Embarrassing boasts and the Game of Loo
Why is poetry the food of love? What’s so funny about four-and-twenty families? And how do you play Loo? Find out the answers to these questions and more, in this episode of My Cousin Jane.
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Books referenced in this episode
Note: Transcripts on this site are the scripts I used when preparing to record the show. They may or may not be a 100% faithful representation of the final recording. Audio clips of Pride & Prejudice come from Karen Savage’s narration of Pride & Prejudice, courtesy of LibriVox.org.
Welcome to My Cousin Jane, a podcast about Jane Austen and her works. With your host, Lee Falin. Season 2 – episode 9.
Welcome back to another episode of My Cousin Jane. Each week, we look at what you might think of as the behind the scenes featurettes or deleted scenes of a particular chapter in Austen’s books.
This week, we’re going to talk about Pride & Prejudice Chapter 9.
As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to see it continue, please consider supporting us by going to MyCousinJane.com, signing up for our newsletter, or clicking on the little donate button.
Chapter 9 is a relatively short, but very cringeworthy chapter. Not because the writing is bad, but because it is such an accurate portrayal of a very awkward situation.
Elizabeth’s mother and younger sisters come to visit Netherfield to check on Jane. The conversation is more than a bit awkward for Elizabeth, who afterwards quickly retreats to check on Jane.
Let’s start with an excerpt from the chapter that includes a discussion of social dining in the country, courtesy of Karen Savage and Librivox.org:
“Indeed, Mama, you are mistaken,” said Elizabeth, blushing for her mother. “You quite mistook Mr. Darcy. He only meant that there was not such a variety of people to be met with in the country as in town, which you must acknowledge to be true.”
“Certainly, my dear, nobody said there were; but as to not meeting with many people in this neighbourhood, I believe there are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty families.”
Nothing but concern for Elizabeth could enable Bingley to keep his countenance. His sister was less delicate, and directed her eye towards Mr. Darcy with a very expressive smile. Elizabeth, for the sake of saying something that might turn her mother’s thoughts, now asked her if Charlotte Lucas had been at Longbourn since her coming away.Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 9
The joke here is that four-and-twenty families, though a significant number to Mrs. Bennet, is in fact a rather embarrassing boast compared to what families in the highest social circles such as Darcy and the Bingleys are used to.
The Food of Love
Speaking of embarrassing boasts, here’s one about Jane:
“She seems a very pleasant young woman,” said Bingley.
“Oh! dear, yes; but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied me Jane’s beauty. I do not like to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Jane—one does not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says. I do not trust my own partiality. When she was only fifteen, there was a gentleman at my brother Gardiner’s in town so much in love with her, that my sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we came away. But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were.”
“And so ended his affection,” said Elizabeth impatiently. “There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!”
“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.
“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”Price & Prejudice, Chapter 9
Darcy’s comment that “poetry is the food of love” is a reference to a famous Shakespeare quote from Twelfth Night:
If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.Twelfth Night, Act 1 Scene 1
As promised in the previous episode, we’re going to backtrack briefly one chapter and talk about the game of Loo. Here’s a clip from chapter 8 where Elizabeth encounters the game at Netherfield:
On entering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 8
I mentioned last time that according to David Parlett, author of A History of Card Games, Loo, also known as “Lanterloo”, is a trick-taking game similar to whist, which most scholars think originated in Holland.
While it was mostly played by the aristocracy in the late 1700s and early 1800s, by the late 1800s it was considered a hallmark of the rough tavern crowd and generally looked down upon.
Loo is a trick-tacking game. If you’ve never played a trick-taking game, most of them go something like this:
Whomever goes first plays a card, say the four of clubs. The next player has to “follow suit” by playing another club if they have one. If they don’t have one they can either play a trump card or a slough card.
A trump card is a card of a designated suit that beats all the other suits.
For example, if hearts are the trump suit, and the current high card in the trick is the ten of clubs, a player that doesn’t have clubs could play any heart card, which would be the new high card of the trick.
If a trump card is played, the only way for the next player to do better would be to play a higher card in the trump.
So imagine we have four players named Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, and Darcy, and we say that hearts is the trump suit. Elizabeth goes first and plays a five of spades. Jane has a couple of hearts, but she also has a four of spades, so she must play that because you have to follow suit if you can. So Elizabeth is still winning.
Next Bingley, who doesn’t have any spades, plays a four of hearts. Since this is a card from the trump suit, he is now winning.
Finally, Darcy has neither a spade nor a heart, so he can play a slough card (sometimes called a discard) and plays a two of clubs.
Bingley wins the trick.
Notice there are lots of phrases that come from this style of card game that you have probably heard used in other contexts, such as “playing the trump card”, “following suit”, and “missing a trick”.
Now that you know how trick-taking works, here’s how Loo works. There are three card and five card variations of Loo, but I’ll explain the five card version.
At the start of the game, five chips are added to the pool by the dealer.
Each player is dealt five cards, then a card is flipped over to reveal the trump suit for that hand.
Each player looks at their hand and decides if they want to play or fold. If they play, they may exchange any number of their cards for new cards.
Then players proceed to try to win tricks as described above.
In five card Loo, there are five possible tricks to be won. For every trick you win, you get one-fifth of the pot.
If you go through a round without winning any tricks, you have been “looed” and you add five more chips to the pool.
There are some additional rules in five-card Loo that can affect play:
First, the jack of clubs is referred to as “Pam”, and trumps everything else in the game.
Second, after the dealing and exchanging of cards, if you have a flush, you can win the entire pool immediately. These are (in order of precedence) a “Pam” flush, which is the Jack of clubs, plus four other cards of the same suit; followed by a trump-flush (five cards of the trump suit); and then a regular flush (five cards of any other suit).
If the pool is won in this way, play begins again.
There are some additional variations on five-card loo, but the most significant is “Unlimited Loo”.
In “Unlimited Loo”, instead of adding five more chips, you have to add an amount equal to the current value of the pool. This version of loo can lead to extremely large amounts being won and lost in a short amount of time.
That wraps up episode 9 of season 2 of My Cousin Jane.
As always, if you enjoy the show and would like to help us out, please consider supporting us by heading over to MyCousinJane.com and clicking on the little donate button.
Either way, thanks so much for listening.
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