawn, and knees up. One child is outside of the circle, trying to find who currently holds the slipper. The slipper is passed in secret, hand-to-hand underneath the children’s knees. Usually, children pretend to pass the slipper or they taunt the seeker. Once the child on the outside has successfully tapped the child with the slipper, the two will switch places.