Morals and mignonette; or, the use of flowers in the moral regulation of the working classes in high Victorian London

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Abstract

This paper explores the deployment of flower missions, flower shows and window gardening in Victorian efforts to elevate the moral and material condition of London's working poor. It identifies three forms of botanical engagement – the moral, pedagogic and civic – that were key to understanding the use of flowers in this period. The construction of a ‘moral botany’ in the early nineteenth century popularised the notion that flowers could carry meaning beyond their ornamental value. This attribute was widely used by social reformers who employed flower shows as biopolitical and pedagogical instruments to discipline the desires, habits and behaviours of the working poor and their children; projects that were heavily gendered, placing responsibility for the moral defence of the family upon women. Floral reform movements at the civic level also worked within a racialised framing of ‘civilisation’ amidst late century fears of racial degeneration. This paper therefore argues for the political nature of plant life, drawing attention to the role of plants in the co-constitution of human worlds.

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APA

Lawrence, A. M. (2020). Morals and mignonette; or, the use of flowers in the moral regulation of the working classes in high Victorian London. Journal of Historical Geography, 70, 24–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhg.2020.05.010

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