#59 Lilies



Having been cultivated for over 5000 years (Hogan 821), lilies have “a strong claim to being the oldest domestic flower” (Ward 243). There are about one hundred species of “true lilies” belonging to the family Liliaceae, genus Lilium: bulbs which produce tall (three to seven feet), “strongly upright plants with leafy aerial stems that die back to the bulb after flowering,” with short, “lance-shaped” leaves and flowers at the end of short stems (Hogan 821).  The flowers can be shaped like trumpets, funnels, bells, or cups, can have flaring or recursive petals, may face up or down, and now come in a nearly infinite variety of colors, often streaked, striped, or dotted.

The name lily comes from the Greek leiron (Ward 243), the oldest known varieties being related to the “family matriarch,” L. candidum, the so-called “Madonna Lily,” striking in the purity of its absolute whiteness, bearing brilliantly gold stamens and a prominent pistil (Reiss 37). According to Marcia Reiss in her history of the lily, it was Virgil who first named the Roman lily candidum, “meaning shining or pure white” (37).  Despite legends that the lily was imported into Britain by the crusaders, most sources agree that it was likely introduced by the Roman legions (Hollingworth 88), who carried baskets of roots with them, planting them near camps to use in making a poultice for corns (Reiss 40).

According to Woolf’s friend, the gardener Vita Sackville-West, Madonna lilies can be difficult to cultivate consistently, and so a number of hybrid varieties have become popular since they were first imported from Asia in the mid to late nineteenth century, including the Lilium Regale, discovered in China in 1905, recognizable by the mauve blush striped on its exterior surface (Sackville-West, Some Flowers 83), the towering Lilium Gigantum discovered in Tibet (Some Flowers 87), and the popular Lilium Auratum, aka  “Mountain Lily” or “golden rayed lily,” bearing white flowers graced with golden interior radial stripes and vivid orange spots, which grows happily in pots and was imported from Japan  into England in great numbers every New Year’s (Some Flowers 108).[1]


There are many other species of true lilies, some of which come from the Near East such as “Turk’s Cap” lilies, bright orange with red spots and strongly recursive petals and “Tiger Lilies,” also orange and recursive, which were first sent to Kew in 1804 (Reiss 41). [2]
By Oleg Bor - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The difficulty of surveying lilies is increased by the fact that there are many flowers called “lilies” which belong to entirely other taxonomical families. These include the arum or white calla lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica, in the family Araceae which includes caladium and philodendron, with its large arrow-shaped leaves and funnel-shaped spathe (a modified, ensheathing leaf) wrapped around a prominent golden spadix or tightly packed collection of tiny flowers in a rod-like shape (Hogan 1494). Calla lilies originated in South Africa; in an essay on the calla lily in American art, Charles Eldredge reports they were first introduced into Europe in 1731 and were included in the taxonomy of Linneaus (5). The calla lily was well-established in the American South by the opening of the nineteenth-century (Eldredge 7) and became particularly fashionable on both sides of the Atlantic in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.


Lily of the Valley, now categorized in its own family, Convallaria, also has no taxonomical connection to “true lilies.” A small perennial with a characteristically sweet scent that spreads by rhizomes in moist, shady areas, its large, bright green leaves nearly conceal the graceful arches of white, bell shaped flowers which emerge in the late spring at a time which tends to coincide with Pentecost or Whitsunday -- the seventh Sunday after Easter (Hogan 408; Ward 250).  Amusingly enough, there is a Sussex legend about a St. Leonard who fought a dragon in the forest near Horsham; the blood from his wounds is said to have spread a trail of droplets which turned into lilies of the valley (Ward 251; Reiss 105-6).[3] 


Daylilies, once classified as true lilies, now belong to the Hemerocallis family, the name, which is Greek for “lily of the day,” reflecting the fact that each flower only blooms for one day. The plants propagate through rhizomes instead of bulbs, from a crown junction of roots and sword-shaped leaves which resemble those of irises (Hogan 692). The trumpet-shaped flowers have six leaves, with prominent up-curled stamens, and come in colors ranging from yellow through various oranges and reds; their yellow centers often radiate outwards into stripes.  Easily hybrized, there are now hundreds of species with colors including all shades of pink and reds so darks as to be nearly purple. The common orange day lily seen throughout the United States, sometimes referred to as “ditch lily,” is H. fulva, first hybridized in England in 1877 (Reiss 25).

And of course, there are WATER LILIES, which belong to the Nymphaeceae family, and whose botany, history, symbolism, and uses by Woolf are so distinct as to require a separate entry of their own.


Given the long history and wide variety of plants referred to as lilies, the tale of their symbolic and literary meanings and associations is voluminous and twisted, but most connotations cluster around the sacerdotal purity and stately beauty of the white relatives of the Madonna lily, the history of which extends back to the Bronze Age and beyond.  Hollingsworth quotes Sir Arthur Evans, the archeologist responsible for excavating the Palace of Knossos on Crete, to the effect that the lily is “pre-eminently the Minoan sacred flower” (77). Going on to speculate that the lily was a special attribute of “the Great Minoan Goddess” Britomartis, Hollingsworth traces how the goddess was assimilated into Greek religion as a precursor to Artemis, then Hera and the Roman Juno, and finally the Christian Virgin Mary, concluding that for “thousands of years the lily has figured in human history as a religious symbol, typifying with its white and gold all that man could imagine of goodness and purity” (77).

