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The Flowers Personified

Gina Margolies

Have you ever found an object that was odd or funny or unusual which, for no obvious or practical reason, you liked? It could be something like a doorknob that doesn’t fit any of your doors or an old hand fan that you just like to hold. For me, these objects are often books. Odd, funny, unusual little books that fascinate me for no particular reason other than that they do. One such book is The Flowers Personified, the English translation of a French book entitled Les Fleurs Animees (Why does everything sound better in French?) published in 1847.

This book was one of many of its kind published in the early to mid-Victorian Era which sought to provide information about the then popular idea that each flower has a particular meaning aka floriography. This book tells a series of stories based on the fantastical premise that various flowers have been transformed into women. This sounds silly to my modern ears, yet I find the stories fascinating. Each woman keeps the characteristics attributed to the flower, in human form. My favorite is the story of the rose. As a woman the rose is, of course, the most beautiful and the most admired. Kings fall in love with her, poets compose sonnets in her honor and a contest is devoted to determine the origin of the flower called, aptly, the Games of the Rose. I love the various possible histories that are presented, such as Venus being adorned by a rose when she emerged from the foam of the sea or Zephyrus changing himself into a rose to attract the attention of his beloved Flora with the rose’s alluring fragrance. The book also contains odd little essays and asides, but the main focus is what flowers would be like if they became women, floriography writ large I suppose one could say. 

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