Posts Tagged ‘flowers’

Scholar Elisa Kay Sparks is known for her interest in flowers. Specifically, Virginia Woolf and flowers. She can usually be counted on to present a paper on that topic at annual Woolf conferences. And she has an amazing blog dedicated to the topic.

A Virginia Woolf Herbarium by Elisa Kay Sparks

Flowers from one to 99

A Virginia Woolf Herbarium describes itself as “a collection of essays on flowers in the work of Virginia Woolf: fiction, essays, and life-writing.” Each of the site’s 99 essays includes photos of the flower it discusses.

Each flower discussed on the site is referred to at least once in Woolf’s fiction and/or essays. They range from the almond blossom, mentioned only twice in Woolf’s fiction, to red-hot pokers, which appear 13 times.

Counting, researching, and accounting for the flowers

Pale pink roses in the garden of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Similar roses frame the doorway of Virginia’s bedroom at Monk’s House.

In fact, Sparks, always meticulous in her research, includes a Flower Count that lists the flowers alphabetically and names the number of times Woolf included it in her writing. For example, Woolf mentions roses more often than any other flower — 250 times, with 162 of those occurring in her fiction.

Sparks breaks the count down into four categories: fiction, essays, diaries and letters, and digital hits.

The chart also includes flower purchases Leonard Woolf mentions in his garden account book. From 1919 to 1950, he kept an exact account of all monies spent on and earned by the garden. From 1920 to 1927, he also kept a separate garden diary. These two small green cloth books with red bindings can be found in the Leonard Woolf Papers in the University of Sussex Library.

In the process of researching Woolf’s use of flowers in her writing, Sparks collected:

  • information on the literary, medicinal, and mythological meanings of flowers;
  • research on the history of gardens and gardening; and
  • research on the social assumptions and practices involving flowers and gardening.

Eventually, she plans to distill all of the information she has collected into a book.

More about Woolf and gardens

Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House by Caroline Zoob (2013)

The site also includes pages for Works Cited and an annotated list of the reference works Sparks consulted while doing her work on Woolf and flowers, work I would describe as both comprehensive and ground-breaking.

Caroline Zoob’s book, Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House, published in 2013, gives an up-close view of the Woolf’s garden. Cecil Woolf, Leonard’s late nephew, wrote the book’s Foreward.

Literature Cambridge also ran a one-week course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens in July 2019. Blogging Woolf attended and published daily posts.

Garden at Monk’s House, Sussex home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Garden at Charleston, Sussex home of Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Clive Bell.


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