Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: The Brief Life of Flowers

One of the consequences of the recent lockdowns, is a growing love for flowers. The garden in the house I’m renting was a bit of a jungle, but recently my partner and I took all of our frustration out on nettles and brambles. We’ve now planted some primroses, daffodils and other flowers to help brighten this area up and to make it ready for us to fully utilise come the spring. It therefore made perfect sense for me to read The Brief Life of Flowers by Fiona Stafford, who is a Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. We’ll come back to why this is important later.

The structure of the book is simple, a number of chapters each dedicated to a flower that we should all be familiar with (if not at least heard of). I probably should have done some homework on the The Brief Life of Flowers before picking my copy up and giving it a read. I was expecting a popular science-based series of nature writing but I was surprised to find out that it is all very much literature-based. Stafford is an expert when it comes to the Romantic poets and this is very evident throughout. Unfortunately, I’m not well read when it comes to classic literature such as that from the Romantic Era but one thing is certainly evident to me – just how important nature was to society back in the 19th century.

For those that aren’t aware, the Romanitc Era was essentially a reaction against the ideas born from the Enlightenment Era of the 18th century, when science was doing it’s best to work out the fundaments of nature. Stafford makes a number of references to some of these works by authors such as Coleridge, Byron and Wordsworth – all works with which I’m embarrassingly not familiar with. Despite this, I finished The Brief Life of Flowers relatively quickly due to the superb way it is written. I’m sure you can all appreciate how much faster you can read a book when the prose have been constructed properly. Stafford’s writing style is evidence of her years of hard work, which made this an extremely enjoyable read.

So what did I get out of The Brief Life of Flowers? Aside from a greater appreciation for flowers themselves and what they’ve meant for generations, I also gained an insight into the Romantic Era. At times, I felt a little out of my depth but I now know I have a guidebook to all of the important literature from that period, when I find the time to go back and read it. Next time I’m tending to my garden, I’ll think back to this book and the cultural significance flowers have played. To me, whilst the life of flowers may be brief, if you’ve incorporated them into work of literature then you’ve successfully immortalised them. Like a painting or a sculpture, that work of art will never be forgotten.

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