Pre-Surrealist Games
March 15, 2022 5:04 PM   Subscribe

David Mitchell, "Manuel Complet des Jeux de Société by Elisabeth Celnart, 1827" and its story collab and/or Mad Libs-like precursors to Exquisite Corpse sometimes also in Catharine Harbeson Waterman's Book of Parlour Games, 1853: "L'Histoire ... in which each successive player only sees the last word of what was previously written ... [or, alternatively] in which each player adds information according to a previously agreed set of categories ... 'The game of 'l'histoire' [1812*; 1836*; Waterman 1853] is the same as the game of 'l'amphigouri' [1812*; 1866*], 'roman impromptu' [1812*; 1836*] and 'secrétaire' [1788*; 1812*; 1836*; Waterman 1853]." Also, on Oct. 10, 1824, Anne Lister (prev.) described the French parlor game of Les Résultats and compared it to Consequences [Higgins 1854; Sandison 1895]. Celnart is known for works on hair care, cosmetics*, perfumery, cooking*, etc.; Waterman, for a language of flowers. [*In French.]
posted by Wobbuffet (7 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Some background details / footnotes:
  • Huvier des Fontenelles's 1788 text is the oldest manual here describing games in this family (even if his version of Secretary isn't randomized / pseudonymized), but see also the dozens of games in Girolamo Bargagli's 1572 parlor game book Dialogo de' giuochi che nelle vegghie sanesi si usano di fare or sources discussing it (e.g. Elena Brizio's "Il Dialogo de' giuochi by Girolamo Bargagli and the Women of Siena: Culture, Independence, and Politics" or George W. McClure's Parlour Games and the Public Life of Women in Renaissance Italy), which may be relevant.
  • As a heads up, Ducœurjoly 1801 and 1808 (the editions matter) are early sources for Roman impromptu, not linked here because I would leave some chapters very specifically to historians of colonial Haiti to sort out.
  • The source linked as "1812" is Enfantin père, ca. 1810 in its 1st ed. Vols. 1 and 2 are linked above, and here's vol. 3.
  • Waterman's text says "translated from the French." Her entry for Secretary seems to cover both of Celnart's Secretary games, which I think aren't present together in an earlier source, so Celnart does seem likely--other sources in English do edit, remix, and incorporate French sources in comparable ways.
  • Art history sources sometimes attribute Exquisite Corpse directly to the game Consequences, and Celnart's primary version of L'Histoire does have a variant similar to Consequences. However, every source from Lister (1824) to Sandison (1895) giving the name Les Résultats / Consequences is fairly consistent about the Mad Libs-like rules and also a little more distant from Exquisite Corpse than Celnart's primary version of L'Histoire. Parlor games do change rules and names a lot over time though.
  • As a more familiar example of parlor game name changes, etc., Jane Austen's charades, e.g. in Emma, are not acted out as in the modern game of Charades in Vanity Fair or in Jane Eyre--they're poetic riddles: enigmas with the quality of amounting to parts of a word or phrase (which acted Charades may as well). But Waterman's parlor games include a large set of literary/poetic charades, like Austen's, along with sets of enigmas and rebuses. When poetic riddles like these amount to a series of answers spelling out in particular the first letters of a word, they're acrostic rebuses--precursors to crosswords. In other words, both crossword puzzles and Exquisite Corpse have connections to parlor games and more distantly to "society games" of the Renaissance (e.g. Bargagli's game of ABC that challenges participants to recall lines of verse beginning with each letter of the alphabet).
  • Also, Anne Lister's description of Consequences is ~50 years older than the oldest David Mitchell found (The Public Paperfolding History Project). It would be neat if her diary turned out to be the earliest written record of the game that many sources credit as the origin of Exquisite Corpse.
  • Just for fun, here's a tweet from Merve Emre yesterday--"Ishmael Reed's contribution to the longest game of exquisite corpse ever played ...," i.e. Ted Joans's "Long Distance" (more details [PDF]), which has contributions from Dorothea Tanning, Laura Corsiglia, and ~130 other people.
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:05 PM on March 15, 2022 [6 favorites]

Spent so much time in high school and college playing those kinds of pen and paper games. Lots of happy memories coming back.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:49 PM on March 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

That's an astonishing piece of research, and very useful for people who think about the family trees and development of game forms. Thank you.
posted by Hogshead at 10:56 AM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is why our dark lord caused Metafilter to spring forth.
Good job.
posted by signal at 5:04 PM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Welp, so much for the rest of this week!

Thanks, Wobbiffet!
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:16 PM on March 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Just noting here for anyone who runs across this in the future that I've translated Enfantin's version of "The Impromptu Tale" and I turned up a third old version of that game in Recueil des plus jolis jeux de société (1818).

Incidentally, when reading it carefully enough to translate it, I couldn't help observing how much it's like a long-lost sibling to Once Upon a Time, a game co-designed by Hogshead. OUAT is great, and I would be delighted to see its creators/publishers benefit somehow from discovering a remarkable--albeit interrupted--family connection.

It was also interesting to see that Enfantin mentions "Mesdames" multiple times as the primary audience for the game (a resemblance to the Italian context linked above) and that he mentions fairies as a major subject for the game--perhaps a connection to the early dominance of women authors in the genre of original fairy tales in French (see also German sources and what's sometimes called the first fantasy novel in English--Sara Coleridge's Phantasmion).
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:01 PM on March 25, 2022

I hadn't really thought about it, but "The Impromptu Tale" has at least four sources in at least seven editions between 1801 and 1836, perhaps indicating it was a well known and widely played game at the time. Make that nine editions, because I just noticed another edition of Ducœurjoly that drops his name and just says Le nouveau savant de société ou Encyclopédie des Jeux de société, fourth ed. 1825. Again, not linking that, but the first, second, and fourth editions are easy to find.
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:14 PM on March 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

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