The association of lilies with the Greek goddess Hera has given rise to one of the mostly widely repeated myths of their origin, the story of how Zeus attempted to nurture his illegitimate son Hercules by setting him to suckle on his wife’s breast while she was sleeping.  The infant demi-god sucked so hard that Hera’s milk spattered across the skies, creating the Milky Way; the drops that fell to earth turned into lilies (Ward 244; Heilmeyer 50; Hollingsworth 80). [4] A coda to the story twists the lily from a maternal symbol of nurturing purity to more sexual connotations. In this version, Aphrodite disliked Hera’s lilies because of their ostentatious purity and in a moment of spite set a large pistil reminiscent of a phallus in the center of the flower (Heilmeyer 50; Hollingsworth 80)-- an ironic gift since the pistil is the female organ of floral generation.
In her history of the lily Reiss notes that the story of Hera links lilies to “the essential nurturing element, mother’s milk” (97), an interesting continuity with the flower’s Christian identity with the Virgin Mary.  As early as the second century, apocryphal stories of Mary’s ascension linked her with both roses and lilies: a doubting Thomas insisted on visiting Mary’s tomb to be sure that she was dead; the tomb was empty, except for piles of roses and lilies-- the roses being later associated with the blood of Christ and the lilies with the purity of Mary (Reiss 100; Folkard 214).  In England, the Venerable Bede made the symbolic connection explicit; as Reiss quotes, “the pure white petals [signify] her spotless body and the golden anthers her soul growing with heavenly light” (116). In subsequent centuries, as the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was developed, images of Mary accompanied by a stem of lilies began to proliferate, especially in the context of the Annunciation. Reiss suggests that Crivelli’s painting, The Immaculate Conception (1492) was among the first of these (100).

Owned by the National Gallery in London, it begins the tradition of showing a stem with three lilies, two in bloom and one in bud, representing the trinity of father, Holy Ghost, and son to be born, a symbolic convention still being evoked by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his 1850 painting Ecce Ancilla Domini, owned by the Tate Gallery in London.

Crivelli and Rossetti, unlike many other painters, actually represent the stamens and pistil of the lily, which Reiss points out were eliminated from many depictions so as to “literally avoid the issue of sexuality” (123).

Aside from the associations with feminine purity, most post-Renaissance uses of the lily have to do with funerals or with weddings, that is, with death or sexuality. As Reiss puts it, the lily went through a “gamut of symbolic transformations” from “mourning flower to an emblem of feminine beauty, to a highly charged image of erotica” (15).  The strong fragrance of lilies has since ancient times caused them to be favored as flowers for the dead because their scent “masked the odor of death” (Reiss 155; Heilmeyer 5).  Also, their whiteness, while signifying purity, could also bring to mind “the pallor of illness and imminent death” (Reiss 158). Linking purity and death is the folk belief cited by Reiss that “lilies unplanted by human hand, appear on the graves of innocents executed for crimes they did not commit” (107).

The website “A Shakespeare Garden” notes that the bard “associated the lily with death and absence”.[5] As an example, it quotes Archbishop Cranmer’s prophecy of Queen Elizabeth’s death at the end of Henry VIII:

but she must die,
She must, the saints must have her; yet a virgin,
A most unspotted lily shall she pass
To the ground, and all the world shall mourn her." 

As Ward points out, in Act III, Scene 2 of Troilus and Cressida, Troilus waiting for his love says he feels like he is “upon the Stygian banks” and asks Pandarus to “be thou my Charon,/
And give me swift transportance to those fields/Where I may wallow in the lily-beds” (partly quoted by Ward, 245-6), identifying lilies as flowers of Hades.  And in Titus Andronicus, Titus compares his daughter Lavina’s state after being brutally assaulted, mutilated, and raped to that of “a gather’d lily almost wither'd,” thus linking lilies to the legend of Procne and Philomela (Act III, Sc. i, l. 113).[6]

            Other poets also dwell on the evanescence of lilies. In his posthumously published poem, “The Tune” (1640), Ben Jonson apparently refers to a day lily when he claims “A lily of a day/ Is fairer far in May,/ Although it fall and die that night;/ It was the plant and flower of light” (qtd, by Ward 246).  Marvell refers to both the paleness and the funeral associations of lilies in his poem “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun” (1681) where the faun lies “in the flaxen lilies’ shade/It like a bank of lilies laid. . . its pure virgin limbs to fold/ In whitest sheets of lilies cold” (qtd by Reiss 157).  And the loitering knight of Keats’ “La Bell Dame san Merci” is so pale he appears to have a lily on his brow (l. 9).

            Numerous sources confirm that lilies, particularly calla lilies were popular funeral flowers in the mid-nineteenth century. Reiss mentions that they were “prominent decorations on Lincoln’s coffin” (162), and photographs of Queen Victoria on her death bed show her resting in a corona of calla lilies,

Photo of Queen Victoria on her Death Bed

an effect emphasized by Sir Herbert Von Herkomer’s watercolor, which Eldredge describes as presenting the royal corpse in “the guise of the lily with Victoria wrapped in a spathe-like cloud “ (13; includes illustration). See

            Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century the calla lily, often referred to as an “arum lily” especially in England, was also often associated with female beauty. Of course the association of lilies with sexuality goes back to their appearance in the Biblical Song of Songs, though there is an entire literature of disagreement as to what flower exactly is being referred to in the erotic metaphors that compare the beloved’s breasts to twin roes “which feed upon the lilies” (4:5) or her belly to “a heap of wheat set about with lilies” (8:2).[7]

Eldredge chronicles the popularity of calla lilies “as a floral accompaniment in female portraits” from “well before the Victorian era” to “well into the twentieth century,” noting that the “sentiments understood by artists and subjects” to be associated with the flower went through a considerable change (Eldredge 11-2). One major shift in sentiments had to do with a radical transformation in connotation at the hands of late nineteenth-century aesthetes such as Oscar Wilde, whose fondness for a calla lily pinned to his velvet lapel was pilloried by Gilbert and Sullivan in their comic opera Patience (1881) in the persona of Reginald Bunthorne, the “fleshy poet,” said by Reiss to be based on a combination of Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Wilde (174).  The original program for the production features a trio of poets, with the center figure wearing an outsized calla lily boutonniere.

In the sixth song of the opera, "Am I alone and unobserved?" Bunthorne reveals that his aesthetic appearance is a sham, singing
Though the Philistines may jostle, you will rank as an apostle
            in the high aesthetic band,
If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily
            in your medieval hand.[8]
Once Wilde had been put on trial for and convicted of sodomy in 1895, the calla lily became associated with the taint of homosexuality.

During the height of what Reiss calls “Calla Mania” in the 1920s, the calla lily’s affiliation with homosexuality coupled with the sensuous androgyny of its appearance -- the enfolding spathe and the prominent spadix calling to mind both female and male genitalia -- led to the flower increasingly becoming “an image of overt sexuality” (Reiss 146-7), particularly in the notorious series of paintings Georgia O’Keefe began producing in 1923.  Eldredge suggests that O’Keeffe’s calla paintings would also have been informed by the androgynous use of the flower in the work of two other (homosexual) contemporaries, Marsden Hartley and Charles Demuth (Eldredge 21-3).


