Victorian Parlor Games
The Victorian era has a reputation for being rigid. If you take a moment to consider what they wore during that time—layers of clothes and hats and corsets—you can understand some of the rigidity. However, it wasn’t all etiquette and seriousness. People in that time period still wanted to be entertained and enjoy themselves just like we do today. The difference is that they didn’t have television or radio or handheld devices. Instead, they invented a number of games to serve as their source of entertainment. In case you would like to unplug, here are some of the parlor games that were popular in the time of Queen Victoria’s rule from 1837 until 1901.
Everyone has probably played Charades at summer camp or at an awkward family gathering and it was also a Victorian favorite. First, the participants think up phrases or words that can be acted out and write them on a slip of paper they put in a hat. Next, they divide into teams and each team will take a turn acting out the phrase they’ve drawn out of the hat while everyone else guesses the phrase.
I played this game in girl scouts, but I didn’t realize it originated in the Victorian era. Sardines is essentially a modified version of Hide and Seek. One player has to hide and everyone splits up to try and find that person. When another player finds the person that is hiding, they have to hide in that same hiding place. In my personal experience, you generally end up stuck hiding in a tiny spider infested shed with five other children. The last person to find the hiding place becomes the next person to go and hide.
If you always liked memorization games, this is the one for you. A serving tray with various unrelated knickknacks on top of it is prepared for game play. The players are given a certain amount of time to look at the tray to try and memorize the contents. Then the tray is covered and the players have to make a list of the items that were on the tray. The person who names the most items wins the game.
Being a logophile, I like the sound of this game. In order to play you need to have a dictionary and a paper and pencil. Each person uses the dictionary to look up a word that should be unknown to most people and write down both a simple version of the real definition as well as two or three other made up definitions. The word and definitions are read out loud and everyone has to guess which definition is the correct one. Every correct guess gives you points and the person with the most point as the end wins.
A) Extremely fragrant.
B) Yellowish or turning yellow.
C) To be happy or enthusiastic.
(B is Correct.)
Ball of Wool
If you were desperate for a game or a Victorian enthusiast like Amy on an episode of Big Bang Theory, you could play Ball of Wool. Players sit at a table with wool rolled into a ball and try to blow the ball off the opposite side of the table. The person on the right of where the ball fell is the loser.
A game played on the floor where you use a squidger to flip as many winks into a cup as possible. I know, odd names, right? The winks and squidgers were traditionally playing discs made out of wood, ivory, or metal. If you get a modern day set, they’ll be made out of plastic. You use the squidger, a larger disc, to propel the smaller discs into the pot.
Those are just a handful of the games that were played during the Victorian age. I could continue. For instance, tennis was also invented during this time period and Contemporary Badminton was created by British soldiers stationed in India who formulated their own version of the traditional game Battledore and Shuttlecock. Twenty questions was invented. The next time someone talks about the no-fun Victorians, remember that they enjoyed entertainment as well.
Finally, don’t forget to indulge in the most popular form of Victorian entertainment other than parlor games. Can you guess the past time? Reading, naturally.
Can’t get enough of the Victorian era?
How to be a Victorian : a dawn-to-dusk guide to Victorian life by Ruth Goodman.
Victorian London : the tale of a city, 1840-1870 by Liza Picard
Life in a Victorian household by Pamela Horn
Victorian Gardener by Anne Wilkinson
Victorian fashions a pictorial archive selected and arranged by Carol Belanger Grafton