‘Floral’ Prose: Latent Victoriana in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens

Many parts of Glasgow are a step back in time, and an academic immersion in literature produced between 1800 and 1900 is of little help to the time warp feel of the old tenement buildings with their stained glass windows and decorative ironwork. Architectural details bring on the Victorian vibe, the weather, the gothic.

A visit to the Botanic Gardens of Glasgow, located in close proximity to the University, provide a tempting escape [from class…] and a temple in which to regard a confluence of that very iron and glass which wreaks havoc upon a student’s ability to understand time and place after reading for eight hours without stopping. It is possible in this to lose emotion, feeling, and forget their presence, particularly when considering oneself a welcome visitor in a land before technology. So I cut class and visited the gardens in the hope of a solitary reprieve devoid of my academic woes and research concerns, only to reach an unfortunate, if beautiful conclusion.

The “Language of Flowers”, distributed in one of its most popular incarnations with the version by Kate Greenaway in 1884, allowed for a commonly-believed ‘faithless’ era to regain some backing to the¬†femininity so underscored by descriptive writing of the time. Poetry of the Victorian era, from Swinburne and Rossetti to the reflections of Victorian-born expatriate T.S. Eliot, allowed for a reprieve from the darkness of society and the gray streets and skies of the United Kingdom. The meaning of floral communication is deeply rooted in Victorian representations of love, affection, and betrayal. Imagery of nature abounds during times of industrial and technological accomplishment, and today’s world, with its romanticisation of windblown, poetic commentary in the most widely-received contemporary poetry and prose is no different.

Stepping into the gardens is a step back in time and provides a reprieve from the world analogous to the poetry and prose of the era which created it. Therein, the novelty of global travel is embodied and captured for display, authentically showcased in private and behind iron like so many Victorian treasures, and a walk from one room to the next will allow for an around-the-world-in-eighty-minutes style survey of the best of the best.

Academics, when of great interest, are inescapable, and walking through the gardens only succeeded in reminding me not only of the intensity of natural, floral imagery in Victorian fiction, poetry, and even critical writing, but of my own heart and emotions underlying the austerity necessary for a devotion to research and critical analysis. It is a duality of focus, a confluence of critical thought and emotional understanding, and my mind gravitated ever-more towards Charles Baudelaire’s ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ as each viewpoint and perspective provided due compositional quality:

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A refuge of warmth in a bitingly cold city, the gardens are worth a visit even if not for reflection, but for a brand of peace which focuses more heavily on a redirection of thought towards ones original interests. Macro photography not only captures the essence of floral being, but the feeling of the setting under which the subject is photographed by providing an obscured abstraction of the background. For all intents and purposes, the botanic gardens offer a refocusing on the critical and a release of the severe.


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Caroline C. Evans Abbott

I am a rising Master of Research (M.Res) English Literature candidate at the University of Glasgow, incoming MFA Writing candidate at Sarah Lawrence College, and a recent Honors Program graduate of the B.A. Studio Art program at Albertus Magnus College (2015). From 2015 - 2016, I served as an English, Writing, and Creative Enrichment Tutor for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a Native American Reservation in Brooks, California, and from 2014 - 2015 as a Writing Associate (Tutor) in the Albertus Magnus College Writing Center. I am based in West London.

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