Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lewis Carroll’s Cranky Flowers

Do you consider flowers silent and demure? Go ask Alice.

imageCharles Dodgson

Photo: Musical Compositions

Lewis Carroll (nom de plume of mathematician and author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was born January 27, 1832, the oldest child of an English parson.  Was he a giant of children’s literature or a troll of proto-surrealism? You make the call, but only after revisiting his writings.

The most conversational of his human flower projects is Chapter Two of Through the Looking Glass: Alice, recently of Wonderland, finds her way along a path with many switchbacks to a garden of chattering flowers. Why had no bloom ever spoken to her before?

“It isn’t manners for us to begin, you know,” said the Rose, “and I really was wondering when you’d speak! Said I to myself, ’ Her face has got some sense in it, though it’s not a clever one!’”

Our looking-glass voyager soon finds herself in floral crossfire vitriolic enough for FOX television.

imageThrough the Looking Glass

Illustration: John Tenniel

“Aren’t you sometimes frightened at being planted out here, with nobody to take care of you?” Alice asks….

“There’s the tree in the middle,” said the Rose: “what else is it good for?”

“But what could it do, if any danger came?” Alice asked.

“It could bark,” said the Rose.

“It says ‘Bough-wough!’” cried a Daisy, “that’s why its branches are called boughs!”

“Didn’t you know that?” cried another Daisy, and here they all began shouting together, till the air seemed quite full of little shrill voices. “Silence, every one of you!” cried the Tiger-lily, waving itself passionately from side to side, and trembling with excitement. “They know I can’t get at them!” it panted, bending its quivering head toward Alice, “or they wouldn’t dare to do it!”

“Never mind!” Alice said in a soothing tone, and stooping down to the daisies, who were just beginning again, she whispered, “If you don’t hold your tongues, I’ll pick you!” There was silence in a moment, and several of the pink daisies turned white.

“That’s right!” said the Tiger-lily. “The daisies are worst of all. When one speaks, they all begin together, and it’s enough to make one wither to hear the way they go on!”

Ah yes, the tranquility of the garden…and the peculiar sensibility of Lewis Carroll. He understood that children for the most part find blithe and moral stories just plain dull. Let’s have nonsense and very bad puns. Let’s have flowers that bitch!

“I never thought of that before!” says Alice, being told that too-soft beds put flowers to sleep.

“It’s my opinion that you never think at all,” the Rose said in a rather severe tone.

“I never saw anybody that looked stupider,” a Violet said, so suddenly, that Alice quite jumped; for it hadn’t spoken before.

“Hold your tongue!” cried the Tiger-lily. “As if you ever saw anybody! You keep your head under the leaves, and snore away there, till you know no more what’s going on in the world, than if you were a bud!”

Robert Novak must have this book on the bedside table.


The Garden of Live Flowers: Madi Ferguson (Tiger Lily), Sally Stevens (Violet),

Caroline Jansen, Charlotte Duggan , and Karli Cole (Daisies), Lauren Rover

(Rose) and Hanna Noel as Alice.

Photo: Mt. Airy (Maryland) Players

Do you enjoy Carroll’s garden spats and irritable flowers? Then make sure also to read the Gardener’s Song from his story Sylvie and Bruno. It begins:

He thought he saw an Elephant

That practiced on a fife:

He looked again, and found it was

A letter from his wife.

“At length I realize,” he said,

The bitterness of life!”

One biographer notes that Carroll first made the cranky flower-ringmaster of Through the Looking Glass a passionflower, but learning of that plant’s religious associations changed the character to the Tiger Lily. (Wouldn’t want to make Daddy angry!)

For the whole argument among them—Tiger Lily, Rose, Violet, Larkspur—and the Red Queen’s entrance too, here’s the full chapter. We find it all about as much fun as digging a nice long trench.



Posted by Julie on 01/25 at 02:49 PM
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