Shrinking Violet





This second page of Milk Thistle deals with the preoccupation with weak and feeble females in 18th and 19th Century literature, and with the tendency of women to be self-effacing and apologetic for taking up space in a patriarchal society.

The text reads:

"I'll twist my ankle attempting to commune with nature and fall deep in the shaded wood, become a shrinking violet, growing smaller and smaller until one day I simply vanish".

The words themselves grow smaller and smaller almost to the point of vanishing. The page's pocket is a Valentine's card from the 50s which proclaims "Don't Be A Shrinking Violet" "Come right out and say it", throwing up the hypocrisy of a world which tells women to keep their mouths shut and then characterises them as weak. Inside is the Victorian beadwork depicting a pair of violets which I stitched way back in April.

This is stitched on to a background fabric of a typical mid-century ditzy print quilting cotton in shades of violet.



The next page will deal with Romantic preoccupations with sickliness.

Melancholyflowers

If you follow my work on Flickr, you may remember this silly, play-on-words piece:





Well, the dreadful pun has resurfaced on the latest page of On Being Soft, albeit with an alternate spelling.




In this page, I am exploring "being soft" as perceived as a negative quality. "S/he's a bit soft" is a synonym for "wet", "drippy", ineffectual.

I'd been given a couple of linen scraps on which were stitched gorgeous studies of flowers by my ever-generous Granny, and began to think of how many flower-related idioms amount to meaning the same thing as "a bit soft".

I began listing these: delicate flower, pansy, shrinking violet, lily-livered, weed.

I decided to present a series of embroidered flowers on the page as if they were botanical studies, accompanied by these rather derogatory terms instead of their Latin names. And what could serve as a title for the page? "Melancholyflowers"!

(In a happy coincidence, I recently learnt from Andrew Solomon's book The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression that the ancient Greeks believed cauliflower to be a cure for melancholy;"Chrysippus of Cnidus believed that the answer to depression was the consumption of more cauliflower".)



For the "delicate flower", I chose one of the samplers completed by my Granny's friend. The remainder of the flowers are hand-embroidered by me.



This isn't the best photograph, but it's "pansy" (in simpering pink, of course) illustrated by, well, a pansy. Interestingly, as well as being homophobic, the term pansy can also mean a "weak, effeminate, and often cowardly man", similarly to "lily-livered". However, I've also heard it used to refer to women, for example, er, myself. Apparently a couple of years back a highstreet men's fashion chain was selling a t-shirt emblazoned with the word "pansy", reclaiming the word as a badge of honour!



In Why Do Violets Shrink?: Answers to 280 Thorny Questions on the World of Plants by Caroline Holmes, we learn that the Sweet Violet shrinks away from insects which try to access its pollen. A "shrinking violet" is of course an incredibly timid person.





In the Middle Ages, the liver was believed to be the seat of courage. A pale, "lily-coloured" liver would be one with no blood, and thus courage, in it; thus, lily-livered.


This is one of my favourite pages so far, and a little self-deprecating dig at myself for being all of the above!