Victoria's Dictionary of Flowers: Background information when reading The Language of Flowers

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The Language of Flowers

A Novel

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2012, 352 pages

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Beyond the Book:
Victoria's Dictionary of Flowers

Print Review

While researching the symbolism of various plants for her novel, Vanessa Diffenbaugh The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh discovered that, "nearly every flower had multiple meanings, listed in hundreds of books, in dozens of languages, and on countless websites." This left her with the challenge of determining which meanings were most "correct," or at the very least, most relevant to her work.

With great care, Diffenbaugh researched the scientific definitions of many plants and herbs, and she learned how various flora came to hold social significance. She explains:

"Lining up dictionaries on my dining room table... I scanned the meanings, selecting the definition that best fit the science of each flower, just as [her character] Victoria would have done. Other times, when I could find no scientific reason for a definition, I chose the meaning that occurred most often or, occasionally, simply the one I liked best."

From this information she compiled Victoria's Dictionary of Flowers - a collection of definitions that she felt would be useful to the modern reader. "I deleted plants from the Victorian dictionaries that are no longer common, and added flowers that were rarely used in the 1800s but are more popular today," she says.

The complete work, which is included at the end of her novel, covers well-known flowers; for example, a red rose symbolizes love, an olive branch is peace. But she also shares more obscure and unfamiliar meanings that are as intriguing as they are delightful to discover:

Azalea
  • Azalea:
    "Fragile and ephemeral passion"
Chamomile
  • Chamomile:
    "Energy in adversity"
Clove
  • Clove:
    "I have loved you and you have not known it"
Orange blossom
  • Orange blossom:
    "Your purity equals your loveliness"
Peppermint
  • Peppermint:
    "Warmth of feeling"
Tansy
  • Tansy:
    "I declare war against you"

Azelea photo credit: Bubba73
Chamomile photo credit: Alvesgaspar
Clove photo credit: Brian Arthur
Orange blossom photo credit: Ellen Levy Finch
Tansy photo credit: Lienhard Schulz

This article was originally published in September 2011, and has been updated for the April 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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