Ignorance of Botany Is Ignorance of Literature

Anna Williams on how ignorance of botany can interfere with the enjoyment of literature:

I can easily find out what the named flowers look like: here are tea roses, red and white pelargoniums, Jacobæa lilies. But when I’m reading in bed, I don’t want to get up and Google it. Even when I’m reading with a computer nearby (no e-reader for me), I rarely want to disrupt the experience of reading by pausing to look something up, whether a word or a plant.

The problem seems trivial, I know, but it represents a sad impoverishment of the imagination: When I (and presumably many others today) read “pelargoniums,” no picture comes to mind. The word is divorced from the image, disconnected from the thing it names. And in most cases, the names and descriptions of plants function as more than just background or filler material. Rather, they develop the atmosphere of a scene, or establish a metaphor, or reveal something about the inner life of a character.


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