Article ID: CBB984508626

Proserpina Unbound: John Ruskin, Maria La Touche, and Victorian Floriculture (2020)


Filled with caustic statements on artificial plant breeding and florist flowers, John Ruskin's botanical essay collection, Proserpina (1875–86), advances a cogent argument against commercial floriculture and, by extension, the commodification of vegetal life. However, the eco-political stakes of this text have received limited attention. Past studies have primarily interpreted Proserpina as a testament to Ruskin's disquiet about Darwinism and as a memorial to his late love, Rose La Touche. In this article, I argue that beneath these scientific and personal imperatives, Proserpina urges readers to resist the consumption of floral commodities engineered by Victorian nurserymen and florists. My reading draws together the history of nineteenth-century flower breeding with recent inquiries from the field of critical plant studies in order to illuminate how Ruskin's botanical prose dovetails with present-day debates on vegetal ethics. Flower-breeding motifs figure prominently in a series of letters written for Proserpina by Rose's mother, Maria La Touche, whose contributions to this book have long been overlooked. Analyzing Proserpina's floricultural subtext will not only recover La Touche's letters from the shadow of Ruskin's love life but also underscore an unexplored facet of Ruskin's antipathy toward Darwin, who celebrated florist flowers in his own botanical writings.

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Authors & Contributors
Hale, Piers J.
Mahood, M. M.
Holmes, John
White, Paul S.
Fabian, Andrew C.
Brown, William L.
Victorian Literature and Culture
Journal of the History of Biology
19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Journal of Literature and Science
Nineteenth-Century Studies
Cambridge University Press
Oxford University Press
Edinburgh University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press
Anthem Press
Science and literature
Poetry and poetics
Philosophy of science
Ruskin, John
Darwin, Charles Robert
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord
Wells, Herbert George
Morris, William
Shaw, George Bernard
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
18th century
Great Britain
United States
Amazon River Region (South America)
Guyana; British Guiana

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