I’m very happy to introduce to you our first monthly sponsor! This month, I’m teaming up with Christie Stratos who wrote this awesome guest post for you! This post also answers some questions about the language of fans and flowers from an earlier post.
Symbolism in the Victorian Era
Symbolism was the lifeblood of the Victorian Era. Everything meant something to Victorians, so you had to be careful what you said in a letter, what you wore on any occasion, how you held your fan…you get the idea. Give the wrong signal and it wasn’t so easy to take it back. You couldn’t just walk up to a man and say, “I made a mistake with how fast I fanned myself just a moment ago. I’m not actually engaged, I just fanned too quickly!” Yes, it was that exacting! Communication back then was limited. Period dramas and novels depict it well – a lady wants to tell the man she has a crush on that she didn’t mean to do something, or that she really does care for him, but she can’t just say it. She has to wait patiently to prove it or to give him a signal. How frustrating!
Fans were far from the only things that sent messages to those around you. Did you just embroider your delicate handkerchief with a frog? Well that means sin, so you might want to replace it with a dog, which means loyalty. Gentlemen, thinking of giving your betrothed a gift? Send the right message by gifting a brooch with acrostic meaning. “Love” might mean a brooch with these gems place horizontally: lapis lazuli followed by opal, then vesuvianite, and finally emerald. Think carefully on the framing of the brooch too. An ivy design might not go over so well with a lover since it represents friendship.
One of the most common forms of expressing feelings in the Victorian Era was through flowers. You’ve probably heard the phrase “the language of flowers”, and that couldn’t be more accurate in reference to the 19th century. Every single flower had a particular meaning, and beyond that, many variations in color of that specific flower had meaning. Whew, that’s a lot to keep in mind before sending a bouquet!
There is a good example of flower meanings in my novel Anatomy of a Darkened Heart, book one of the Dark Victoriana Collection. Abigail receives a bouquet from Conrad, a man who is interested in courting her. Here’s what it looked like, taken straight from the book:
“The central flowers were a vibrant red, some with bright yellow at the base of their petals. Surrounding them were smaller multi-layered flowers, some of white, some of cornflower blue, and some of pink.”
The first flowers described are red kennedia, which stood for intellect, and the second flowers portrayed are love-in-a-mist flowers, meaning curiosity. He explains this delicately in his card to her. But why did he send these flowers? A couple of scenes before, Conrad and Abigail had a conversation which spawned his sending this bouquet and in which flowers were mentioned again:
“What’s your favorite flower, Miss Whitestone?” Mr. Scott asked.
“Violets,” she answered quickly, then immediately felt insecure about it. She should have said something more grand, more widely appreciated. More normal.
“Violets?” he asked, surprised, his voice higher. “I’ve never heard a lady say that before.”
She felt like a fool.
“What makes you pick them over roses? Aren’t roses what every lady wants from a gentleman?” he asked.
“You didn’t ask what I wanted from a gentleman, you asked what I like,” she said before she could stop herself. She felt brutal but she also felt more like herself with an honest answer.
“For many ladies, those are one and the same,” he said, “but not always for good reasons. Violets are common, but I agree that there is something fascinating about their vivid color and their ability to survive even when they look fragile.”
Abigail was surprised Mr. Scott was having a real conversation with her, not just something superficial anymore. He had shared an opinion on “most ladies” and what he thought of them. She must have shocked him into speaking to her as if he knew her better, maybe even as if she were a man. Did that mean a lack of respect? What did that mean? Anxiety twisted at her stomach. This was starting to feel like home. She didn’t want the gardens to feel like home. That was the whole point of the gardens: to escape.
“It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Scott. I hope the rest of your day is pleasant,” Abigail said quickly before walking away. She didn’t wait for his reply.
This excerpt not only shows meanings behind flowers, it also gives you an idea of how much people in Victorian times read into each other’s words. It was necessary since they couldn’t express themselves outright most of the time.
The next time you send flowers to someone or give jewelry as a gift, think, “What would the Victorians do?” and you’ll have a gift that means more than the recipient thinks.
Thank you so much Christie Stratos for this very interesting post! Christie reached out to me because she is an author of historical fiction, writing mostly dark psychological historical fiction. Her latest book is Anatomy of a Darkened Heart (Book 1 in the Dark Victoriana Collection). If you liked the excerpt, you can buy the book Anatomy of a Darkened Heart on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or buy a signed version from the author herself (cool!)
Thank you so much for your contribution Christie!