Friday, May 14, 2010

The Game of Boston

In case you were wondering, as I was, what the heck this game of "Boston" is that the Russian aristocrats we meet in the early parts of the book seem to love so much:
By the late 18th century English players were forsaking Quadrille for partnership Whist. In France, Quadrille-playing society was finding itself rapidly decimated by the guillotine. This left room for the development of a new game of the same alliance genre as Quadrille, but of simpler, more populist structure, and free from what must have been regarded as the "effete" associations of aristocratic women's games. Such is Boston Whist, le whist bostonien, which became the great nineteenth century alternative to Quadrille, almost everywhere in the Western world, except Britain, where, however, it eventually emerged as Solo Whist....

The origin of Boston is shrouded in dubious legends. It is claimed that Bostonians under the siege of 1775, sought to relieve their tedium and political frustrations by divorcing English Whist from fixed partnership, the solo or independence element, a claim supported by additional bids under such names as Philadelphia, Souveraine and Concordia. A survey of nineteenth century compendia, however, shows that most of them were introduced long after the event in question. Another view credits the game to officers of the allied French fleet then lying off Marblehead. Two little islands in the harbor are known as Little Misery and Big Misery, by which, it is said, the bids of Petite misere and Grand misere were inspired; but these too prove under examination to be latter additions. Yet, another claim is that Benjamin Franklin, who was a keen player and who is even said to have invented the game, introduced it to the Court of King Louis XVI, upon his trip to Versailles in 1767. More likely than any of these romantic flights of fancy is that it developed in France and took its name and inspiration from current events in America, to which it had become a welcome export before the signing of the Franco-American Alliance of 1778. (In this connection it is perhaps only an attractive "red-herring" to note that Trappola cards were known in parts of Europe as boston karten, from the suit of bastoni, or clubs.

We'll post something soon on general legal principles governing wills, trusts, and estates, which come up in the disputed estate and successive wills of Count Bezukhov. We have a couple lawyers moderating here so far. Also, to keep you updated, the reach of this project continues to grow, as we now have participants in L.A., Tokyo, New York, New Zealand, Boston, Texas, Brazil, and India, to name just some of the places we've been able to keep track of. Keep spreading the word and bullying people into reading the book with us this summer!

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