This plethora of historical associations and accumulated meanings is dimly reflected in Woolf’s references to the various kinds of lilies in her fiction and life-writing. Lilies are the second most frequently mentioned flowers in Woolf’s published works; only roses appear more often.  I have recorded about seventy references to lilies including not only the tall white lilies -- the Madonna lily and L. arautum -- but also arum or calla lilies, and lilies of the valley.  This count does not encompass well almost two hundred (187) uses of Lily as a name of either acquaintances or characters, nor does it include water lilies, of which I have so far counted at least thirty-seven, or perhaps thirty-nine.[9]

Lilies are the first flowers mentioned in Woolf’s letters.[10]  In May of 1897 when she was fifteen, she wrote to her older brother Thoby about plans for planting “a border of lilies and other flowers” in the back garden at 22 Hyde Park Gate (L1 7).  It took another ten years, however, for them to reappear in her writing, this time in a metaphor with Aesthetic if not particularly homosexual overtones. Writing to a girlhood friend, Eily Monsell, Virginia Stephen describes her new acquaintance Saxon Sydney-Turner as “exquisitely cultivated, almost omniscient, pale as a lily and dusky as a cedar” (L1 310).  While Sydney-Turner was not very active sexually -- his one love affair was with the artist Barbara Hiles, a friend of Dora Carrington who eventually rejected him for Nick Bagenal -- according to Lytton Strachey, he was deeply enamored of Swinburne: “a wild and unrestrained freshman who wrote poems, [he] never went to bed, and declaimed Swinburne and Sir Thomas Browne till four o’clock in the morning in the Great Court at Trinity” (Holroyd 144). Two years later she invokes a more robust and slightly sapphist lily in describing the redoubtable Ottoline Morrell to her friend Violet Dickinson: “Ottoline is slowly growing rather fond of me. It is like sitting beneath an Arum lily; with a thick golden bar in the middle, dropping pollen, or whatever that is which seduces the male bee” (L1 394).

Lilies have an equivocal presence in Woolf’s first novel, being notable in some ways for their absence.  The Voyage Out establishes a tension between red flowers which, while representing adult sexuality, are often prematurely cut and marshaled for display, and white flowers which seem to symbolize both virginity and death, especially in the lines from Milton’s Comus which Terence reads to Rachael as she begins to fall ill on the eve of the announcement of their engagement and which continue to haunt her as she slips from Comus into her final coma. As Lisa Low points out, Comus, like The Voyage Out, is a work “about the sexual violation of a female heroine” (119). The story of The Lady’s entrapment by a bestial sexual predator and her subsequent rescue by the drowned water nymph Sabrina, herself a motherless victim of male predation, can be read as another version of the Persephone story, and interestingly Low sees a similarity between the use of Comus in the novel and the counter-myth of Philomela: “like the story the tongueless and mutilated Philomela tells her sister in her tapestry, Comus reveals the rape story buried in Woolf’s narrative” (122).  In Comus the Demeter figure, Sabrina, knits “twisted braids of lilies . . . [into her] amber dropping hair” like some Victorian Ophelia or Elaine the Lily Maid floating towards her grave (VO 327, 329; Comus ll. 322-4).

Since Sabrina is a water nymph “sitting/ Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave” it would make sense to assume her lilies are water lilies; however, in Melymbrosia, an earlier manuscript version of the novel, there is an early foreshadowing that parallels the appearance of the lilies at the end. Reading Cowper’s letters aboard ship and haunted by a sense of the presence of “things that aren’t there,” such as “beautiful drowned statues,” Rachel recalls her one proposal of marriage, which had seemed to her “ridiculous” because “she half expected to come up next year as a bed of white flowers” (MEL 38). Here Rachel’s sense that an early death somehow seems more probable than marriage can be linked to the stories about lilies spontaneously appearing on the graves of the innocent.

Another instance of absent lilies occurs in a passage which originally followed the one about the lily bed, describing the funeral of Rachel’s mother. Rachael remembers the hall in her Richmond home being “laden with flowers the day of her mother’s funeral, smelling so strong that now any flower-scent brought back the sickly horrible sensation” (VO 35). In both versions of the manuscript, the flower is explicitly identified as “broom” (VO 35, MEL 39; see my essay on BROOM). The reference harkens back to Virginia Stephen’s own experience of her mother Julia’s death as described in “A Sketch of the Past”: “The hall reeked of flowers. They were piled on the hall table.   The scent still brings back those days of astonishing intensity” (MOB 92). 

Although Woolf’s memoir does not specify the particular flowers whose scent she found so over-powering, several other fictional funeral evocations suggest they may have been lilies.  Connections between lilies and funerals are seen again in the 1919 short story “Sympathy,” where the imagined deathbed of the friend’s husband is draped with lilies (CSF 108, 111).  In To the Lighthouse, there is a possible allusion to Shakespeare’s use of lilies as the flowers of Hades in Troilus when Lily Briscoe (more about characters named Lily later) imagines seeing the maternal figure of Mrs. Ramsey  “stepping with her usual quickness across fields among whose folds, purplish and soft, among whose flowers, hyacinths or lilies, she vanished” (TTL 184).

The aversion to funeral lilies is especially marked in The Waves where during Bernard’s summation of events he recounts a conversation with Jinny which begins by quoting Jonson’s lines about the evanescence of the day lily; when they begin to go on to repeat conventional platitudes about Percival’s body being covered with lilies, Bernard rebels and refuses to “exude this lily-sweet glue; and cover him with phrases,” and the two vow “not to let lilies grow” on his memory (TW 196-7).  A similar atmosphere of cloying excess pervades the maternal funeral of Rose in The Years:

In the dimness—all the blinds were drawn—the flowers gleamed; and the hall smelt with the amorous intensity of a hot-house. Wreath after wreath, they kept arriving. There were lilies with broad bars of gold in them; others with spotted throats sticky with honey; white tulips, white lilac—flowers of all kinds, some with petals as thick as velvet, others transparent, paper-thin, but all white, and clubbed together, head to head, in circles, in ovals, in crosses so that they scarcely looked like flowers. (83)

Watching the “death trudge” of King George V’s funeral cortege on January 27, 1936, Woolf had recorded seeing “a bunch of red & white lilies” on the coffin (D5 11, 12). And in her obituary on the death of Ottoline Morrell in 1938, a year after the publication of The Years, Woolf writes of her friend’s generosity and sincerity and of “the glamour which she created as inevitably as the lily pours out scent,” recalling her early comparison of Ottoline to an arum lily, once again associating the scent of lilies with death (E6, 126).

