Floriography: arranging flowers for friends, lovers (and foes!)

We have an ever-growing bookshelf of Fragrant Reads, and just added another lovely one to the collection. Far from just a pretty book about flowers, it’s a whole coded history with which to send secret messages…

Floriography by Jessica Roux, published by Simon & Schuster

We first heard tell of this book when listening to the always brilliant Dressed: A History of Fashion podcast, when they interviewed the author, teasing us with the information that it should be ‘Daffodils for your unrequited love, lavender for your sworn enemy…’

Exploring the secret, coded significance of various blooms through history, Jessica Roux presents a beautifully illustrated book of fragrant posy suggestions – from flowers to proffer a specific message to a prospective lover, to those one should an enemy… perhaps with a copy of this book, if you want to make sure your message gets through loud and clear?

 

Image by Jessica Roux

 

Described as a ‘full-color guide to the historical uses and secret meanings behind an impressive array of flowers and herbs,’ there is such delight to be found its pages, and one cannot but help construct imaginary floral messages to foes or scandalously salacious love letters ‘written’ in this fascinating historical code! Something we particularly loved were the suggestions of what other flowers to pair, to add further layers of significance to a bouquet, rather than only describing each flower in isolation.

The language of flowers is centuries long, floral mythology and cultural significance reaching back as far as history itself; but it really hit its peak with the always nostalgic and whimsical Victorians in the 19th century, particularly in England and within the United States. In these times, the importance of etiquette could not be understated – and sending the incorrect bouquet might have resulted in faces as red as the roses you’d innocently gifted. We have to remember that really, such strict social guidelines were enforced to reign in any unwanted displays of open emotion (unthinkable!) and so such coded ways of communicating were commonplace. And yet, where strictness prevails, so too do romantic fancies entangle every possible method of expressing oneself…

 

Image from Floriography by Jessica Roux

 

The Victorians were notoriously harsh in their ‘rules’ about what types of fragrance (particularly women) should use, where they should apply it, how much and how often. You can read more about this – and other eras’ perfumed proclivities – in our dedicated section on Perfume History; but for full-on floral charm, the scented snippets researched and illustrated by talented artist Jessica Roux, makes this a wonderful book for any flower-lover – and you’ll surely be dropping the floral facts you’ve gleaned from it into conversations for years to come.

The publishers suggest this is a perfect gift, and we certainly agree, at any time of year – but how much more interesting that gift would be if accompanied by a meaningfully put-together floral arrangement, don’t you think? A thank you for friend who’s helped get you through this year, perhaps, or a thrillingly stylish way to communicate your displeasure? Rather depends on how nice the more challenging of relatives are to us during these trying times, doesn’t it…?

It’s selling super fast but at time of writing, it’s still available to buy from Book Depository here.

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads – scent books to snuggle up with

Now there’s a distinct nip in the air, now is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book – and we have a whole scented selection of great books to recommend you in our Fragrant Reads library of reviews.  All of them focus on our favourite subject (obvs), with some specifically on the topic of perfume, while others explore the wider scent-scape of our sense of smell.

We read A LOT of books about perfume, but we don’t always have time to write up our reviews in full. So lately, we have been concentrating on updating our virtual library with some of the more recently published books we’ve come across, including this FANTASTIC volume by longtime Perfume Society subscriber, Catherine Maxwell, which we will pull out of the bookshelf for you now and examine below…

Scents & Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture, by Catherine Maxwell

We’re honoured that Catherine has been a Perfume Society subscriber pretty much since day one, so when we heard she’d published a book, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. And even more wonderful was the realisation that her choice of subject tied together two of our greatest loves – perfume and books. Delving deep into literary culture, she explores the myriad ways writers have been influenced and inspired by perfume, and how scent can become an invisible ‘character’ or reflect the inner workings of an actual character’s mind. More than that – the way a writer describes and uses scent can give us an insight into their own personality. We were particularly fascinated by how outrageously catty Virginia Woolf, for example, could be!

Catherine’s inclusions from her personal diaries and correspondence reveal Woolf loathed strong perfumes, and had very exacting opinions about those women who wore it (we feel she definitely wouldn’t have approved of us!) On meeting the writer Katherine Mansfield, Maxwell relates, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary that she wished ‘that one’s first impression of K.M. was not that she stinks like a civet cat that had taken to street walking.’ Later, Maxwell cites Woolf’s further biting comments regarding overly scented women, quoting an occasion Woolf condemned some women she’d met in the library, saying ‘A more despicable set of creatures I never saw. They come in furred like seals and scented like civets.’ Don’t hold back, Virginia – what do you really think?! Further writers and their works are examined – from Oscar Wilde – Catherine also draws on a wealth of contemporary material such as ettiquette guides, advertising, beauty manuals and perfumer’s guides. Altogether, it’s the most eye-opening account – a scented snapshot of perhaps the greatest literary period in history – and a must-read for anyone who loves literature and wants to enhance their sensorial understanding (and enjoyment of literature.

Publisher: Oxford University Press 2017

At Amazon

*****

By Suzy Nightingale