The Victorian Language of Flowers: Hiding Secret Messages in Plain Plain (2023)

If a bouquet of flowers arrives on our doorstep, we are more interested in knowing who sent it. Victorians were more concerned with whatmeant. The Victorian language of flowers, also known as floriography, was a way of sending messages using specific plants and flowers. The combination of different flowers made it possible to send more complex or sophisticated messages.

The Victorians were famous for their "buttoning", with a strict set of codes that dictated behavior. Relationships between people were particularly subject to rules and potential partners could not say what they wanted. It could even be negative messages. The orange lilies meant "You are proud" and "I hate you" (Gray 2015:7)

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That said, the Victorians were nothing if not innovative. The language of flowers has become a way of passing messages in a subtle and discreet way. I've seen people refer to it as a "secret" language, but I disagree with that. After all, if people could access lists of flower meanings, it would hardly be space science to decode the message. It was more important as a way to "say" something without saying it out loud or in writing. Floriography is more a set of gestures than a “language”.

In this post, we'll explore where the language of flowers came from, how it developed, and how you can use it in the 21st century. Read on or press 'play' to listen to the podcast version of this post.

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Who created the language?

It is difficult to pinpoint a specific creator as the meanings of the flowers have changed over time and between countries. Nobody sat down and decided to 'invent' a language based on these meanings.

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Although she was not its creator, a key figure in the development of floriography was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. The wife of the British ambassador, Lady Montagu, lived in Turkey in the early 18th century. I wrote letters home about the practice ofola. According to her, this was a way for the harem ladies to pass on secret messages to their lovers. Instead of sending notes, which could be intercepted, they sent flowers as part of that language (Stott 2016).

Or they? Many have already realized thatolait was a rhyming game, not a secret language of flowers. Montagu misinterpreted what it was or idealized it for his readers (Stott 2016). Finally, he spoke about the people who practiced it. History is full of examples of a story that made a better choice than the truth. The publication of his embassy letters captured the public imagination. They latched on to the idea of ​​sending messages using flowers, especially given their seemingly "exotic" origin.

The language of flowers arrives

Romie Stott explains that there was already a fashion in France in the early 19th century for using flower almanacs. These combined images of seasonal flowers with facts or poems. The new flower dictionaries that appeared in 1810 were essentially appendices to these almanacs (2016).

(Video) The Victorian Language of Flowers: Hiding Secret Messages in Plain Sight

Publishers began printing flower dictionaries, most notably one by Louise Cortambert (writing as Madame Charlotte de La Tour) in 1819.the language of flowers, Cortambert notes that "the ancients knew the language of flowers" and suggests that the Greeks sent secret messages through flowers. She also continues to believe in the Eastern practices of flowers used as love notes. However, Cortambert added an additional element, saying that "the meanings of the different flowers are changed" to help keep the messages secret.

Some of the meanings come from observations about plants, such as the snowflake that represents hope, as it is the first plant to be released from the snow. More meanings came from the legends and lore surrounding the flowers.sweet violetsit meant modesty (Burke 1856: 61), following the myth in which the god Apollo chased one of Diana's nymph friends, for which the goddess turned her into a violet to preserve her virtue.

Others stemmed from its medicinal properties, such as pennyroyal meaning “you must go,” which comes from its use as an abortifacient (Stott 2016). An ancient medicinal idea known as the "signature doctrine" was true: a plant looked like the part of the body that could help. Therefore, the nuts represented the intellect, as they resembled the brain.

Sometimes the meanings make sense, like poppies to represent "dream", referring to its soporific qualities. That said, Cortambert says poppies represent "comfort."

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Other dictionaries followed, many adding illustrations to the books. published routledgeThe illustrated language of flowers, compiled by Mrs. L. Burke, in 1856. This dictionary works both ways: the first half presents flowers and their associated meanings, while the second half lists common messages and the associated flowers. This makes it easier to decide which flowers to send or decode the message.

According to Patricia Telesco, most people consulted a Miss Corruthers of Inverness book from 1879 (1994: 32). Telesco does not name this book, but a quick Google search reveals that it isKnowledge of flowers: the teachings of flowers, historical, legendary, poetic and symbolicpor Miss Carruthers.

His book is an impressive compendium of flower folklore, combining more detailed articles on flowers with a "dictionary" at the end. Each flower comes with its set of "keywords", along with its lore.

language develops

Telesco points out that the language of flowers does not only contain flowers. It also contains trees, moss, vines and other plants (1994: 2). This gave people a much wider range of botanical content for their messages. It is good work that wealthy Victorians can take advantage of new industrial developments to create greenhouses, allowing them to grow all kinds of botanical beauties (Stott 2016).

However, Telesco also says that the scents of flowers alone can communicate a message. She gives the example of a young woman dropping a violet-scented handkerchief to tell a prospective lover that "his admiration would be unshakable" (1994: 32).

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But S. Theresa Dietz points out a fundamental flaw in floriography. Given the wide range of meanings of the different flowers, it was essential that both the recipient and the sender use thesameflower dictionary (2020:6).

