Outside of the gift of a red rose — which has been commercialized and commodified extensively — there are few flowers today whose meanings are widely recognized outside of hobbyist circles or florists. Now, the language of flowers, or floriography, has primarily been relegated to a secondary visual language used (both deftly and clumsily) in art.
In Victorian England, myriad factors led to the development of flowers as a way to send emotionally-charged messages meaning everything from love to sexual desire to hatred. The Victorian Era was one of industrial progress, leading to a rising middle class and more widely-available leisure activities. Victorian morality is commonly described as draconian or puritanical. The reality is a bit more complex. For example, alongside the rise of the novel came the rise of erotica and the expression of sexual desire in written letters. Floriography accompanied this. Through flowers, people could send coded messages to each other — some that they could even wear as fashion accessories — that said what they could not speak aloud due to the morality of the time. As western floriography developed through the Victorian era, so did the varied meanings that could be expressed. One flower could mean something when paired with another flower, and carry an opposing meaning when paired with a different flower. Floriography and the written word also merged together well, with novels of the time period referencing flower language with the expectation that readers would parse their meanings.
Violet Evergarden plays with a Victorian aesthetic and steampunk-like anachronism (which is why discussing Victorian floriography is more appropriate in this case than the iconography or different meanings of Japanese hanakotoba, prevalent in other anime).
There’s little in Violet Evergarden suggesting that director Taichi Ishidate is as concerned with a direct approach to floriography in this series as his compatriot Naoko Yamada was for her film adaptation of A Silent Voice. In that film, Yamada wields the language of flowers as communication tool, providing precise emotional commentary through visuals, emphasizing Shoko Nishimiya’s deafness. Based on this premiere, it’s doubtful that we’ll see similarly coded messages in Violet Evergarden. Establishing and pillow shots are not often reserved for flowers, and instead revel in the lavishness of the production itself. The one notable exception is the pink rose tea that Violet spills, unused to her new lack of dexterity.
Yet flowers and floral iconography are consistently present through this first episode of Violet Evergarden, in line with the Victorian aesthetic. A rise in flower conservatories also accompanied the rise of wealth in the Victorian era, which allowed a greater number of imported, non-native flowers to the region. The city of Leiden that houses Violet’s new workplace of CH postal company is drenched in tropical flora, resembling a British colony more than the British Isles. Flowers are abundant and easily accessible, with potted arrangements decorating every interior room and most building exteriors.
There’s also the matter of Violet’s name. The general meaning of a violet is modesty, but Victorian flower language offered further precision by color: a white violet carries a meaning of innocence, while a purple one meant that the giver was preoccupied with thoughts of love. Whether her full name of Violet Evergarden means a font of continuing modesty and love remains to be seen, but even the name itself has some significance.
In a series like Violet Evergarden that focuses on letter-writing and the written word to convey feelings, it makes sense for flowers to take more of a background role. Given the sumptuous animation that gives the straightforward narrative the feeling of a high-budget film, flowers here help set tone and recall the Victorian time period. Violet’s emotional journey is more likely to be expressed through writing letters, while flowers provide a backdrop and context that make transcription and the written word all the more important.