Floriography in the Victorian Era

The importance, significance and interest in flowers rose incredibly quickly during the Victorian era and became a staple social facet to a nineteenth-century society. The fast rise in popularity meant that flora developed a form of language, with certain flowers and arrangements meaning specific things, which became known as floriography. Victorians also gave nosegays as a gift in certain social circles, which are small, fragrant arrangements of flowers, which show the importance and significance of flowers and floriography throughout this era. The arrangements and flowers were used to send messages to a recipient in order to say things that were not able to be spoken aloud in a social Victorian environment. Thus, flowers and their arrangements contributed to the strict class system and social brackets that dictated the lives of many Victorian citizens.

The floriography craze appears to have been introduced to England by Mary Wortley Montagu in 1717. Joseph Hammer-Purgstall’s ‘Dictionnaire du language des fleurs’, written in 1809, was thought to be the first published work associating flowers and botany with specific meanings. The first dictionary of floriography was produced in 1819 by ‘Madame Charlotte de la Tour,’ who wrote ‘Le langage des Fleurs’. These works formed the basis of the language and allowed the Victorians and their florists and botanists to interpret the associations in order to use the correct flowers in their arrangements.

Meanings of flowers are vast and each individual type often has multiple associations, and many of the meanings relate to the actual flower itself.  The colourings, behaviours, and appearances of flora gave many of the flowers their associations, which is how the language was essentially formed. The Victorians became so obsessed with the language of flowers perhaps due to an infatuation with beauty and romanticism, which influenced many works of art, literature and everyday behaviour due to the strict social class system. Furthermore, as etiquette and manners formed such a crucial section of the nineteenth-century lifestyle, the flowers depicted meanings that were often not considered polite or well-mannered to speak aloud, which again, could be a reason for the imminent infatuation with floriography during the nineteenth century.

Some associations with flowers include:

Daisy – innocence
Violet – faithfulness
Lilac – first love
Holly – domestic happiness
Lavender – distrust
Ivy – fidelity
Sweet pea – shyness
Poppy – consolation
Peony – healing
Sunflower – adoration
Tulip (yellow) – hopelessly in love
Tulip (white) – forgiveness
Rose (red) – passionate love
Rose (pink) – adoration
Carnation (white) – remembrance
Carnation (pink) – gratitude
Daffodil – chivalry
Pansy – loving thoughts

From, The Victorian Blogger

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