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An ‘“Electric Telegraph” of the Heart’: A Community of Feeling in the Victorian Language of Flowers

Jemma Stewart

Published In:
Published Date:

January 2024

Keywords:

Language of Flowers, Floriography, Gift Books, Inscriptions, Readerships

Abstract:

The publishing craze of the language of flowers anthologies spanned the length of the nineteenth century. As a cultural fad and popular form allied to the gift annual and the gift book, the language of flowers anthologies were well-known and prolific. The floriography of the flower 'vocabularies' became diffused and disseminated throughout the cultural imagination, yet, the anthologies were initially marketed at a female, middle-class, 'genteel' readership, with the broad aim of advancing the romantic endeavours of the reader. In this article, I ask whether there was a community of meaning, authorship and readership of the language of flowers. Was a community of feeling established through the ‘gifting’ process inherent within this genre? Might the books have been meaningful to a wider range of relationships beyond the proposed remit of romantic entanglement? Looking to case studies of personalised inscriptions, together with the introductory and prefatory contents of the books, I will consider whether the language of flowers had a broader appeal than might be assumed, investigating just how far floral meanings became embedded in notions of feeling. Finally, I will speculate about how we might consider feeling through flowers now, in light of the many perceived foibles and failings of this nineteenth-century genre.

Published in:
ISSN:

2517-7850

Pages:

60 - 89

Date of Publication:

January 2024

About the author

Jemma Stewart

Jemma is a CHASE-funded PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London, supervised by Dr Ana Parejo Vadillo. She is working on a thesis that explores the language of flowers, or floriography, and nineteenth century Gothic fictions by women writers. She has articles featured in the journals Gothic Studies and Gothic Nature, and has recently been awarded Birkbeck's 'Margaret Elise Harkness Fellowship Prize' for her doctoral work on women writers in the nineteenth century.

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