4 responses to “Lean That Way Forever

  1. Smutty or slutty? Hussy or harlot? Whore or madonna?

    Our culture gives flowers such mixed messages!

    (But perhaps it’s an advance from Victorian flower language.)

  2. Where did you learn about Victorian flower language? I’ll be totally honest. I watch Rosemary & Thyme.

    There, I’ve said it. You all know my terrible secret.

  3. Hmm, I’ve never seen Rosemary & Thyme. The description I found sounds interesting. I take it they get into Victorian flower language!

    Uh, when I was in junior high I think it was, PBS Mystery ran a good series of Miss Marple shows. My mom bought me a book of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple short stories. Not one, but two of the mysteries could only be solved by the reader if he or she knew Victorian flower language, which I found to be rather obnoxious on the part of Christie.

    In Shakespeare, the flowers mentioned by Ophelia in her mad scene are quite significant, but the English weren’t as insane in the Renaissance, flower-wise and other-wise.

    In a historical dance class in a theater program I was in, we got a handout of Victorian etiquette and body language coding, which was elaborate and hilarious. A woman could signal whether she was taken or married or single or not with the speed and manner of handling her fan, or parasol, or gloves, etc. My favorite “message” sent by such gestures was “You are a cad.” Etiquette books from various eras can be both funny and appalling.

    John Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman is in part a series of essays in the footnotes about Victorian England, and they’re often fascinating. Fowles claims that, despite or rather because of all the public sexual repression, one in ten buildings in London was a whorehouse. That may overstate things, but I’ve seen similar stats elsewhere about prostitution being rampant. Supposedly, some middle class and upper class women sought out the underbelly as well, to escape the whole “lie back and think of England” mentality. Fowles contends that the Jekyll/Hyde story is the quintessential Victorian tale, because every “gentleman” of the era was at least two men, with their public conduct very different from what they did after hours.

    Oh, last thing – I’ve read that Oscar Wilde sported a green carnation, and that this was code for being gay in a certain London scene, but this has been disputed:


  4. Ophelia. There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.

    Laertes. A document in madness! Thoughts and remembrance fitted.

    Ophelia. There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. O, you must wear your rue with a difference! There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they wither’d all when my father died. They say he made a good end. [sings] For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.

    This is consistent with imagery from the old religion.

    “We live in symbols.” Anais Nin

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