            Returning to Woolf’s lily chronology, from 1917-8, there are sporadic mentions of lilies in Woolf’s diaries and letters, as well as in a series of review essays she wrote for the TLS.  In August of 1917, she records going into Lewes to meet Katherine Mansfield coming for a visit on the train and buying a dozen lily roots which were planted in the “big bed” at Ashaem (D, 43).  Three days later she reports planting a bulb of some “red lily,” later identified as “Monkbrettia (?)” (D1 44, 53), presumably Montbresia, aka Crocosmia, a member of the Iris family from South Africa.

            Woolf’s recovery from a major breakdown in 1915 was signaled by her return to writing review essays for the TLS in January of 1916.  In 1917, she produced thirty-five pieces, all for that august paper, several of which mention lilies, if only in passing. The flowers are once again associated with the Aesthetes in an April review of a book of “personal recollections” of various artists including Swinburne and Wilde, which Woolf begins by quoting a passage about the author’s gift of a bunch of flowers to Swinburne and the poet’s “solitary ecstasy” the next morning during his “contemplation of lilies” (E2 110). An early meditation on the mysteries of the Greek language in May provokes a quotation from the translation of an epigram by Melager mentioning white violets, the “moist narcissus,” and “wandering mountain lilies” (E2 188; n. 9 p. 189).[11]  A commemorative essay on Thoreau mentions that the odd detail that he “smoked nothing but ‘dried lily stems’” -- perhaps as an index of his temperance (E2 133). And an August review of a volume of writing by Thomas Gordon Hake, illustrated with woodcuts by the pre-Raphaelite artist Arthur Hughes, again links lilies of the valley with the Aesthetic generation, as well as innocence, purity, and death. Woolf quotes a snippet from the long poem “The Lily of the Valley” about a young girl who lives in the forest, so immersed in natural beauty that when asked her name she replies “Lily of the Vale” (E2 150).  Unfortunately, in the very next stanza, her parents pass away, destroying her joyful childhood. The lilies die in their nest, the crushed violets close their petals, and she begins a journey through the world looking for comfort and support for her dying grandfather.[12]  Interestingly, the cover of the volume, designed by Rossetti, who was a close friend of Hake’s and who also wrote a review of the initial publication in 1872, pictures a child’s woven cradle with a shovel laid over it shaded by a stem of lilies of the valley.

            In May of 1919, a brief review of a collection of poems adapted from the Irish language by James Stephens quotes a stanza about another young girl who is compared to a lily, inaugurating a spate of associations of lilies with female beauty in Woolf’s writing:
As lily grows up easily,
In modest gentle dignity
To sweet perfection,
So grew she,
As easily.   (E2 243)

As previously mentioned, the short story “Sympathy, written between 1919 and 1921, places lilies on an imagined deathbed. Although in this case the corpse is that of a young man, it is suggested that the flowers had been scattered by his young wife Celia, pictured “veiled in white from head to foot” (CSF 108).  When, at the end of the story, the narrator comes to the realization that the father rather than the son has died, she momentarily holds on to her previous vision of the wife still wearing the white veil, next to the white bed piled with lilies (CSF 111).

An essay reporting on the annual show at the Royal Academy in 1919 invokes another image of a woman associated with lilies. The first painting Woolf mentions is an (unidentified) presentation portrait of “a lady in full evening dress. She stands at the top of a staircase, one hand loosely closed round a sheaf of lilies, while the other is about to greet someone of distinction who advances towards her up the stairs” (E3 89).[13]  A similarly idealized image appear in Night and Day, published the same year, where the “sentimental and enthusiastic” Mrs. Seal worries that Mary Datchet, “who had some sort of visionary existence in white with a sheaf of lilies in her hand” in her imagination, might get married and desert the suffrage office (ND 262).  Calla lilies are also tangentially part of Cassandra Ottoway’s equally hyperbolic appreciation of the “magical brilliancy” of the place settings for dinner at the Hilbery’s home in Cheney Walk (near where Rossetti lived) including: “The pattern of the soup-plates, the stiff folds of the napkins, which rose by the side of each plate in the shape of arum lilies, the long sticks of bread tied with pink ribbon, the silver dishes and the sea-colored champagne glasses, with the flakes of gold congealed in their stems” (ND 345).  A 1921 review of a new study of “Gothic Romance” shows Woolf’s awareness of the potential silliness of this kind of lily fantasy. Enjoying the fun the critic makes of the flat stereotypical characters of the genre which resemble “nothing more than a composite photograph,” Woolf quotes the description of a heroine “fair as a lily, tall as the pine, her fine dark eyes sparkling as diamonds,” who “moved with the majestic air of a goddess” (E3 306).

            Four years later, Mrs. Dalloway returns to these associations of lilies with femininity.  While arum lilies appear in Mulberry’s flower shop (MD 13) and Rezia is compared to a lily “drowned under water” (89), the bulk of the lily references appear in connection to Clarissa Dalloway’s daughter, Elizabeth, who recognizes the potential limitations these stereotypical pairings with lilies impose:
People were beginning to compare her to poplar trees, early dawn, hyacinths, fawns, running water, and garden lilies, and it made her life a burden to her, for she so much preferred being left alone to do what she liked in the country, but they would compare her to lilies, and she had to go to parties. (MD 134)

Recalling literary references to youthful purity from Shakespeare to Marvell to Thomas Gordon Hake, these poetic metaphors put Elizabeth on a pedestal of purity which inhibits her actual growth.  Even Sally Seaton, who used to treat flowers so scandalously in her rebellious youth, makes the repressive comparison: “She was like a lily, Sally said, a lily by the side of a pool” (193). Fortunately, however, compared to Rachel Vinrace, Elizabeth Dalloway’s initiation into adulthood, while accompanied by lilies, does not seem to presage death, only irritating social obligations.

