The Victorian Language of Flowers Inspire New Flower Cat Portraits
“Do you know what I think Mayflowers are, Marilla? I think they must be the souls of the flowers that died last summer, and this is their heaven.”
~ Anne of Green Gables
In 1991, this delightful Anne of Green Gables Treasury was published, which brought the world of Anne Shirley magically to life; with authentic recipes, arts & crafts, old wives’ home remedies, historical facts about life on Prince Edwards’ Island at the turn of the last century, everything a fan could wish for…. including a section on gardening and the “meanings of flowers”.
My grandmother gave me this hardcover book when I was around twelve (for my birthday or Christmas, I can’t remember, as they fell within 2 weeks of each other), and a huge fan of the Sullivan production of “Anne of Green Gables”, and its spin-off mini-series “Avonlea”.
I remember pouring over the flower section, and learning the meanings of all my favorites: lilacs (“first emotions of love”) violets (“faithfulness”), pansies (“you occupy my thoughts”), dogwoods (“durability”), maidenhair ferns (“secrecy”), and English ivy (“fidelity”).
As a child, I was especially interested in secret means of communication, so the idea of composing a bouquet of flowers to act as a coded message was intriguing.
Of course, the majority of these flowers proclaimed affectionate feelings (or lack thereof) and confirmed the status of a relationship. So instead of posting “it’s complicated” on Facebook, you might send marigolds for “uneasiness”, or evening primroses for “inconstancy”.
In Jane Austen’s time, it was considered inappropriate for unrelated (and unmarried) men and women to correspond back and forth via letter-writing. Letters were reserved for relatives, close (same-sex) friendships, and betrothed couples.
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 29
… That such letters, so full of affection and confidence, could have been so answered, Elinor, for Willoughby’s sake, would have been unwilling to believe. But her condemnation of him did not blind her to the impropriety of their having been written at all; and she was silently grieving over the imprudence which had hazarded such unsolicited proofs of tenderness, not warranted by anything preceding, and most severely condemned by the event, when Marianne, perceiving that she had finished the letters, observed to her that they contained nothing but what any one would have written in the same situation.
“I felt myself,” she added, “to be as solemnly engaged to him, as if the strictest legal covenant had bound us to each other.”
“I can believe it,” said Elinor; “but unfortunately, he did not feel the same.”
Marianne’s eagerness to dash off notes to the scoundrel Willoughby upon her arrival in London, going so far as to send one in the middle of the night, was sure to spark rumors of a secret engagement.
The other letter which readily springs to my mind is Mr. Darcy’s confession after Lizzy refuses his marriage proposal, in chapter 35 of “Pride and Prejudice”… he admits that defending himself against her accusations within a letter was a bit extreme, but he felt it must be written to absolve his character.
It’s fascinating that in an era before text messaging and telephones, long before relations between men and women became commonplace… in a proper society which demanded young couples keep a respectable distance and always be chaperoned, that they still found ways to circumvent their elders in order to get better acquainted. They managed to communicate their feelings through secret codes and carefully crafted flower bouquets.
Obviously, Mr. Darcy couldn’t have expressed everything in his 2-page letter with a handful of posies… it’s unlikely even a hothouse would have enough variety in bloom to tell the full story of Wickam’s unscrupulous actions.
But what flowers might have anonymously arrived at Longbourn, tied in satin ribbon? Pink roses and honeysuckle ~ “admiration”, and “generous, devoted affection”? Or possibly a contrite bouquet of blue lilacs and snowdrops ~ for “humility” and “hope”?
I have started a new series of tiny ACEO paintings, titled “Flower Cats” (because I couldn’t think of an appropriate name for the collection)… each cat, dressed in a Regency-style gown, is named after a particular flower and holds a symbolic bouquet.
So far I have finished seven portraits: “Pansy”, “Iris”, “Fern”, “Lilac”, “Carnation”, “Sterling Rose”, and “Asphodel”.
I like working with these miniature paintings, working on 2-3 simultaneously. They are addictive to paint, and I wish I could spend more time with them.
I decided to list the originals on eBay, as my re-introduction back into selling artwork there. I have been auctioning them off beginning at just one penny ~ and all seven have sold to a couple of new collectors. :)
If you are interested in beginning or adding to your current collection, I always announce my latest paintings on Facebook, with a link to the auction when it goes live. (You can also add me to your Favorite Seller list on eBay).
I will also be selling reproduction prints and greeting cards of the entire Flower Cats Collection in my Etsy shop.