The Language of Flowers | Victorian History


When Meredith Sweetpea thinks of “Victorian,” she immediately pictures flowers…floral table settings, floral wallpaper, floral teapots and tea cups. So it wasn’t a surprise to learn that the Victorians assigned meanings to the types of flowers they chose.

First Flower Symbolism Book Published in 1879

The first flower dictionary was published by Mme Charlotte de la Tour in Paris in 1818, and became a sensation. Following that success, Victorian lady Miss Corruthers of Inverness, wrote an entire book about flower symbolism in England and the United States. It was published in 1879.

Flowers let Victorians express sentiments secretly

Victorian women used the meaning of flowers to communicate in the time of strict etiquette standards. Flowers let them share sentiments that propriety of the time would not allow.

The practice became very popular among lovers, and in flirtations.

A gentleman could convey his feelings by having his flower selection delivered to a lady’s home following a dinner party or dance.

Perhaps he sent Peppermint for warmth of feeling or Snowdrops for hope. Or perhaps he had acted badly and apologized by sending Field Lilacs for humility or Brambles for remorse.

Different flower colors and variations have different meanings

Even within a type of flower, different colors and variations could have different meanings. Take the rose for example. A deep red rose may signify bashful shame, a white rose can say, “I am worthy of you,” while red and white roses together signify unity. A Damask Rose may admire a brilliant complexion, while a Cabbage Rose is an ambassador of love.

Flower language could come through other means

The message didn’t have to come through live flowers, however, it could be delivered through a Valentine, a card, or an illustration. A personal gift such as a floral-embroidered handkerchief could also reveal feelings.

Flowers could foretell the future

Flowers could also foretell the future. If the name of the first flower you found in the wild happened to be a Buttercup, someone whose name started with the letter “B” would come into your life.

In our next post, we’ll list the flowers and their meanings.

–excerpted from Literary Liaisons

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