The Language of Flowers: A History

Beverly Seaton

The Language of Flowers: A History
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The Language of Flowers: A History

Beverly Seaton

To modern enthusiasts, no feature of Victorian popular culture appears more charming, more cozy, more absolutely ‘Victorian’, than the language of flowers. But, in reality , writes Beverly Seaton, none is more misunderstood. The purpose of this study is to explain the language of flowers, recount its history, and discuss its relationship to other aspects of Victorian popular culture . The author traces the phenomenon of ascribing sentimental meaning to floral imagery from its beginnings in Napoleonic France through its later transformations in England and America. At the heart of the book is a depiction of what the three most important flower books from each of the countries divulge about the period and the respective cultures. Seaton shows that the language of flowers was not a single and universally understood correlation of flowers to meanings that men and women used to communicate in matters of love and romance. The language differs from book to book, country to country. Of the three cultures represented, she writes that the English and American books were apt to take the country ideal for women for granted, assuming that all good women love flowers, perhaps not wanting to acknowledge any other type of woman. The French works are much franker, much more able to talk about types. Also, while the goal of the English or American woman in her love of flowers was to purify her soul, to make herself more of a helpmate for a disappointed man , the French woman’s goal was to further feminise herself, making herself more attractive for her lover(s) . To place the language of flowers in social and literary perspective, the author examines the 19th century use of flowers in everyday life and in ceremonies and rituals and provides a brief history of floral symbolism. She also addresses the sentimental flower book, a genre especially intended for female readers. Two especially valuable features of the book are its table of correlations of flowers and their meanings from different sourcebooks and its complete bibliography of language of flower titles. This book should appeal not only to scholars in Victorian studies and women’s studies but also to art historians, book collectors, museum personnel, historians of horticulture, and anyone interested in 19th century popular culture.

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