Painted Flowers

When I read Barbauld’s poem, I was shocked. It seemed to be out of her character to write such a poem, and it appeared to show the power emanating from man. It seemed to be a reflection on the times, placing men in the best light possible.

So I read the poem again.

This time, I read the poem as a letter or a courtship. If you read it this way, think of a man who is courting a lady. He is presenting her with some flowers and telling the lady how beautiful and virtuous it is, how, in the extended metaphor of nature, he as a tree will be there to protect her from the hardships in the world, and her only duty is to please him. It makes sense as a courtship that a man would want to present flowers to a woman, compliment her, and then reinforce the gender stereotypes and power balance of that particular age.

What is Barbauld really doing here? If you look at the title, she mentions “painted flowers” that are not mentioned anywhere else in the poem. I believe that she is subtly pointing out to the audience the gender stereotypes and norms to the audience. She wants to paint you a picture of society and imagine a simple act of everyday courtship, and in doing this, show that the woman is automatically being pushed down, while still being placed on a false pedestal to rule over her “empire.”

I believe that Wollstonecraft was wrong to call out Barbauld here. I think there is a major importance in having the title include “painted flowers.” In fact, Barbauld is showing the fallacies within the idea of power through the use of “feminine” virtues. It is important to read the first line of the poem and imagine the setting; someone is presenting a fair lady with flowers. Who and why would this be happening? Here, Barbauld is explicitly showing how men put women in their place and how women are coerced into docilely following suit.

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~ by dianawitless on September 27, 2012.

One Response to “Painted Flowers”

  1. While we liked the idea of reading the letter in terms of courtship, we felt that in regards to the poem’s context (Imperialism, Wolstonecraft’s Vindication), you could have gone much further. Perhaps on future close readings it might be more helpful to focus on specific uses of one or two words in the poem for the entire post, rather than many different aspects as you did here. Still, the argument against Wolstonecraft’s criticism was well done and well thought out.

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