            Interestingly, Woolf’s first conceptions of the novel would seem to suggest that lilies might be more likely linked to the adult woman for whom the novel is named.  In her Introduction to the 1928 Modern Library Edition of Mrs. Dalloway Woolf mentions that originally Clarissa was “to kill herself, or perhaps merely to die at the end of the party” (rpt. in Fernald 357). In October of 1922, her girlhood friend Kitty Maxse, seen by many as the most likely model for Clarissa Dalloway, had died as a result of falling down stairs. For some reason, Woolf seems to have construed her death as a suicide.  In a letter to Roger Fry she writes about “Kitty Maxse falling over the banisters and killing herself” (L2 573).[14] It may be a very tenuous connection, but I cannot help but link Woolf’s 1919 description of the lady in an evening dress at the top of the stairs holding a sheaf of lilies in one hand and extending the other to “someone of distinction” to the image of Clarissa as a society hostess standing at the “top of her stairs” to greet the guests at her party, a scene which occurs twice in the novel (MD 17 166).  This supposition is supported by a look at Vanessa Bell’s cover for the novel, featuring a sheaf of flowers and a fan.  Her preliminary sketch of the novel makes it quite clear that the flowers were meant to be calla lilies, their golden tongues being echoed by the flames of the candles set on the table.

Picture of two covers

            Another important pictorial manifestation of lilies had begun in Woolf’s earlier novel, Jacob’s Room: the inclusion of lilies in lists of flowers, usually in tandem with roses and carnations. In Jacob’s Room the trio of natural flowers is contrasted with paper flowers which open in water:  “Roses, lilies, carnations in particular, looked over the rims of vases and surveyed the bright lives and swift dooms of their artificial relations” (85). This floral refrain inevitably conjures up John Singer Sargent’s lovely evocation of Japanese lanterns being lit by two young girls in a twilight garden filled with what are clearly Lilium Auratum:“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” a painting Woolf was likely to have seen often as it was bought by the Tate Gallery in 1887 and housed for many years at the South Kensington Gallery (now the V&A), only blocks from her childhood home, before it was moved to Tate Britain on Millbank.

Although it represents arum rather than garden lilies, the scene in the florist shop in Mrs Dalloway is also evocative of Sargent’s painting as it brings up the memory of the end of a “superb summer’s day, with its almost blue-black sky, its delphiniums, its carnations, its arum lilies” during “the moment between six and seven when every flower -- roses, carnations, irises, lilac -- glows”(MD 14).

Written the year Mrs. Dalloway was published (1925) the essay “Pictures,” refers to the same flower triad in the specific context of painting. Launching another attack on superficial realism, Woolf maintains that a “bad writer” is one whose writing “appeals mainly to the eye” (E4 243). Such a writer in delineating “say, a meeting in a garden” will describe “roses, lilies, carnations, and shadows on the grass, so that we can see them” but will not use his medium for clarifying “ideas, motives, impulses and emotions”(E4 243).  Chosen apparently at random, the example of the garden scene corresponds exactly to Sargent’s masterwork, which might very well have been on Woolf’s mind given the fact that Sargent died on April 14, 1925 and the essay was published ten days later on April 25 (E4 246, n.1).

Such catalogues of flowers incorporating lilies occur a total of nine times in Woolf’s work.  In Orlando, lilies are included in the plenitude of the refurbished garden of Orlando’s manor house: “In the garden snowdrops, crocuses, hyacinths, magnolias, roses, lilies, asters, the dahlia in all its varieties . . . grew so thick on each other's roots that there was no plot of earth without its bloom” (111).  In the essay, “On Being Ill” (1930), lilies are grouped in a different trinity as emblems of self-sufficiency: “gladioli, dahlias; lilies” (E5 199). The metaphorically floral variety of Flush’s loves (1933) again pairs lilies with roses but, in a nod to the delights of both mongrels and purebreds, also includes thistles and orchids: “Today the flower is a rose, tomorrow a lily; now it is the wild thistle on the moor, now the pouched and portentous orchid of the conservatory” (127).

The Present Day section of The Years (1937) provides a trio of flower triads, all poised at crepuscular points of day when the liminal light irradiates its surroundings.  In the long twilight walk that opens the section, North comes across a neighborhood market: “Barrows full of fruit and flowers were drawn up at the kerb. The sun gilt the fruit; the flowers had a blurred brilliance; there were roses, carnations and lilies too” (294). Lilies are absent at the beginning of Delia’s party, which closes the book; instead the tables are spread with “Carnations, roses, daisies” (377), but the arrival of the “queer pale light” of dawn illuminates the party detritus, “strewn with plates and glasses, with roses, lilies and carnations” (409). 

Lilies in the glow of twilight grouped with other flowers appear one last time at the end of Woolf’s last novel, Between the Acts, as the playwright Miss LaTrobe takes up her suitcase to leave the scene of her enacted pageant. Her mind beginning to flood with new ideas, she feels “It was strange that the earth, with all those flowers incandescent—the lilies, the roses, and clumps of white flowers and bushes of burning green—should still be hard” (143). No longer an innocent young girl in peril of being buried by social expectations of purity, she confidently takes “her voyage away from the shore” and “fumble[s] for the latch of the iron entrance gate” (BTA 143).

            Some of this emphasis on the exuberant beauty of lilies also seems to derive from Woolf’s own personal experiences with the flower. In June of 1927, Gerald Brenan sent Woolf a big bunch of lilies which she praised extravagantly: “My dear Gerald, I think I appreciate lilies more than the altars do—nevertheless, I dont approve of this lavish generosity of yours. Do I send you venison if you have a cold? At the same time, your lilies are triumphant and resplendent in my big jar. Thank you very much” (L3 389).  A year later, in August of 1928, she mentions another lily, a potted one in a deep window of Monk’s house:  “Monks House looked very nice, unexpectedly so, & the great lily in the window has now four flowers. They opened in the night” (D3 192). In 1930, Leonard began buying L. aratum; clearly they became a feature of the Monk’s House garden since the orders continued in 1931, 1933, 1934, and 1935 (LWGA). In September of 1930, Virginia Woolf celebrated their beauty in a letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davies: “Leonards garden has really been a miracle—vast white lilies, and such a blaze of dahlias that even today one feels lit up” (L4 213). 

