I recently finished reading Vanessa Diffenbaugh's novel "The Language of Flowers." The plot is both complicated and simplistic: a young girl who has been raised in the foster care system is crippled emotionally by repeated rejections. She pronounces herself an unloveable throw-away that has little hope of sustaining any type of meaningful relationship. Her love of all things floral affords her the ability to use flowers to communicate in an almost metaphysical code that finds root within the hearts and desires of the men and women to whom she sells her blooms. Like Tilo in The Mistress of Spices: A Novel, Victoria understands what her patients need but cannot help herself. Throughout the story, she uses flowers to speak for her and eventually compiles a compendium of flower photographs with their meanings. In "A Victorian Flower Dictionary," Mandy Kirkby presents a book of fifty flowers, complete with colored drawings of each bloom, the emotion it is meant to convey and a blurb that includes information about the plant itself and its citations in literature. In an appendix, she includes Vanessa Diffenbaugh's dictionary as compiled by Victoria, the fictional narrator of "The Language of Flowers." In as much as the book is nicely arranged as a sort of floral Wiki, I wonder how much of the language of flowers is subjective to the author of the dictionary.
In Samantha Gray's volume of the same theme and purpose, "The Secret Language of Flowers, many of the entries have different sentiments. For example, sunflowers, in Gray's book suggest 'loyalty' and 'constancy'--'happiness' and 'longevity' which seems to sum up the energy and beauty of a huge field of sunflowers--all heads turned in unison towards the sun. However in the Kirkby and Diffenbaugh books, sunflowers represent 'false riches' which seems a bit harsh when one can attribute much wealth to a plant that provides the world with oil, seeds and much pleasure. Another flower in Gray's book, the nasturtium symbolizes the sentiments of 'victory', 'love conquers all' and 'patriotism,' while the Kirby deems it a flower of 'impetuous love.' Not even close. Kirby states that marigolds are the flowers of 'grief'--why then the tradition of marigolds at Indian weddings? Gray endows marigolds with a more benign symbolism except for her last attribute: 'courage,' 'creativity,' 'passion,' 'psychic power,' and 'jealousy.'
This inconsistency in definition leads me to believe that 'the language of flowers' comes to mean different things to different people. Chrysanthemums to the Japanese symbolize life and perfection. In this book, Kirkby suggests it means 'truth.' Gray sticks to the meaning as interpreted by the Japanese, but also states the a chrysanthemum can be a declaration of love. Confusing, yes? Reliable, no. Kirkby and Diffenbaum's book is meant as a companion (as it states on its cover) to the novel "the Language of Flowers." It is the compendium derived by Victoria with Grant within the pages of the book. If the sentiments hold meaning for you--wonderful, make it your own. However, if you are like me, certain flowers have come to mean something wonderful to you and your personal history. Sunflowers for me could never represent 'false riches.' When I think of sunflowers, my mother instantly comes to mind and she was someone who valued abstracts and could never be associated with anything as meaningless as materialistic or false wealth.
Bottom line? While I was not disappointed in the format of this nicely constructed little book, I was not pleased with the drawings of each of the flowers. I believe that if this was meant to be a published copy of Victoria's (the main character of Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers) floral encyclopedia, photographs would have served it better. Likewise, in consulting other flower language dictionaries, there is great inconsistency with the flower meanings which makes the overall content disputable, unreliable and only significant to those who read the novel. Check out Samantha Gray's "The Secret Language of Flowers" instead. She seems to emphasize the more positive aspects of each bloom rather than concentrate on the quirkiness of the novel's main characters and their personal interpretations. Recommended for those who simply loved Diffenbaugh's Language of Flowers and want to read more about the flowers and their perceived sentiments.
Diana Faillace Von Behren