The language of flowers and creativity

Floriography also became a way to add symbolism to artistic creations. The flowers mentioned in the novels gained a new meaning, sometimes lost to modern readers. At theJane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë used a list of flowers to help strengthen Jane's feelings. For example, when her time at the horrible Lowood School comes to an end, Brontë describes how “the flowers peeked out from between the leaves; Snowdrops, crocuses, purple auricles and golden-eyed pansies."

According to the language of flowers, they represent hope (Burke 1856: 55), youthful joy (Burke 1856: 17), worthiness and thoughts (Burke 1856: 45). In the dictionary of Mrs. Burke, auricle means "painting" (1856:9), which is odd here.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the group of artists who traced the apparent purity of art before Raphael, added additional messages to their paintings, including specific flowers. For example, in Frederick Sandys' painting Vivien, he includes Daphne, who represents coquetry and the desire to please. However, its toxicity reflects the dangerous femininity of Vivien herself. Again, such meanings may be lost on the modern viewer, but they add a depth to the paintings that can be fun to unravel.

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So how do you send a message using flowers?

It all boiled down to meanings, which are what make floriography so exciting and complicated in equal measure. I might want to tell someone that I need my own space, but that makes me sad, so I could mix heather (loneliness) with yew (sadness). Although I can also send malicious messages, with plants such as hydrangeas (You are cold), fragrant tusilage (Justice will be done to you) or wild tanseo (I declare war on you).

Senders had to take into account the meaning of each flower and its position in an arrangement. The color of the flower also affected the content of your message. A purple iris meant “You are beautiful” (as well as conveying wisdom), but a yellow iris meant passion (Gray 2015:80). Choosing the right flower, the right color, and the right location was how you "wrote" a sentence.

Not only that, but some flowers had multiple meanings. Samantha Gray gives the example that white lilies meant virginity, majesty and purity (2015: 7). How can you be sure you sent the correct message? The recipient needed to look at each flower in the arrangement to determine the context of the bouquet. Only then did the meaning become clear. Also, as Dietz pointed out, you had to make sure you had the same dictionary of meanings.

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Consult the volume of Mrs. Burke makes the choice of flowers a little easier, as she claims that the imperial lily means majesty, while the white lily represents purity. Being specific was clearly beneficial. A casual look at the flowers available in Victorian dictionaries is impressive, as many plants are unknown today. The decline of the Victorian conservatory no doubt contributes to this problem. But it also makes it difficult to put together a bouquet with Interflora if they don't sellmandrake.

Even the way the flowers were delivered conveyed a message. If you delivered the flowers with your right hand, your answer was 'yes'. The left hand meant 'no'. Even the tape was relevant. The symbolism referred to the giver when tied on the left and the receiver when tied on the right (Almanac 2022).

(Video) How To Pick a Bouquet Using Victorian Flower Language (Valentines Day Special)

Whatever happened to the language of flowers?

The outbreak of World War I largely relegated floriography to history. Growing the flowers took a lot of time and war demanded that resources be spent on more useful things than growing plants (Stott 2016). As social codes were relaxed, the need to send secret messages disappeared. That said, English Heritage notes that there is little evidence that anyone messaged flowers (2017).

Clearly, the Victorians were not the first to make associations between flowers and concepts. Magical and astrological texts associate plants with spirits and deities. For example, William Lilly associatedmartewith nettles, brambles, ginger and hemlock, among other herbs (2004 [1647]: 68). He linked Jupiter with betony, lungwort, marjoram, and violets (2004 [1647]: 64).

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However, it's still a fun way to show people what you really think or how you feel, even if the recipient never gets the message. Bear in mind though that you might be sending a spam message. I was once given a bouquet of crimson-red roses. Whilepurple rosesit means 'I love you' which was the meaning I was hoping for, dark red roses are a sign of mourning (Almanac 2022). The sender broke up with me two months later.

Perhaps a better use is through gardening. Use flower meanings to help send a message through what you plant in your garden. By way of example, because as I said before, theSnowflakeit meant hope, as did the hawthorn tree, the live oak, also known as the evergreen oak, meant freedom, and the water willow meant freedom (Burke 1856).

What message would you like to convey to the world using the Language of Flowers?

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Almanac (2022), 'Meanings of Flowers: The Language of Flowers',,

Burke, L. (1858),The illustrated language of flowers, Londres: G. Routledge & Sons.

Carruthers, Young (1879),Knowledge of flowers: the teachings of flowers, historical, legendary, poetic and symbolic, Londres: George Bell & Sons.

Cortambert, Louise (1835),the language of flowers, Londres: Saunders y Otley.

Dietz, Saint Theresa (2020),The Complete Language of Flowers: A Definitive, Illustrated History, Nueva York: Wellfleet Press.

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English Heritage (2017), 'What can history teach us about the language of flowers?',english heritage,

Gris, Samantha (2015),The secret language of flowers, London: CICO Books.

Lilly, Guillermo (2004 [1647]),christian astrology, Abingdon, MD: Classics of Astrology.

Stott, Romie (2016), 'How flower-obsessed Victorians encoded messages in bouquets',dark atlas,

Telesco, Patricia (1994),The Victorian Flower Oracle, St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.

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