Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

A John Clare Flora

Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

A John Clare Flora

Article excerpt

A John Clare Flora. By M. M. MAHOOD. Nottingham: Trent Editions. 2016. xvi +224. ?15.00.

Last year saw the release of the Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium by Walter S. and Graham A. Judd. Tolkien's worldbuilding brings with it strata of facts, history, and linguistics: subjects which substantiate and enflesh the myths upon which his fiction is built. Why read the Flora of Middle-Earth? The introduction offers several answers:

Tolkien's descriptions of Middleearth are richly detailed, including succinct verbal sketches of many of its plants, and thus create a realistic stage for his dramas. His detailed treatment of plants plays a major role in the creation of this stage - providing the distinctive landscapes and natural locales of Middle-earth - from the tundra and ice-fields of the north, to the extensive prairies of Rohan, and the coniferous forests of Dorthonion, as well as the broadleaved forests of Doriath or Fangorn and wetlands such as the Gladden Fields [...] Thus, it is critical for our appreciation and understanding of Middle-earth to envision these scenes accurately. These plants, however, do more than merely provide descriptive detail, enhancing the veracity of the tales of Middle-earth. The plants within Tolkien's legendarium are actually part of the story [...]

Leaving aside jarring references to the 'extensive prairies of Rohan' and the 'broad-leaved forests' of Fangorn, there's something beautifully quixotic about this approach to a twentiethcentury masterpiece. The author continues: 'If the plants of Tolkien's legendarium are the trees, shrubs, and herbs of our own world: one might ask: What about plants such as elanor, nihredil, alfirin, simbelmyně, pipeweed, or the White Tree of Gondor?' According to the Judds, knowing more about Tolkien's plants makes his fiction more real, but the plants are themselves actors and vital participants in the drama.

The strategies of the Judds' book are similar to M.M. Mahood's John Clare Flora. Mahood's carefully researched book, the clear fruit of a wealth of personal knowledge and investigations, collects Clare's references to plant species, arranged by plant families according to recent molecular classification, and helpfully indexed by common and Latin names. A reader looking up an indexical reference to 'jiliflowers' is sent to 'Wallflower' (Erysimum cheiri), which Clare occasionally refers to as 'blood walls' ('June', 'Pleasures of Spring'), and to 'Brompton Stock' (Matthiola incana). The variety of names which Clare gave to the plants that crop up in his poetry, his nimble ear and switching allegiances, means that Mahood's work is cut out for her.

To a scholar of Clare and botany, Mahood's book is invaluable. Looking for entries on 'briony', I discover that there are two kinds - White bryony (Bryonia dioica), now in the Cucurbitaceae family, and Black bryony (Tamus communis) in the Dioscoreaceae family - and are evolutionarily far apart. In this way, Mahood's research provides a safeguard against critical errors for literary scholars who write about Clare's plants. …

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