For the Introduction to this post, click here.
Next off the pile was the Spring 2017 edition of The PRS Review – the journal of the Pre-Raphaelite Society.
Based on the Contents page it was impossible to decide which article to read as none of them had titles. Among the choices, however, were the winner and runner-up of the John Pickard Essay Prize, so I opted for the former, by Julia Wyman.
Playing on the title of the well known Hugh Grant film, the essay is titled Four Flowers and A Funeral and it opens with a quotation from a letter by Vernon Lushington who attended Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s funeral. In it he describes four of the flowers that he saw in the churchyard – irises, wallflowers, laurustinus and lilac. The essay opens up the poetic meanings of these flowers, using them to come to a deeper understanding of Rossetti’s life and death.
Four Flowers and a Funeral is ten pages long; these include footnotes and a page long bibliography at the end. It was lovely being able to dip into the iconography of flowers again and I learnt a lot from Wyman’s text. For example, that in floriography the iris stands for ‘a message’ while the wallflower is ‘the symbol of a true heart’.
Of course, Wyman doesn’t talk about these flowers apart from Rossetti. In the context of his death, she says, the iris’ message was one ‘from beyond the grave’. From who? Who else but his late wife, Elizabeth Siddal. Rossetti painted her with iris’ in her hair once (Sancta Lilias 1874; see below). What she might have been saying to him now, though; who knows. All things considered it’s probably best that this conversation remains private.
I liked Wyman’s description of Rossetti as someone who was ‘psychologically dishevelled’ very much, but the In this essay I intend to… paragraph, in which she explains what the essay is about was less pleasing. These kinds of paragraph are the academic equivalent of telling instead of showing and are just as boring.
What made this example of it all the worse was that it came, not at the beginning of the essay, but four paragraphs in; in other words, just as I was settling into the showing. The effect was jarring and was like being kicked out of an experience so that someone could tell you about it instead. Who would want that?
I read Four Flowers and A Funeral in what felt like super quick time and, That Paragraph aside, enjoyed doing so. This was my second foray this year into the mythical/literary meanings of flowers (after The Plants of Middle-earth by Dinah Hazell) and I am once again grateful for the opportunity to dwell on such a delightful subject even if, in the case of this essay, the context was a sad one.