That's Jane Austen spinning in her grave like a cat in a tumble-dryer

I was cleaning and repairing books at the Bottom Shelf last week, when I came upon a 10-volume set called The Best of the World's Classics, Restricted to Prose. It was published by Funk & Wagnalls in 1909. Four of the volumes were given to "the best" of Great Britain and Ireland. Naturally I looked through them to see who was considered "the best". You can - if you know me - imagine my shock when I found not a passage, not a line, not a single mention of Jane Austen. They included de Quincey and Macauley and Grote ("Who?" you may be asking), but they couldn't see fit to include Jane Austen. And it's not like she wasn't popular. Although A C Bradley didn't write his essay establishing JA's writing as a topic for serious academic attention till 1911, she'd been a bestselling author since the 1880s.

All this is prologue to something far more serious that I want to discuss: the Authors Card Game.

The set of cards in the game I was familiar with in my childhood featured 11 authors: James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Washington Irving, Henry W Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott.

The Authors Card Game is probably not very well known today, but I played it as a child and it taught me a lot about life and literature. First, it helped me recognize popular authors and know the names of their principal works. You may not realize how impressed people used to be by an 11-year-old saying, upon some casual mention of Tennyson, "Oh yes, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He wrote 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and 'The Brook' and 'Crossing the Bar' and 'Idylls of the King'. And probably some other stuff." They would be so impressed, they wouldn't even notice that 'idylls' was pronounced 'iddles'.

Second, it gave me an early inkling that women were not always fairly represented in the scheme of things, since Louisa May Alcott was the only female author in the deck.

Finally, it gave me a girlhood crush on Robert Louis Stevenson. (I think it's partly because most of the other authors were old, bearded, or slightly creepy looking.)

When my own children were little, I picked up a semi-vintage deck for them to use. They pretty much played it to death. Some of the authors looked like they had met the fate of the prophet Isaiah, having been sundered in two. When I bought a replacement deck, though, I was more than a little annoyed to see that not only had two more authors been added, but also little clubs, spades, hearts, and diamonds as well, so that you could use the author cards to play any other old card game. I think it's just wrong for people to use Tennyson and Scott and Hawthorne, et al, as aids to gambling. (And why is Mark Twain the ace and not RLS?)

But what really annoyed me was that the thirteenth card was given to William Makepeace Thackeray. William Makepeace Thackeray!! Here the publishers of the game had a perfect opportunity to right a decades-old wrong and not only give credit were credit is due to women authors in general, but to honor one of the greatest of all women authors in specific. Of course you realize I mean Jane Austen. Why does she always get left out?

As far as I can tell, the current Authors Game is still the set I knew as a youngster, with the additions of Mr Thackeray and Edgar Allan Poe (I think). However, I've seen some vintage sets that once upon a time included more than one woman. For instance, there's an old set with both Louisa May Alcott and Cornelia Meigs. "Who?" you may be asking. You know, Cornelia Meigs, author of such classics as Phonics We Use. Okay, I'm kidding. Not about that book; she really did write it. But that's probably not why she was included. She also wrote many books for young readers, among them several books about Louisa May Alcott (and why do I sense an Authors Card Game conspiracy here?), including Invincible Louisa, which won the Newbery Award in 1934. And with that additional information, I'll bet most of you still have never heard of her.

I've done a little research about those author card sets. The game of Authors originated in Salem, MA, sometime in the mid-1800s, and, from what I can tell, over the years sets have fluctuated in size, being made up at different times of from 10 to 14 authors. It appears that the choice of authors included in the sets depended partly on who was popular at the time and partly on who was publishing the sets (E E Fairchild, Russell Manufacturing, Parker Brothers, Whitman Company, etc). I've seen sets with Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, James Russell Lowell, James Greenleaf Whittier, Victor Hugo, Robert Burns, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Interestingly enough, it doesn't seem to matter who is doing the publishing: all the authors' appearances over the years have been variations of the same basic portraits.

The periodic replacement or updating of authors makes sense, I guess. Who but an English major knows much about Lowell or Whittier nowadays? (Yes, it makes sense, except for bringing back Puddingface Thackeray instead of introducing Jane Austen, who, as far as I can determine, still doesn't appear in a card game.) Also nowadays, there are multiple game decks available, like Children's Authors, American Women Authors (including Phillis Wheatley, Marianne Moore, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emily Dickinson, etc), American Authors (mostly early to mid-20th century writers with a couple of post-1860s names, and still mostly male, with only one woman - Willa Cather - as if Edith Wharton, Dorothy Parker, Zora Neale Hurston, Edna St Vincent Millay, etc, never existed). So, what with all this updating and multiplicity of games, I wonder why there is no set of World War I Poets. Or 20th Century Mystery Writers. Or Women Authors of Speculative Fiction. Or 21st Century Mormon Authors of 200,000-Word-Plus Fantasy Novels.

Or a deck dedicated solely to the works of Jane Austen, where you collect four characters from each of her books (finished or unfinished), like Elinor and Marianne and Edward and Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility. And Lizzie, Darcy, Jane, and Bingley from Pride and Prejudice. And so on. And Mr Collins could be the Joker.


Shannon said...

I totally remember this game. And also your bias against Puddingface. And that it was dumb that Jane Austen wasn't in there (and still isn't).
I too, was annoyed when the new version had turned them into face cards.
Best game ever. Thanks mum :)

Jared and Megan said...

Oh Puddingface!

Hmm... Maybe I'll buy a deck sometime. Even though Jane Austen isn't in them.

The cards have faces (har) that Nathan could recognize, so that wouldn't be too difficult, I think. In any case, he can play them later, and so can Rylie.

If you ever discover a set with a fairly even amount of men and women authors (good ones), though, I'd love to hear about it.

Actually when I saw the title of this post I thought it was going to be about Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and their ilk.

Janeite42 said...

As I mentioned, there's a set of Children's Authors that includes two women (Beatrix Potter and Laura Ingalls Wilder - how advanced of them!), but also a couple of choices that cause question marks: Joel Chandler Harris (the Uncle Remus guy) and Meindert de Jong (who wrote one of my favorite books, the Newbery-winning The Wheel on the School, but who isn't really familiar to young readers anymore). Not bad choices, but a little strange considering they might have used authors who are still popular today, like Virginia Hamilton, Edward Ardizzone, E B White, Madeleine L'Engle, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Laurence Yep, Beverly Cleary, Eleanor Estes, William Steig, Julius Lester, Margaret Wise Brown, Marguerite Henry, Lois Lenski, Gary Soto, P L Travers, and the list goes on. Even J K Rowling if you want to be really modren.

If I was buying Author card games today, I'd get all four sets - Authors, American Authors, American Women Authors, and Children's Authors - and make one huge deck. What a monstrous game of Go Fish that would be!

Celinda Scott said...

I loved this game, and now my grandchildren play it. I agree that Jane Austen should be in it, but would rather see her added--a bigger deck--rather than replacing someone. I found this blog because I was sad to see that John Greenleaf Whittier had been replaced by Poe and wanted to discuss it with someone. Whittier was an abolitionist poet and a Quaker--high ideals nice to discuss with my grandchildren. Poe's famous and entertaining, but not much of a values builder.

Kristin - The Goat said...

You are quite popular this week! I wrote about the Authors card game on my blog today and linked back to you. You did such a nice job talking about the game that I decided not to repeat it. Authors - the card game

Have a great day!