Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Jillian Heydt-Stevenson

Second Advisor

Jeffrey N. Cox

Third Advisor

Ann Schmiesing

Fourth Advisor

Jordan A. Stein

Fifth Advisor

Sue Zemka

Abstract

My dissertation addresses a vibrant body of texts produced and read widely through Britain and the United States in the early nineteenth century: texts I have termed “botanico-literary productions,” or more simply, “flower books.” Combining exquisite drawings of flowers with written information in the form of poetry anthologies, moral tales, botany lessons, and cultural histories, flower books fuse science, literature, and art. Yet in spite of the popularity they enjoyed, today’s scholars have often dismissed them as mere commercial productions peripheral to the concerns of a revolutionary age. I address this misconception by tracing the influence flower books exerted on British and American readers’ perceptions throughout that formative period (1775-1850). I argue that in amassing and structuring information from a variety of sources, these texts link the foreign to the domestic to build a sense of shared belief across diverse climates, landscapes, and populations.

Only a few notable studies of this genre exist, most of which rightly emphasize its importance for women authors. I add an original approach to this critical work by focusing on the flower book itself as a socially significant artistic form that compiles numerous bodies of knowledge and employs various media to spread powerful paradigms about the relation of nature to identity. I argue that flower books “mediate culture” by creating order from the chaos of an increasingly globalized world and instructing their readers how to do the same.

This project challenges age-old assumptions of literary analysis, particularly the beliefs that for a work to be extraordinary it must stem from a sole creative genius, demonstrate a unique artistic vision, or assert a radical break from contemporary values. Because flower books borrow from pre-existing sources, and their creation requires extensive collaboration, they open up compelling ways to rethink authorship and originality. Moreover, because their power to shape society arises in part from their status as common household objects, flower books require us to recognize and respect the formidable influence apparently ordinary and familiar things exert, especially in times of unrest and upheaval, to create and sustain a sense of shared and stable culture.

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