By Any Other Name: A Cultural History of the Rose

Simon Morley. Oneworld, $35 (304p) ISBN 978-0-86154-052-5
Art historian Morley (Writing on the Wall) delivers a discursive history of roses, or the “Queen of flowers,” in this meandering take. “All the various cultural associations the rose has accumulated over the centuries are grounded in human encounters with its natural beauty,” he writes, offering a warning that he isn’t “a botanist, horticulturist, or especially devout gardener,” but rather interested in the plant’s cultural associations. Native to the northern hemisphere, he explains, roses were domesticated first in Sumer in 2200 BCE. “Love of the rose spread westwards,” Morley writes, to Greeks and Romans, and the flower was central to pagan beliefs before it was “rebranded” by the Christian church. And though the Bible doesn’t mention roses, they became associated with Christ’s wounds and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Morley examines the rose’s presence in poetry (most famously, the works of Shakespeare), paintings, music, perfumes, and medicines, and his approach has philosophical leanings and an ecological bent; he defines his search for meaning within a “wider contemporary context of ecological crisis,” as people continue to have “devastating” effects on nature. But the work feels wide and shallow, more scattershot than insightful, and it too often reads like a highbrow lecture. While the idea has potential, rose-tinged inspiration is likely to be discovered elsewhere. Agent: Katelynn Dreyer, Kaye Publicity. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 09/24/2021
Release date: 11/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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