I played solitaire the other day after breakfast.
I sat at my dining room table and had a second cup of coffee, listened to the rain outside on the porch and played a few hands of La Belle Lucie, a favorite of my grandmother’s that we all played endlessly on rainy summer days in the house on the lake.
And then, dawdling, avoiding my home office and the novel I’ve been picking at for a while, I started building a house of cards.
That led, of course, to a little bit of research on the internet...
A “house of cards” is an argument or position that falls apart easily; it looks sturdy, but it’s not.
John Milton first used the expression in 1641: “Painted battlements... which want but one puff of the King’s to blow them down like a paste-board house built of court-cards.” (from Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in
In its simplest terms, a house of cards is just that: a structure built from playing cards, one that relies on an architectural system of layering and stacking cards, using balance and friction to attain height and stability.
A classic example of this architecture is, of course,
where one horizontal stone was “stacked” on two vertical ones.
Not cards, perhaps, but the principle is the same.
Some argue that the larger the structure, the more opportunities for it to fail (all it takes is one card, after all, to cause the collapse of the whole thing); others say that the higher a house of cards stands, the more secure the foundation, since the weight of the upper cards against the lower provides stability.
Take your pick.
In 1901, an Englishwoman by the name of Victoria Maitland, established the first known record of a house of cards, a fifteen-story structure.
Her achievement didn’t last long; in 1902, Rosie Farner (also English), built one of twenty stories.
And in 1903, Miss F.M. Hollams (yet another Englishwoman – what’s with those English, anyway?) built a towering twenty-five story number.
I cannot imagine twenty-five stories: I feel successful at two.
The current world-record holder is Bryan Berg (
), who built
one more than 25 feet high in 2007. USA
Today, “House of Cards” is many things: a movie about a woman whose husband dies in an accident at an archeological dig; a television series about a congressman who seeks revenge on all those he feels have betrayed him; a documentary about the recent financial crisis in the United States.
There are several books, too – one a romantic trilogy in which each novel is subtitled for a playing card: Ace of Hearts, Jack of Clubs, Queen of Diamonds. Characters include the Earl of Carde, his son Alexander (called Ace) and another son Jonathan (Jack); I’m assuming the lost daughter is the Queen, but am not sure.
Other Houses of Cards are: a political thriller; the story of an Alabama college student who becomes involved with the student movement of the 1960s and, I’ll bet, topples within the cause; another’s an expose of greed and arrogance on Wall Street; a fourth tells the story of a woman’s unsuccessful attempt to build a home...a tale that ends, as the review says, in insanity.
I think I’ll stick to solitaire.