Excerpt from The Mansion of Happiness by Jill Lepore, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Mansion of Happiness

A History of Life and Death

by Jill Lepore

The Mansion of Happiness by Jill Lepore
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2012, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2013, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


That life's a game, divines confess;
This says at cards, and that at chess;
But if our views be center'd here, '
Tis all a losing game, I fear.


The New Game of Human Life showed up in the United States not long after George Washington was inaugurated, and it was still being played as late as the 1870s; although, by then, an essayist who wrote about it made it sound quaint, an antique game played "on a queer old parchment." The fearsome hand of providence made the New Game of Human Life, by latter-day board game standards, unbearably dull. There's no strategy, just dutiful to-ing and fro-ing, in abject obedience to the roll of the die and the rules of the game. Even worse, there's a dispiriting absence of adversaries; you're racing against other players, but you're not competing with them, not the way you are in, say, Monopoly, when you get to charge them exorbitant rents. And, as for parents offering up "a few moral and judicious observations" at each square, I have tried this - giving my best impression of an eighteenth-century father - and all I can say is: no dice. When my six-year-old landed on the Docile Boy, I asked him, "Do you know what ‘docile' means?"

"No."

"It means you should do what I say, you little blister."

"Oh yeah?" He narrowed his eyes. "Your roll."

Two more games of life, the Mansion of Bliss and the Mansion of Happiness, were both produced in England beginning around 1800. They look a lot like the New Game of Human Life: spiral race games adapted to the pilgrimage of life. Both represent immortality, life's final destination, as a heavenly mansion; this was then a popular Christian conceit, taken from John 14:2: "In my Father's house are many mansions." "O Lord! deliver us from sin," prayed one American evangelical in 1814, "and when we shall have finished our earthly course, admit us to the mansion of bliss and happiness." Or, as the rules to the Mansion of Bliss had it:

Who enter the mansion of bliss,
Will have cause to rejoice at his claim;
So well has he travell'd thro' life,
He has happily ended the game.


In the United States, the Mansion of Bliss never really made a mark, maybe because the phrase "the mansion of bliss" was also used by Americans to refer to an especially alluring woman's breasts. But the Mansion of Happiness, the most popular board game in Britain, had an extraordinarily successful American career. It was sold in the United States at least as early as 1806. In 1843, an American edition, based on revisions to the English game made by Anne Wales Abbott, the editor of a Boston-based juvenile magazine called the Child's Friend, was offered by W. and S. B. Ives, a printing company in Salem. In ten months, Ives sold nearly four thousand of what went on to become the century's most enduring game. It became a staple of Victorian parlors; it made its way west on the Overland Trail.

The Mansion of Happiness is abundantly pious. Its rules begin:

At this amusement each will find
A moral fit t'improve the mind;
It gives to those their proper due,
Who various paths of vice pursue,
And shows (while vice destruction brings)
That good from every virtue springs.
Be virtuous then and forward press,
To gain the seat of happiness.


You can hear, in these lines, echoes of the earliest Puritan primers: "In Adam's fall, we sinned all." And the last couplet alludes, quite particularly, to the beginning of John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), in which Man waits for the son of God to "Restore us, and regain the blissful seat."

Excerpted from The Mansion of Happiness by Jill Lepore. Copyright © 2012 by Jill Lepore. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Midwinter Break
    Midwinter Break
    by Bernard MacLaverty
    Northern Ireland's Bernard MacLaverty is the author of five novels and multiple short story ...
  • Book Jacket: The Ninth Hour
    The Ninth Hour
    by Alice McDermott
    In a pivotal scene in The Ninth Hour, young Sally encounters an increasingly loathsome series of ...
  • Book Jacket: Rebellion
    Rebellion
    by Molly Patterson
    Rebellion overlays the stories of four women, spanning a century and the globe in their wide ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford

    Inspired by a true story, about a boy whose life is transformed at Seattle's epic 1909 World's Fair.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Twelve-Mile Straight
    by Eleanor Henderson

    An audacious epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don't Rise

A debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y Can't M A S P O O A S E

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.