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Shakespeare and the blossoming of Jane Elizabeth Giraud

Library volunteer Hannah explores the life and work of Victorian botanical illustrator Jane Elizabeth Giraud.

Hannah Barker

The library at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust houses many amazing and curious books waiting for their stories to be told. One such curiosity is an illustrated book titled: The Flowers of Shakespeare by I.E. Giraud published in 1845. This book consists of beautifully lithographed drawings of flowers, which are hand coloured, accompanying related quotations from many of Shakespeare’s plays. 

My eyes were immediately drawn to three things: the vivid colour drawings, a publisher’s mark stating that the illustrations were lithographed plates (published by Hague & Day lithographers to the Queen) and personal dedication of the book to Herbert Giraud the illustrator’s brother.

Jane Giraud

I.E. Giraud aka Jane Elizabeth Giraud was born on 25th June 1810 to John Thomas Giraud a surgeon and Mary Giraud in Faversham Kent. The Girauds were a prominent family in the town and could claim Huguenot descent. It has been suggested by Catherine Martin, author of Milton and Gender published 2014, that Jane would have lived in a well-educated family where discussions around science, in all its forms, would have taken place. This seems plausible given her younger brother Francis followed his father’s footsteps and became a surgeon and her brother Herbert (who the book is dedicated to) became a professor of chemistry, materia medica and botany in Bombay.

In Victorian England, men were expected to dominate in the ‘public sphere’ of business and politics whereas women were expected to exist in the ‘domestic sphere’ of home and garden. It is not surprising then that a pastime for ladies from well off families was botany and the drawing and painting of flowers. In fact, in the mid-eighteenth century, women were leading in the field of botanical drawing. 

The fact that Jane Giraud dedicated her book The Flowers of Shakespeare to her brother Herbert is an interesting point. The dedication reads: 

To Herbert Giraud Esq MD of the Hons of E.J.L.G. of Bombay,
this garland from his native land,
is dedicated by his sister,

Faversham February 18th 1845.

A woman’s name in Victorian times was seen to be sacred as was her reputation. The definitive lines drawn by the society of a woman’s place in the ‘domestic sphere’, meant that the use of a woman’s name in publications (which Jane did all be it as I.E. Giraud) was seen as crass, unladylike and creeping into the ‘public sphere’ of men. It has been suggested by Martin, that Jane’s inclusion of the dedication to her brother was a subtle device to smooth over these prejudices and instead altered the book to become a tribute to her brother and his profession. While I believe that this argument has merit, I can’t help thinking it could equally be a token of a love of the topic and a close bond shared between brother and sister.

Many illustrations of flowers became popular at this time whether they are drawn, painted or using the medium of lithography. This ran alongside the Victorian’s fascination with the meaning of flowers. This may explain why Jane’s book was The Flowers of Shakespeare as Shakespeare had an acute understanding of the meaning of plants and used it throughout his plays.

Violets illustration by Giraud
An illustration from The Flowers of Shakespeare

Shakespeare and Flowers

How were flowers described by Shakespeare? I will briefly look at three plants that Jane illustrated to accompany Shakespeare’s quotations, giving a snapshot of how Shakespeare used plants in his works.

“That strain again, it had a dying fall.
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour.”

Twelfth Night Act1 scene 2.

 Traditionally violets represented faithfulness but for Shakespeare they were also symbolic of sorrow and death due to their short life span, arriving in early spring but fading before summer took hold. In this quote, Shakespeare uses the violet to highlight Orisno’s desire to overdose “surfeit” on this musical love to the extent that he will cease to desire and love. Shakespeare also shows how sweet and heady love is by the violets “giving odour.” Here love is seen as something unwanted.

Rosemary illustration by Giraud
An illustration from The Flowers of Shakespeare

“There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance,
pray you love remember.”

-Hamlet Act 4 scene 5.

 Herbs played an important part in Elizabethan times. People would hang herbs to dry and in larger houses; they had a still room for the sole purpose of drying herbs for flavour but also medicines. Apothecaries (Elizabethan pharmacists) would prescribe herbs and spices as remedies for many different illnesses. Rosemary had various uses, for example, the stems when they had grown thick and tall were used to make the musical instrument the lute, which was a key instrument in Elizabethan music. Shakespeare however, as the quote suggests, linked Rosemary to faithfulness and remembrance with a historical use in weddings and funerals. At this stage in the play, it is clear that Ophelia is losing her grip on reality. So when she speaks this line, Shakespeare hints to the audience of Ophelia’s impending tragic death.

Cowslip illustration by Giraud
An illustration from The Flowers of Shakespeare

"The even mead, that erst brought sweetly forth,
The freckled cowslip, burnet, and green clover,
Wanting the scythe, withal uncorrected, rank,
Conceived by idleness, and nothing seems
But hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksy's, burrs.”

Henry V Act 5 scene 2.

The cowslip in Shakespeare’s time, like Rosemary, had duel purposes. It was a flower that was collected in the late springtime and made into cowslip-balls or ‘tossies’. The leaves of the cowslip could be used to make salves and the juice could be used to soothe coughs. In the above quotation, however, Shakespeare uses the image of cowslip, a symbol of spring, youth, and beauty as a juxtaposition to the devastation of war in the kingdom of France.

What is Lithography?

Lithography was invented in the late eighteenth century and is a printing process based on the fact that grease and water don’t mix. 

According to the Tate-Modern Website, lithography is: “a printing process that uses a flat stone or metal plate on which the image areas are worked using a greasy substance so that the ink will adhere to them, while the non-image areas are made ink-repellent.” This became a very popular way of printing during Jane’s lifetime. It is no wonder that she chose this medium to print her beautiful illustrations.

What happened to Jane?

Frustratingly it becomes difficult to unearth official documents when finding out what happened to women in history. Women did not have the same rights as men and were the property of their father or husband. However, being a woman from a prominent family, some clues were left behind. We know that Jane went on to illustrate a further two lithographed books; The Flowers of Milton and Floral Months which has an imprint to the foot of the title: 

"By appointment to H.M. the Queen. H.R.H Prince Albert.
The Duchess of Kent and the Royal Family."

This indicates that Jane’s standing as a lithographer to the Queen was still prised and that she was now commissioned to produce her illustrations. This information also gives us clues to her financial stability which is also highlighted in the census of 1841 which lists her mother aged 60 and Jane as 30, both living together on independent means.

Jane died on 1st December 1868. In her obituary, there is no mention of her illustrated achievements, simply that she was related to the more prestigious male members of her family. There was later, however, a small dedication to her by her brother Herbert. He gave the gift of an organ to what was then a Victorian almshouse. Under its pipes sat a plaque with the following inscription “This organ is humbly dedicated to the Glory of God by Herbert J. Giraud in memory of his dear sister Jane Elizabeth Giraud.” True this is a small token especially considering her male relatives received more public monuments, but I’d like to think once again that it symbolises a strong bond they shared between brother and sister, over flowers, botany and Shakespeare’s amazing ability to use their meanings to add depth and colour to his works.  

Title page Flowers of Shakespeare
The Flowers of Shakespeare (title page)

Further reading

Shakespeare and flowers is a huge topic which this blog post can’t possibly attempt to cover. If you would like to know more, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library has a variety of books on the subject. You can also view Jane Giraud’s book The Flowers of Shakespeare including with illustrations and those mentioned in this blog at the online catalogue at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website.  

Biography: (All books listed can be found in The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library)

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