Forward plants and wanton women
Botany and sexual anxiety in the late eighteenth century
in Botany, sexuality and women’s writing 1760–1830
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This chapter explores all of the poems in relation to Erasmus Darwin, beginning with a detailed look at Darwin's Loves of the Plants. The controversy surrounding this work changed the course of women's botany in England and ushered in a new, less enlightened age, dominated by works on 'ladies' botany' which rejected Carl Linnaeus's Sexual System for a 'natural system' of classification. Given the supposition that Flora was originally a common courtesan, the coupling of Flora and Linnaeus alludes to wanton sexuality in the vegetable kingdom. Darwin's Botanic Garden was extremely influential in popularising botany as a female pursuit; as already noted, it held a particular fascination for women. The Botanic Garden was considered to be a hotbed for forward plants because it combined botany with liberal politics.

Botany, sexuality and women’s writing 1760–1830

From modest shoot to forward plant

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