Starting from the botanical crazes inspired by Linnaeus in the eighteenth century, and exploring the variations it spawned – natural history, landscape architecture, polemical battles over botany's prurience – this study offers a fresh, detailed reading of the courtship novel from Jane Austen to George Eliot and Henry James. By reanimating a cultural understanding of botany and sexuality that we have lost, it provides an entirely new and powerful account of the novel's role in scripting sexualized courtship, and illuminates how the novel and popular science together created a cultural figure, the blooming girl, that stood at the center of both fictional and scientific worlds.
"The intricate cultural web linking nature, flowers, sex and marriage with the English novel is clearly drawn and persuasively developed [...] Bloom combines meticulous attention to the details of cultural history and vigorous readings of nineteenth-century fiction with the breathless excitement of someone who has stumbled upon a story never previously told."
– Alison Stenton, Times Literary Supplement
"A fascinating and unique thesis [...] The volume represents a significant and meticulously documented contribution to the study of the interrelations between 19th-century science and literature."
"By bringing together human courtships and botanical systems, King persuasively demonstrates how writers were able to imbue fiction with sexuality, while still remaining perfectly decorous [...] This is a study that not only illuminates how courtship narratives can be replete with sexual reference and yet still 'respectable', but also perfectly demonstrates how the tracing of the implications of just one highly charged word brings out the inseparability of scientific and literary cultures."
– Studies in English Literature 1500 – 1900