“He called for a few moments, just to leave a piece of paper on the table containing, as he said, a charade…”
–Emma by Jane Austen
I have always been a bit tickled by Emma and Harriet’s collection of romantic riddles. I admire a pastime that encourages a quick wit to participate. It seems that most games these days are lacking this cleverness.
“My first doth affliction denote,
Which my second is destin’d to feel
And my whole is the best antidote
That affliction to soften and heal.” —Emma by Jane Austen
These rhyming word puzzles were known at the time as charades. Obviously they are a bit different than the game we now associate with the term. They originated in France and became popular in English books and magazines during the Regency. Clearly, using this kind of guessing game as a confession of affection leaves an uncomfortable amount of room for personal interpretation, as is evidenced when the riddle Emma weasels out of Mr. Elton causes such a fiasco with Harriet’s emotions:
“My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!
But ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man’s boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.
Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,
May its approval beam in that soft eye!” –Emma by Jane Austen
I decided to try my hand at a few charades myself. Let me tell you, it was not as easy a task as I had anticipated. I have come up with six riddles for some of the major characters. I’ve listed the names at the bottom in case you want to take a go at guessing the answers. The riddle structure works as follows: “the first,” “the second,” and “the last” refer to the first, second, and last syllable, and “the whole” refers to the entire answer. Just to make it extra difficult, some of the answers are first and last names, one is just a first name, and two are just last names. I know, I know, too complicated. What can I say? These things are tough to create! Have fun guessing!
My first is a typeset as wide as it is tall;
My second, an exclamation of surprise;
My whole claims to read the hearts of all,
But is blinded by vanity and pride.
My first leaps to escape the pursuit of hounds;
The last, forges iron in flame;
My whole’s dull wit and fickle heart confounds,
And seeks to discard a maiden name.
My last is a code of chivalrous behavior;
My first, our nations patron saint;
My whole with a dance was a gentleman-savior,
And regards highly one lacking in restraint.
My first provides the material for
My second, which shelters and protects;
My whole’s anxious heart flutters
At the thought of illness and neglect.
My first is synonymous with plain;
My second describes quite the opposite;
My whole from extroversion abstains,
and is to one undeserving devoted.
My first is a directness of speech;
My second a place of worship;
My whole to a friend will ardently beseech,
But to true love offers only a quip.
2. Harriet Smith
3. (Mr.) Knightley
4. (Mr.) Woodhouse
5. Jane Fairfax
6. Frank Churchill