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Come rain or shine, flowers feature perennially in the landscape of human history. Their beauty has inspired some of the greatest works of art and literature, captivating creative minds from Ovid to O'Keeffe, Wordsworth to Van Gogh, Botticelli to Beatrix Potter.
But flowers have also played a key part in forming the past, and may even shape our future. Some have served as symbols of monarchs, dynasties and nations – from the Wars of the Roses to the Order of the Thistle. And while the poppy is often associated with WWI, it was the elderflower that treated its wounded soldiers, joining a long line of healing flowers that have developed modern medicine, including lavender and foxgloves.
From the personal to the political, flowers play a part in all aspects of life: the right rose, according to the Victorian language of flowers, might mend a broken heart, while sunflowers may just save our planet.
This beautifully written collection is at once enchanting and intriguing, weaving together art, science, history and horticulture to offer a fresh perspective on the world around us. The Brief Life of Flowers reveals how even the most ordinary of flowers have extraordinary stories to tell.
Fiona Stafford is Professor of English at the University of Oxford. She specialises in literature of the Romantic period (especially Wordsworth, Austen, Burns, Keats, Clare), Scottish and Irish literature, contemporary poetry, environmental humanities and nature writing, literature and the visual arts. In addition to academic books and essays, she contributes to newspapers, literary magazines, art books, Radio 3's The Essay and collections of nature writing. She is the author of The Long, Long Life of Trees, and Jane Austen: A Brief Life.
"A glorious tour de force [...] My hunch is that The Brief Life of Flowers will last long, evolving from perennial favourite to classic"
– Country Life
"I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't enjoy this enchanting journey into the very heart of snowdrops, sunflowers, poppies, daisies, roses, and many other beloved flowers. Each is given its own chapter – a perfect pot-pourri of botanical information, history, literature, symbolism, art and herbalism, imaginatively illustrated"
– Daily Mail
"A glowing account of the myths and meanings we impose on flowers [...] a book to reread and treasure"
– Sunday Times
"A captivating new book that explores our fascination with flowers [...] A delight"
– Daily Mail
"Botanical miscellanies are not thin on the ground but few, if any, offer prose as cultured, scrupulous and engaging"
– The Spectator
"This is a charming, old-fashioned book"
– Literary Review