Thursday, 14 February 2013

Forget-Me-Nots ~ a Victorian Book of Love, by Cynthia Hart, Tracy Gill and John Grossman

In the 1990s I was an avid fan of Cynthia Hart's Victorian calendars, so when she published this little book on the history of the Victorian Valentine, I had to have it.
It's full title is 'Forge-Me-Nots ~ a Victorian Book of Love' and it tells the story behind the Valentine tradition.  It documents how the typical young, strait-laced Victorian men and women used the complicated symbolism of flowers and visual metaphors to express their feelings for one another.  Lovers would create their own cards and love tokens for their sweethearts, be they simple paper hearts or elaborate, bejewelled creations of ribbons and pearls.
In the era that invented Christmas card, the humble Valentine was taken to new heights.

Every page of the book is crammed full of flowers and lace, arranged on the page in the découpage tradition; each image and object a contemporary piece that has been lovingly treasured down through generations, for our enjoyment today.

Love poems are interspersed throughout, from contemporary poets like Emily Dickinson and  Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  The factual information too is very interesting.  For example, did you know that as well as Valentine cards, the Victorians kept autograph books, that they would have family and friends sign, in which they might often place pressed flowers, plaited hair and other mementoes to keep their friends memories alive?

In today's world of digital photography and social networking sites, it is easy to forget how in the Victorian period, long separation often made it difficulty to keep a mental memory of a loved one alive.  Collecting signatures in an autograph book was a desperate act against time and distance, a vain attempt to hold someone close, even when they were far away.

'Forget-Me-Nots' is a special book for me, it's name evoking all that is best about Valentine's Day.  It is the one day every year that is given over to the idea of love; be it love of a child, parent, friend or partner.  That alone has to be a good thing.  The simple thought of remembering loved-ones annually on 14th February, really appeals to me.  We remember the symbolic meaning of flowers: the red rose signifies eternal love; the daisy, loyalty; the purple tulip, forever love.  How often do we, as a population, dip, en masse, into metaphor?  I think this alone is worth celebrating.

Valentine's Day does not need to be a glitzy, commercial affair; such a thought would horrify the sensible Victorians.  But I do think it is a tradition worth keeping, and this little Valentine's Day treasury helps keep the magic of February 14th alive.  Even though the book has been sitting on my shelf for some twenty years now, it is a St. Valentine's Day treat that I will return to again and again, and now that I have shared it, I hope you will too.  Happy St. Valentine's Day.

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