Language of the Flowers

A creative essay about the Victorian's flower language.

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1. Language of the Flowers

Language of the Flowers

by 94931355 

 

  Far more complex than the simple exchange of burgeoning florets, the language of flowers offered to Victorians the opportunity of expressing otherwise unseemly emotions and sentiments. In fact, during the incumbency of Queen Victoria, fluency in the language of flowers was considered a part of etiquette nearly as severe in import as that of being well attired. The elaborate vocabulary boasts a history extending backward through time so far as the Medieval age, when certain herbs and flowers with ascribed powers were cultivated especially for use in the royal gardens. These archaic beliefs aided in the development of the far more complex and refined flower language used by Victorians.

  Even so, it was only through the simple meanings expressed by the mere presence of certain buds that the language of flowers evolved into a far more delicate and nuanced codex of phraseology. For Victorians, even the recognizable scent of some choice blossom – perhaps applied lovingly to a letter or handkerchief – could carry some secret message or meaning; many a young lover did find solace in such minute acts of affection as these, especially when etiquette dictated prudence in more public realms. The entire tone of a letter, thus endowed, could be amended into something entirely different, even risqué.

  So, it can be seen why bouquets were a popular gift in the Victorian era. Small bouquets, called tussie-mussies, or posies, were a common present, each floret in the doily wrapped bunches chosen specifically for its implied message. Entire books were written on the subject of these flowers' meanings, effectively, dictionaries of the language of flowers. It is interesting to note that tussie-mussies evolved from a medieval herb boutonnière called the nosegay (literally nose and gay). Nosegays were worn because of the period's unhygienic customs, which in turn led to constant assault from malicious odours. By the time of Queen Victoria's reign, these miniature bouquets had become a staple fashion accessory for ladies, young and old alike, and were worn pinned to hats or bodices. Even men of the era did not escape the flowers' far ranging grasp, and it became customary for a man to wear a corsage on certain occasions. Jewelry and chinaware also commonly sported specifically chosen floral accents – in fact, Oriental played a large part in the development of the language of flowers: floral traditions play a large role in the eastern cultures.

  So then, exactly what messages might one send through the language of the flowers? Well, for instance, should a young man offer to some fair lady a bouquet of red Carnations, held upright and presented ceremoniously, the lady should realize that he kindles some flame for her (specifically of the sort which causes one's heart to ache). Now, should said lady accept, gracefully, those rouge buds, and return one to her suitor – with her right hand, of course – her acceptance and approval of this sentiment should be clear. However, simple acceptance would send a mixed signal; and to return one, or all, of the flowers with the left hand would represent disapproval – especially should she not endeavor even to retain the bouquet's upright stature.

  Imagine, then, that the young gentleman's initial offering was of Dogwood rather than Carnations. Our lady should take this to mean that her suitor feels her attitude cold, and perhaps indifferent, toward him – the degree of this sentiment varying by how dense the bouquet. In this situation, the acceptance of the collection, via the right hand, and without attention to repute, should signify that she, indeed, remains cold and aloft. Perhaps, though, her mind might be changed should those Dogwoods be interspersed among Eremurus buds – representative of endurance – or Sweet-Williams – a plea for a single smile. In return, on some other occasion, a lady might (secretly) give her suitor the leaf of a Rose in order to impart unto him some hope; though more risqué would be a single Rose in full bloom, which would tell said young man that he is truly and wholeheartedly loved. An Oleander, or slightly more encouraging Golden Rod, might accompany this Rose or its leaves in order to convey that caution should be henceforth adhered too – perhaps prying eyes have noted some secret passions. On the other hand, the floret Narcissus could be used to dissuade further advances, but rather promote a lasting friendship, no matter how fruitless the gesture; or, ultimately, a Striped Carnation, or the slightly harsher Candytuft, is indicative that further relationship should not be sought.

  It would be impossible to here account for all of the possible situations, similar to those expressed, but hopefully, dear reader, you may begin to see the complexity involved in communications through the language of flowers. It is of interest to note that Carnations and Roses, often serving as bouquet centerpieces, have so wide and varying of meanings, depending on what type, in what stage of bloom and whether or not the thorns have been removed, that more than one inadvertent message has been sent, with disastrous results. If for instance, the wrong colour red is chosen, a message of shame or mourning could be sent, rather than the intended discourse on beauty; pair that with a white Rose, and a man may accidentally offend his lover, having accidentally called her a shameful, immature girl; or perhaps the poor severity of the bloom indicates that she is ignorant. In either case, the outcome is bound for tragedy.

  The author would like to note that, though these misunderstandings were not necessarily uncommon, most young men and women courting in the Victorian era did take great pains in selecting and presenting their flowers and bouquets. It would not be uncommon for a youth consumed by passion's fiery throes to spend more than a week simply considering which flowers to purchase, and all of the ways in which his arrangement might be interpreted; in similar fashion, a young lady presented with a spray of Lilies and Gardenias might while away countless nights, sleepless, considering all of the things her suitor might mean by his gift.

  To speak with flowers was considered a gesture of refinement: when one either held little talent for, or wanted to accompany one's, poetry, an aptly chosen bouquet could express that which was lacking. Many an embarrassment, as well as triumphant joy, has been communicated wordlessly through the language of flowers. Hearts have been broken, woken, wounded and healed simply by those sweet buds' fragrances and colours; and nights spent wondering about one's true love have been spent all the sweeter for it.

  Before next you are sender or recipient of a bouquet of sprightly young buds, this author dares recommend a quick peak into a flower dictionary. The act of flower giving may become only sweeter for it, and the thought will go a long way toward strengthening those fiery passions.

 

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