            Throughout the later 1920s and early 1930s, lilies also continue to appear in a variety of other contexts besides the scent of death and the semi-mystical glow of twilight, most of which suggests some kind of rigidity or limitation of movement associated with the flowers. Returning to eighteenth century England, newly transformed into a woman, Orlando finds herself “wrapped like a lily in folds of paduasoy” (O 120), constrained by the beautiful but heavily corded flowered silk of her skirts in an image invoking a sheathed calla or arum lily (1928). In A Room of One’s Own (1929), a passage from Tennyson’s Maude which groups lilies with roses and larkspurs is quoted as an example of what “men hummed at luncheon parties before the war”; again the lily’s movement is suspended:
The red rose cries, “She is near, she is near”;
And the white rose weeps, “She is late”;
The larkspur listens, “I hear, I hear”;
And the lily whispers, “I wait.” (ROO 12)

Re-reading Shakespeare a year later, in April of 1930, Woolf delightedly quotes a line -- “Upon a gather’d lily almost wither’d” -- as evidence of the speed and fluency of his writing, not mentioning that the image of the fading, already plucked lily comes from the horror-show of Titus and describes a daughter raped, mutilated, and unable to speak. In “On Being Ill,” written that same year, as mentioned before, the flower passage including lilies, which are described as “sacerdotal, ecclesiastical,” concentrates on flowers which preserve “a demeanour of perfect dignity and self-possession,” moving only to “gently incline their heads to the breeze” (E5 199).  And in “Oxford Street Tide” (1932) she chides the scorn of the moralists who mock London’s evanescence, saying that asking for permanence in the cityscape is as misguided “as we should be if we asked of the lily that it should be cast in bronze” (E5 285), a rebuke to any attempt to guild the lily in a metal duller than gold.

Practically the only exceptions during the early thirties to this sequence of trapped lilies are a couple of fairly sarcastic comments in letters.  Recounting her visit to the Chelsea flower show in May 1931, Woolf makes a rather classist remark to her sister Vanessa about “all the county families parading with their noses red against the lilies” (L4 334). And in September, she describes Joan Easdale, who lives with her “lavish hospitable sloppy mother” in a “small, old tumble-down house,” with a rather uncharitable parody of her own fondess for glowing flowers:  “She looks like a chocolate box flapper, talks like one, about how lovely the lilies are, and the sunset” (L4 339).  There is a similar cattiness in her gossipy reference to a group of young (mostly homosexual) men living in Miada Vale, an area of London north of Paddington Station and just east of Regent’s Park in a December 21st 1933 letter to her nephew, Quentin Bell: “They have set up a new quarter in Maida Vale; I propose to call them the Lilies of the Valley. Theres William Plomer, with his policeman; then Stephen, then [Wystan] "Auden and Joe Ackerly, all lodged in Maida Vale, and wearing different coloured Lilies. . . . Their great sorrow at the moment is Siegfried Sassoon’s defection; he’s gone and married a woman, and says—Rosamond showed me his letter—that he has never till now known what love meant. It is the saving of life he says; and this greatly worries the Lilies of the Valley, among whom is Morgan of course, who loves a crippled bootmaker” (L5 262).

This somewhat homophobic attack is rather at odds with the usual treatment of lilies of the valley in Woolf’s writing. After the 1917 review of the Hake book with its sentimental poem about the young orphan girl, Lily of the Vale, the interim mentions of the shy flower tend to follow the mode of Victorian sentimental conventions, in which, often given as gifts, like other lily varieties they tend to represent stillness, isolation, and sometimes even death. In 1919 Woolf recorded a visit from Leonard’s mother and his sister-in-law Sylvia who “came to tea, bringing fresh eggs & lilies of the valley” (D1 277).  The character, Lily Everit, who appears in “The Introduction,” one of the short stories later collected in the sequence called Mrs. Dalloway’s Party, recalls the young forest dweller of Hake’s poem, taking “long solitary walks. . . in the hearts of woods or wide lonely moors” where in “the ecstasy of loneliness” she witnesses the “pure beauty offered by beetles and lilies of the valley and dead leaves and still pools” (CSF 186).  After the homophobic letter to Quentin, the only other time that lilies of the valley appear in Woolf’s writing is in the first section of The Years where, brought as a gift and put in a vase, they grace the bedside table of Delia’s mother as she lies dying, along with a prayer-book and a set of spectacles (TY 21); looking “unreal,” they are a gentle anticipation of the hoards of flowers artificially clubbed together that will appear at her funeral (TY 83), recalling the flowers on or beside death-beds or at funerals in The Voyage Out, “Sympathy,” The Waves, and Woolf’s accounts of her own mother’s death.

            Only a few references to lilies remain in Woolf’s later prose, demonstrating a representative combination of associations with immediate experiences of beauty and ambivalent idealizations of the female figure. Her Edenic account of Roger Fry’s childhood at Highgate includes the detail that the young art critic-to-be “had his own garden, and a lily grew there which he drew in pencil for his grandfather in Lewes” (RF 26). On the other hand, a 1940 review of a biography of the best-selling novelist Marie Corelli, written the same year that Woolf was finishing the biography of Fry, incites one of Woolf’s most savage denunciations of a fellow writer in terms that associate lilies with the worst excesses of Victorian complacency and self- promotion. Describing Corelli’s books as being “draped in white satin, hung with pure lilies, and exhibited twice a year in stout volumes for which the public paid her ten thousand pounds apiece,” Woolf characterizes them as being “as damning an indictment of Victorian taste in one way as the Albert Memorial is in another” (E6 221).  This alignment of lilies with falsity and pretense, however, gives way in Woolf’s last novel, Between the Acts, where lilies return to their benign status.  Admiring Isa’s handsomeness in the first interval, William Dodge imagines her as a sturdy, almost goddess-like figure: “He wanted to see her, not against the tea urn, but with her glass green eyes and thick body, the neck was broad as a pillar, against an arum lily or a vine” (BTA 73). And of course, as already mentioned, Woolf’s final lilies are the incandescent twilight torches that light the way to the artist Miss LaTrobe’s next creative adventure.


