‘The sweet flowers that smile in the walk of man’
Floral femininity and female education
in Botany, sexuality and women’s writing 1760–1830
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This chapter investigates the relationship between images of cultivation and growth and those of luxuriant decay in texts by Enlightenment figures such as John Millar and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, alongside Mary Wollstonecraft's more subversive practice. While cultivation is connected with Enlightenment progress, femininity is either located within a discourse of luxury and consequent degeneration or in a realm of minimal cultivation, close to a state of nature. Wollstonecraft confronted the contradictions implicit in Enlightenment ideas of gender by drawing attention to the ill effects suffered by women through inadequate education. Woman who are denied the opportunity to develop rationally become bound to stasis and sensuality, becoming 'insignificant objects of desire' who 'are made ridiculous and useless when the short-lived bloom of beauty is over'. Periodical literature provided instruction in floral pursuits such as painting, drawing or embroidering flowers, and particularly flower gardening, to the growing number of leisured women.

Botany, sexuality and women’s writing 1760–1830

From modest shoot to forward plant

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