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From modest shoot to forward plant

The stereotype of the forward, sexually precocious female botanist made its first appearance in literature in the turbulent revolutionary climate of the 1790s. The emergence of this figure illustrates both the contemporary appeal, particularly to women, of the Linnaean Sexual System of botanical classification, and the anxieties surrounding female modesty that it provoked. This book explores the cultivation of the female mind and the feminised discourse of botanical literature in eighteenth-century Britain. In particular, it discusses British women's engagement with the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, and his unsettling discovery of plant sexuality. The book also explores nationality and sexuality debates in relation to botany and charts the appearance of a new literary stereotype, the sexually precocious female botanist. It investigates the cultivation of the female mind and its implications for the theories of the feminised discourse of botanical literature. The book also investigates a process of feminisation of botany in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's and Priscilla Wakefield's letters on botany; these were literary and educational texts addressed specifically to women. Linnaean classification exemplified order, making botany an ideal discipline for young British women in the eighteenth century. Erasmus Darwin's explicit discussion of sexuality related to the aura of illicit sexuality that had surrounded Sir Joseph Banks. Richard Polwhele appropriates Collinsonia's image of the promiscuous female to allude to Mary Wollstonecraft's sexuality, drawing on forward plants in Darwin and Thomas Mathias. The book finally looks at early nineteenth-century debates and demonstrates how scientific botany came into conflict with the craft of floristry.

Abstract only
Sam George

Linnaeans dealt with the delicate issue of plant sexuality. I address the problems of representation facing literary women who practised the sexual system of botany and demonstrate how women struggled to give voice to a subject which was judged ‘not strictly proper for a female pen’. 24 Vivien Jones has brought botany into her discussion of Mary Wollstonecraft and sex education. 25 I have been able to

in Botany, sexuality and women’s writing 1760–1830
Sex, sensation and natural selection
Jonathan Smith

with needles, subjected to drops of nitric acid, exposed to the heat of a summer sun, glued to stakes and doused with streams of water from a syringe. In his testimony to the Royal Commission investigating the practice of subjecting live animals to scientific experiments in 1875, Darwin defended the necessity of vivisection but abhorred its use without anaesthesia if anaesthesia was available; his plant experiments show that any analogy between plants and animals had its limits, even for him. Darwin was similarly enthused with plant sexuality. He

in EcoGothic gardens in the long nineteenth century
Botany and sexual anxiety in the late eighteenth century
Sam George

the model for her Poetical Introduction to the Study of Botany in 1801), and Charlotte Smith’s ‘Flora’ (1804) was essentially a re-working of Darwin’s poem for young female readers. Sarah Hoare’s A Poem on the Pleasures and Advantages of Botanical Pursuits (1818; 1825) also drew on Darwin’s Botanic Garden. However, these literary women remained silent on the issue of plant sexuality, and

in Botany, sexuality and women’s writing 1760–1830
Laurence Talairach

-wise’  59 define the Beast's plants both as monstrous (‘twisted’) and as sexualized, the motif of the serpent reinforcing the reading of the garden as a doomed paradise. Obviously playing on ‘the lurid world of plant sexuality’, 60 Boyle thus constructs the garden simultaneously as a female, or feminized, space where nature has been tamed, rendering what Chang sees as the ‘shared subjecthood of lady and plant in the cultivated garden’, 61 and as a

in Nineteenth-century women illustrators and cartoonists
Botany and the feminine
Sam George

and unveiled to women in varying degrees during the eighteenth century; few, however, considered a study of plant sexuality to be quite so conducive to female character building as Rousseau. Wakefield and Rousseau’s botanical texts are exemplary in that they indicate the ambivalence in the process of the feminisation of botany: while they are open to a liberationist reading, offering women access to

in Botany, sexuality and women’s writing 1760–1830