Before electricity, television and the internet, parlour games were a popular form of entertainment to put boredom at bay during the short days and long, dark evenings of winter. For those who could not afford to light the entirety of their home or to keep a fire lit for extended periods of time, parlour games were a good way to keep all the family entertained together. The sort of parlour games played during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were varied and could be anything from mentally stimulating, to physically assertive or even somewhat messy.
Georgian society ushered in a new informality to fashionable life and so parlour games became popular with the landed classes. The Merry Maker’s Companion, published in 1825, offered guidelines to the parlour games deemed suitable for genteel company. To our surprise, many of these parlour games had relaxed social conventions more than we might expect, sometimes even permitting touch between the sexes.
According to a description from 1811, the parlour game of 'snapdragon' involved putting raisins into a basin full of brandy, igniting it, and then attempting to pluck the burning fruit from the flaming liquid. Snapdragon was both messy and physically challenging, testing the daring of its players.
It is widely known Jane's family were keen on games considered to be mentally stimulating, having to rhyme on the fly or test their powers of memorisation. However, we can suggest that they may well have been fans of parlour games too, for Fanny Knight describes the game of 'bullet pudding' in one of her letters to a friend, dated 1808.
“I was surprised that you did not know what a Bullet Pudding is but as you don’t I will endeavour to describe it as follows: You must have a large pewter dish filled with flour which you must pile up into a sort of pudding with a peak at the top, you must then lay a Bullet at the top & everybody cuts a slice of it & the person that is cutting it when the Bullet falls must poke about with their nose & chins till they find it & then take it out with their mouths which makes them strange figures a covered with flour but the worst is that you must not laugh for fear of the flour getting up your nose & mouth & choking you. You must not use your hands in taking the bullet out.”