Monday, May 30, 2011

In Bloom

The last few posts have been a little dark. Or at least a little gross.
So here is one that will hopefully inspire some spring-time. I came across the following image on Cedars Between the Pines, the sweet tumblr site operated by my cousin Emma. She must spend a shocking amount of time online!
But it makes sense that I would find it there, as we are both from the same strange and old fashioned family with one foot stuck in Victorian England. The language of Flowers, and any secret code, was of great interest to me in childhood and still filled with mysterious intrigue today.

Many books were published on the subject, the book on the left is Flora's Lexicon by Catherine Waterman published in 1857. The book on the right is Robert Tyas' Language of Flowers published in 1869.

In its most basic form The language of Flowers, or Floriography, uses flowers to send a coded message.
Red roses mean passionate love, as they still do today.
Some less common codes are:
Scarlet Lily - High souled aspirations
Cabbage - Profit
Yellow Carnation - "You have disappointed me"
Lime Blossom - Fornication

Some of the codes seem a little diluted, yellow roses can mean: Friendship, jealousy, infidelity, or apology, a broken heart, intense emotion, dying love, extreme betrayal. It seems that it would be all to easy to send a mixed message.
There is a comprehensive list found here and another in chart form here.

The Victorians were all about propriety, or seeming propriety, and greatly into symbolism. Floriography plays into that need intensely. Sending secret messages under the watchful eyes of chaperones, parents and society would have been just the thrill that the Victorians craved.
The association with plants and Botany would also have helped bring it into the scope of the Victorians. Science was just emerging as an interest for the everyday Victorian and floriography would have been a simple and Romantic way to access that.
In 1829 Almira Phelps, a very early female botanist, wrote "the study of Botany seems peculiarly adapted to females; the objects of its investigation are beautiful and delicate; its pursuit leading to exercise in the open air is conducive to health and cheerfulness. Botany is not a sedentary study which can be acquired in the library; but the objects of the science are scattered over the surface of the earth, along the banks of the winding brooks, on the borders of precipices, the sides of mountains, and the depths of the forest."
Women were able to find more freedom in the arena of science so long as it was deemed suitable to their womanly selves. The mingling of sentiment and etiquette with the womanly symbolism of flowers would have been much more acceptable than delving into any sort of hard and tangible science.

Previous images clockwise from top left:
-Uncredited, woman in wonderfully absurd floral dress found via Floriography Jewelry, The Victorians and their florals have inspired many fussy unattractive things but I find this jewelry strangely appealing.
-Frontispiece from Flora's Interpreter and Fortuna Flora, by Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, 1850.
-To beauty, friendship and love (rose, ivy and myrtle), hand-colored engraving from Anna Christian Burke’s The Illustrated Language of Flowers, 1856.
-Cover from the Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway, 1884. View the complete book here.

For further reading on the subject of Floriography and Victorian women and Botany have a look here and here.

1 comment:

  1. I loved The Language of Flowers growing up. I pretty much stole my mom's copy. I still love it. Beautiful sentiments.