Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Say it with flowers…

I'm having enormous fun leafing through (sorry) the Victorian Illuminated Language of Flowers by Jean Marsh and illustrated by Kate Greenaway. They focus on the lovey-dovey stuff, but I'm more interested in the numerous ways you can be spiteful with a bouquet.

Here's the wreath for Paul Uppal's inevitable expulsion from Parliament:
Common Almond: Stupidity, Indiscretion; African Marigold means Vulgar Minds. Dogsbane: Deceit (apple thorns for 'deceitful charms') and Scarlet Auricula for Avarice

Basil for hatred, Belvedere for 'I declare against you'. Bilberry for treachery. Birdsfoot trefoil for revenge. Bramble communicates 'lowliness, envy or remorse', whereas a bud of white rose signifies a heart 'ignorant of love'. Yellow carnations are for disdain while White Catchfly conveys 'betrayed'. Darnel is for vice and dragonswort for horror (also Mandrake). Foxglove for insincerity and Frog Ophrys for Disgust. Hydrangeas go to the boastful while you should send Japan Rose to those with more looks than brain ('beauty is your only attraction') - though if s/he understands the flowers, s/he's not that thick. Lettuce, rather picturesquely, represents coldheartedness. And if anyone sends you any, you can just eat it.

Wild Liquorice is 'I declare against you', and lobelia is for malevolence… there's loads of this stuff.

Did anyone really use these codes, except in drippy poetry and beyond the most obvious flowers? It seems to have been a Victorian parlour game, the kind of activity swept away by the wireless, kinematograph and sending explicit telegrams ('sextographing', as it was known in the yellow press).

Perhaps it's time to revive it. Instead of awarding grades, I'll return essays with flowers pressed between the pages: clematis ('mental beauty'), white mulberry ('wisdom') or Venice Sumach ('intellectual excellence')  for the best work and Fig Marigold ('idleness') for the worst. Ground laurel ('perseverance') for those who put the effort in, common laurel in flower ('perfidy') or mock orange ('counterfeit') for the plagiarists.

Venetian sumach for the clever-clogs

Mock orange for cheating bounders

For my academic career, it has to be meadow saffron ('my happiest days are past').

As to my book-buying problem, the appropriate flower is scarlet poppy ('fantastic extravagance').

Anyway, it's Sweet Pea to you, because I have a train to catch (ten-week stock for promptness) or else I'll be receiving flax-leaved goldy-locks ('tardiness').


Sue's Blog said...

This post is hilarious. It conjured up visions of Victorians frantically rummaging around in people’s gardens and scouring the countryside for the ‘right’ flower. It must have been very frustrating for them if the flower they wanted was out of season. It’s amazing what people did to amuse themselves in the days before TV.
As for your MP he has got be the elusive scarlet pimpernel.

The Plashing Vole said...

Very good!
We need a new language of flowers:
A 'spam' flower
One for internet trolling
'It's complicated'.