Without a Summer: Whist

18th Century English playing cardsWith only a month to go before the release of Without a SummerI thought I would start to share some of research images that I was collecting while writing it. Here we have a set of eighteenth century playing cards such as one might use in playing whist.

Whist is one of those games that turns up in a number of Jane Austen’s novels, but I hadn’t actually played it until recently. Fortunately, the Oregon Regency Society was a font of information and offered the opportunity to play. In costume even.

Playing cards with the Oregon Regency Society

Whist turns out to be a surprisingly simple game, played with partners. It’s nice because it is simple enough that you can carry on conversation and still make a credible showing.

Here’s how card games appear in Without a Summer.

Jane had taken it upon herself to host a card party, inviting all those neighbours who were willing to make the trip to Long Parkmead.

She expected this would delight Melody, but was surprised to find, upon glancing up from a game of whist, that her sister stood by the window, looking out at the snow. Her golden curls seemed to cry for sunlight quite as much as the daffodils, which peeked above the layer of snow outside.

Jane reached the end of her game and waited while she and her partner, her mother’s friend, Mrs. Marchand, counted their tricks. Mrs. Marchand was only too delighted to discover that they had nearly twice as many points as their rivals. Leaving her to triumph in their victory, Jane excused herself from the table upon the pretext of wishing to cool her temples by the window and went to her sister.

If you want to play whist on your own, you can find a good set of rules here, and order a set of reproduction cards for added fun.

Have you ever played whist?

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13 Responses

  1. Brandie Tarvin

    Oddly enough, my mom taught me how to play when I was a kid. I don’t remember all the rules, but she was taught by her mother and apparently played all the time when she was growing up.

  2. todd

    i bought my repro deck from the link you cite a couple years ago. the cards are excellent quality. they also have a series of pamphlets on medieval games as well as old tarot card games. both worth having as well

  3. Rhiannon

    My parents (gigantic Georgette Heyer fans, though that might be unrelated) taught my sister and I to play as children, because we then neatly had four, and they didn’t have to teach young children how to bid properly for Bridge. 😉 It warped me for life, because now I’m so familiar with the game I am occasionally surprised when others don’t know it…

  4. Atrus

    We used to play a version of whist where the number of cards dealt would change with every hand, starting from 13 then decreasing by 2 until you had only one card, and then back up to 13 (for a total of 13 hands every game). A single game could last the whole evening.

  5. Liz Bennefeld

    I’d forgotten about whist! I loved to play whist during college. That’s how we spent test week, every semester: playing whist in the student lounge/snack bar for many, many hours as people left for exams and returned again afterwards.

  6. denelian

    it sounds like spades, only the trump changes [or can change]

    except – i am almost completely positive that i HAVE played whist – i was at Children’s Hospital at Stanford for several months when i was 9, and when i learned to play spades, the first thing i said was, “this is like the Stanford Game, except spades is always trump”

    huh. seriously never put that together before.

    there are other games a lot like this, too, that i’ve played – there’s a version here in ohio that i can’t remember the name of, where you only use suits and 10’s [i think? i rarely play it, prefer spades] and/or Pinochle.

    and i want to learn to play bridge, but i don’t know anyone who knows it. sigh.

    1. David H.

      denelian, I believe that Whist is the ancestor to games like Spades & Hearts.

      I’ve never really played Spades myself, but Hearts was fun on the computer. There’s a lot of Whist in Hornblower, too, as well as some others (Paquet, I think).

  7. Josh Kidd

    I grew up playing a variation of Whist called Bid Whist which, at least in the 80s, was popular in African American culture. I’m not black myself, but the people who taught me the game and played with me were.

  8. Anne

    We’d play whist occasionally at home (Scotland in the 1960s and 70s); more often we’d play at a ‘whist drive’, which is an evening of progressive whist, held in this case at a community hall, with anything from 10 to 30 tables. It’s a good social game, since you get to exchange a few words with each couple before game commences. Most of the social interaction happens at the tea break in the middle of play. Couple pay an entrance fee, and the event is used as a fundraiser.

  9. Sara Glassman

    I learned how to play whist when I worked at colonial Williamsburg one summer. I got to work one ball and was stationed at the card table. It was decided that whist was too complicated to teach the guests so I played Loo or Lanterloo with them instead.

  10. Justin

    I love whist! Do you play for “fish” gaming chips? I’ve often seen it come up in 18th and early 19th-century diaries. I have a pretty good mother-of-pearl set for Faro or Whist that I break out every now and then when we play for stakes. You can get them on ebay, though finding a matching set gets tough.

  11. Sara

    I’ve never played Whist, but I regularly play a game where there is trump, partners and trick-taking: Euchre. The rules are pretty different, but I think I could pick up on Whist easily, given the similarities between the games.

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