          A little over half the mentions of “Lily” in Woolf’s fiction and life-writing are names of characters or actual people named Lily (my tentative count is 187 names out of 305 hits) and they tend to repeat the themes of Woolf’s uses of the flower in her writing. Most of these occur in the fiction, but Woolf begins her first diary in January of 1915 with a series of thirteen references to the woes of a maid named Lily, a kind of Ado Annie who, after having given birth to an illegitimate child and being charitably hired by the Woolfs at Asheham, was unable to say no to series of soldiers, thus endangering her tenure at a succession of jobs.[15] Although this real Lily was certainly not innocent in the conventional sexual sense, Leonard’s account of her in Beginning Again casts her in the mode of one of Hardy’s feckless heroines, with a “nice character,” unusually gentle, but “temperamentally born to certain disaster” (173).

A number of Woolf’s fictitious Lilys seem to share this quality of vulnerability, many being engaged in the process of maturation into adulthood.  In “Kew Gardens,” both Lily and lilies are associated with former first loves. Simon remembers sitting by a lake, fifteen years earlier, spending the entire day trying to convince his beloved Lily to marry him, but the dragonfly which seems to symbolize his desire never settles on the red flower in the middle of the lake, and he is refused (CSF 90-1).  His ultimate wife, Eleanor, also meditates on a memory of love recalling lilies on the lake, in her case the ecstasy of a kiss from an “old grey-haired woman with a wart on her nose” -- whom she describes as “the mother of all my kisses all my life”-- received while she is painting red water lilies, the first she’d ever seen (CSF 91). In both cases, the red flowers seem to represent a love unconsummated or deferred, lilies that never fully bloomed.[16]

Written as part of a series of stories about various characters at Mrs. Dalloway’s party, “The Introduction” (1925) features a young girl, Lily Everit, on the verge of an initiation into womanhood which, like those of Rachel Vinrace and Eleanor at Kew, seems somewhat thwarted.[17] Tossed into the whirlpool of her “first party,” her only spar of rescue is her pride at the three red stars of congratulations on her recent essay about Swift (CSF 184).  As already observed, Lily in her innocence bears some resemblance to the young forest dweller of Kake’s poem which Woolf reviewed in 1917. Lily feels like an insect, a butterfly just emerging from her chrysalis (CSF 185), and she is also compared to “a flower which had opened in ten minutes” (186). But in this moment of vulnerability, she is introduced to Bob Brinsley, whose arrogance and self-importance metaphorically strip her expanding wings. To this wanton boy, she is just a fly whose wings can be torn off for sport (CSF 187); he leaves her “confused for ever and ever and shriveled her wings on her back” (188), the red sparks of self-assurance in her ability to write essays forever dimmed. 

The vanquished lilies of a day in these two stores represent tragic curtailments of possibility, but they give way to the creation of Woolf’s most famous Lily, the artist heroine of To the Lighthouse, Lily Briscoe (whose name in the novel and in Woolf’s diary entries about its writing constitute nearly half her total L/lily references -- 150 out of 305).[18]  Although Lily Briscoe is like her fictional predecessors in several ways -- she is single; still searching for some core of meaning in her life, she is not yet fully formed into adulthood; she is beset by social demands that hinder her private ambitions, including attempts to pair her up with men -- she is older than her forerunners (approximately thirty-four, according to Mark Hussey [42]), has an established life, a compelling vocation, and a developing career, and by the third section of the novel has matured to a level where she can see the limitations of the beloved, maternal Mrs. Ramsey while still loving her. The increasing strength of the Lily figure can be indexed by her linkage to flying insects. In “Kew” Lily is compared to an evanescent dragonfly which never lands; in “The Introduction” Lily is an emerging butterfly whose wings are crumpled and possibly mutilated. In To the Lighthouse, however, it is Lily’s art which turns entomological: “She saw the colour burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly’s wing lying upon the arches of a cathedral” (51). The fragile beauty of her art is undergirded by a structure of unbreakable strength: “Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent, one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly’s wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron” (TTL 174).

Another subtle indication of the new resilience of this Lily in Woolf’s writing comes from a possible source for Lily Briscoe’s last name.  As I pointed out in my article on the use of photographic scrapbooks in To the Lighthouse, Helen Southworth and discovered that there was a woman mountain climber named Lily Bristow, who climbed the Alps with (and without) noted guide A.F. Mummery. Although Lily Bristow’s most famous climbs were in 1892-3, several decades after Leslie Stephen’s peak experiences, according to Catherine Hollis’s resume of his climbs, he did revisit the Alps in 1893 and 1894 (when Virginia Stephen would have been twelve) and would doubtless have heard of her accomplishments (Hollis 60).  Lily Bristow’s epistolary account of climbing with A.F. Mummery in 1893, “An Easy Day for a Lady,” was published in the Alpine Journal Vol 53, a periodical Leslie Stephens had edited from 1868-72.  As I speculated in my previous article, “What a delicious irony to think that Woolf intended a secret comparison of Mr. Ramsey, who cannot get to R, to Lily Bristow, a woman who reached the highest peaks of the Alps” (“Evening under lamplight” 169).[19]

Of course, after Lily Briscoe, the rest of Woolf’s Lilys are a bit of an anticlimax.  Unlike Woolf’s earliest Lilys and like the painter heroine of To the Lighthouse, Lily Wilson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s maid in Flush, represents a successful if not triumphant transition into maturity. We do not learn the formidable Wilson’s first name until she moves to Italy with her mistress where she undergoes the traditional female initiation: “Her fancy was fired; her judgment reeled; her standards toppled. Lily Wilson fell passionately in love with Signor Righi, the guardsman” (116). Although Lily Wilson shares a taste for soldiers with Woolf’s own feckless maid, a seven-page footnote explicates the full history of her obscure life as one of the “all-but-invisible servant maids of history” (174), dignifying her character by revealing her courage in leaving England, good sense in ditching her useless husband and finding a better one, and lifelong loyalty to Mrs. Browning (168-74.)

