Object name: Alphabet Letters
Object number: CHWJA:JAH50
Description: A collection of delicate ivory letters, contained in an Anglo Indian game box of rectangular form, decorated with ivory veneer and inlaid with metalwork mosaic roundels and borders.
Made: Early nineteenth century.
Context: Letters like these were a popular Georgian pastime, used to play a variety of word games and to teach children to read and write.
The Austens, who delighted in word games, may have had just such a box of letters. They certainly played word games at home. In 1808, Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra about a visit from their nephews, describing their activities as including: ‘spillikins, paper ships, riddles, conundrums and cards’ (Jane Austen, 25 October 1808).
Letters and word games are also used as a device in Emma. In chapter 41 Frank Churchill initiates a game of anagrams, which he uses both to flirt with Emma and to tease Jane Fairfax:
“Miss Woodhouse,” said Frank Churchill, after examining a table behind him, which he could reach as he sat, “have your nephews taken away their alphabets—their box of letters? It used to stand here. Where is it? This is a sort of dull-looking evening, that ought to be treated rather as winter than summer. We had great amusement with those letters one morning. I want to puzzle you again.”
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