Sentimental Botany

The nineteenth century has been called the "golden age of the culture of flower". Flower decorations appeared on dresses, wallpaper, home furnishings, and, of course, books. While cut flowers became cheaper over the course of the century, being able to afford fresh flowers still signalized affluence. One feature of this culture, the "language of flowers," emerged in France in early nineteenth century books. Cloaked in mysterious Oriental origins, this language staged flowers as "words" or "sentences" each associative of particular human emotions. While claiming ancient, sometimes even universal, roots, the highly artificial character of this "language" cannot escape us. Whether or not feelings and sentences were in fact communicated with the help of flowers remains open. However, it is likely that these decorative books, many produced in distinct pocket-sized formats, were valued as pretty gifts and colourful keepsakes – maybe more than to be read.

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