Second Flowerings

Jemma Stewart & Jess Saxby

This project is supported by a CHASE Climate Justice Network Small Grant.

“Like some strange second flowering after date, it renews on a more delicate type the poetry of a past age, but must not be confounded with it.”

– Walter Pater, ‘Aesthetic Poetry’, in Appreciations; with an essay on style (London: Macmillan, 1889), p. 213.

How and why might we engage with the literary fad of the Victorian language of flowers today? Criticised variously for its anthropomorphism, its incoherence, its ties to class-based stratification, commodity culture, gender construction, Western privilege and xenophobia, the genre may seem non-recoverable as an artifact of nineteenth-century kitsch. However, in ‘Second Flowerings’ we aim to look again at the language of flowers in the context of current critical plant studies. One aspect of these publications that remains enchanting is their frequent inclusion of beautiful illustrations. Art may prove to be the seed that can germinate inspired re-imaginings of this seemingly outdated cultural craze. The concept behind Second Flowerings was to view the ideas and sentiments presented in the Victorian language of flowers both critically and appreciatively, avoiding straightforward dismissal or approval. It was to consider how human/plant interrelations have and can move beyond anthropocentric, one-way dialogues. It was, crucially to a climate justice-focussed initiative, a means of thinking about how plants are integral to the way we live going forward.

In Second Flowerings, we see a project of juxtapositions created through the positioning of contemporary artwork from Abdessamad El Montassir, Guy Ronen, Noara Quintana, Samir Laghouati Rashwan and Vasundhara Mathur against chosen companion illustration pieces from the language of flowers books. Rather than simply reissuing the sentiments and meanings of the nineteenth-century language of flowers, suggested narratives, provocations and dialogues have been created. These grew through collaboration with our artistic contributors and careful selection from the Victorian anthologies. As a result, rather in the spirit of Pater’s ‘strange second flowering’, we present an uncanny rejuvenation of the Victorian language of flowers that relishes time lapse, allowing for renewal with an acknowledged difference.

Browse the Second Flowering Zine on Flipbooker

Featured image: ‘Hollyhock_Hepatica_Rest Harrow’, in Robert Tyas, The Language of Flowers; or, Floral Emblems of Thoughts, Feelings and Sentiments (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1869), p. 110.