The rest of Woolf’s fictional Lilys are fleeting figures, generally daughters or subordinates of some sort. In The Years we find another helpful Lily, who assists her mother Mrs. Levy in paying her rent for one of Eleanor’s residences at Canning Place in the Grove. A modern-day girl, this Lily has a “job at a tailor’s in Shoreditch” and makes enough money to deck herself out with pearls and finery (29). There is also a sidelong mention of a daughter named Lily in the possessive family conversations North overhears at the party at the end of the book, but we learn nothing about her other than that she is “in Leicestershire” (359). A rare, rebellious Lily briefly crosses the page in “The Shooting Party” (1938) as the two elderly sisters rehearse memories of the prowess and deaths of their male relatives on the hunting fields: “Remember Lily?” said old Miss Rashleigh. “A bad ’un.” She shook her head. “Riding with a scarlet tassel on her cane….” “Rotten at the heart!” cried Miss Antonia” (CSF 258). Described by Julia Briggs as a story which “links the degeneracy of the upper classes with. . . the wanton -- and essentially masculine -- destructiveness of hunting” and “dramatizes the danger of separate spheres” (“Cut deep” 185), this Lily is denigrated by the two sisters because she crosses gender lines in hunting with the men, her cane with the red tassel insouciantly declaring her autonomy held aloft unlike Lily Everit’s vanquished red sparks of self-assurance

Woolf’s last mention of a Lily in her fiction seems to come full circle back to her own experiences seeking employment for her hapless maid. The woman who kills herself in the late short story, “The Legacy,” like Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen, had a commitment to caring for the less fortunate. In his wife’s diary, the husband finds out that she went once a week to Whitechapel; one entry records, “Saw Mrs. Jones … She has ten children…. Husband lost his arm in an accident…. Did my best to find a job for Lily” (CSF 285), a last attempt to guide a Lily into self-sustaining maturity.

Throughout this section I have listed pages numbers of any books in which I was able to locate an image. Whenever possible, I have also included links to the image on-line; since many of these are on museum sites or posted without attribution on personal sites such as Pinterest, I have chosen to link rather than reproduce them here.

Considering the widespread popularity of the calla lily as a motif in American and British design in the 1920-30’s, it is remarkable how relatively few lilies appear as subjects in still-lives or as decorative motifs in the work of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. With a cluster of exceptions in the mid-thirties, calla lilies (referred to as arum lilies in England) appear quite early, principally during the years of the Omega Workshop (1913-1919), several years ahead of their popularity in America (Georgia O’Keeffe began painting her calla lily series in 1923). In 1914, Vanessa Bell painted Omega Paper Flowers in a Bottle, featuring a drooping reddish calla, apparently made out of crepe paper but with characteristic spathe and spadix (pictured in the catalogue of the Dulwich exhibition, Milroy and Dejardin, p. 82).

The next year, Duncan painted what was clearly an arum lily on the revere side of the Omega signboard (photo in Anscombe, pl. 2, p. 81).  And in 1917, Vanessa painted what appears to be an arum lily in a pot of flowers on the door to the right of the fireplace in Duncan Grant’s Room at Charleston (pictured in Bell and Nicholson, 129).  In 1919, both Vanessa and Duncan painted still-lives featuring arums along with black irises. Vanessa’s Arum Lilies (pictured in Milroy and Dejardin, p. 109) places two white lilies along with a single black iris in a bottle-necked brown pottery jar sitting on a chair in front of a somewhat somber brown background. https://www.pinterest.at/pin/2674081003931428/

Duncan’s Irises, Lilies and a Pear places four arum lilies in various states of freshness with two black irises in a white pitcher on a low table against a much brighter, golden-yellow, paisley background.  The four arums are in a circular arrangement which swirls around clockwise to include the handle of the pitcher, which looks like a fifth, completely wilted lily, visually connected to a white stripe on the adjacent pear, as though the wilted flower has produced a seed and a fruit.  

After these instances, arum lilies seem to disappear during the twenties, except for their possible appearance in the sketch for the cover of Mrs. Dalloway in 1925. Virginia Woolf seems to have had a particular fondness for arum lilies during the early thirties. In 1931, she commissioned a tile fireplace for the upstairs sitting room at Monk’s House.  Designed by Vanessa Bell, the surround features four arum lilies, two on each side, with a large bowl of generic, rose-like flowers in the middle, all posed against a background of blue cross-hatching (photo in Gillespie,The Sister’s Arts, fig. 5.10, p. 245; color photo in Anscombe pl. XI, p. 24).  A portrait of Virginia Woolf at Tavistock Sq., also painted by her sister, in 1934, shows Woolf seated in a chair next to a vase of flowers which appears to include a drooping arum (Gillespie fig 4.11, p. 186).

At some point, perhaps in the thirties (the only record I can find says that the painting was sold in 1938), Vanessa Bell did another study, Arum and Tulips, in which a large white arum presides over a bunch of red and purple tulips and small narcissi in a pink floral vase. https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/arum-and-tulips-164880

Vanessa also very occasionally painted garden or Madonna lilies.  An early painting The Madonna Lily (1915) shows a single stem with five blossoms standing straight up in a small glass jar posed against brownish color fields abstractly representing a table top and walls meeting in a corner (Milroy and Dejardin 103;  Gillespie, Sister’s Arts, fig 3.3, p. 114). http://www.artnet.com/artists/vanessa-bell/the-madonna-lily-XM7tiqvzG9ySXty2oy1EBg2

Roger Fry painted what appears to be a companion piece. Although dated two years later (1917), his Lilies is set against the exact same background, with what is clearly the same small glass bottle; his stem contains not only five lilies but also three unopened buds, tilted at a slight diagonal and accompanied by what looks like a small Chinese porcelain figure of a woman.

After this shared exercise, garden lilies do not appear again in Vanessa’s work until sometime in the thirties when her design for the dining table top at Charleston utilizes a simplified lily design (picture in Bradshaw, A Bloomsbury Canvas, p. 101). After Virginia’s death, Vanessa’s mural of The Annunciation in the Berwick Church (1942) features a large bunch of the lilies traditional associated with the Virgin Mary.

In 1945, Duncan painted a large Madonna lily on the front of a cabinet in Vanessa’s bathroom (Picture in Bell and Nicholson, p. 70). [20]

For both Vanessa and Duncan, lilies seem to serve primarily as visual motifs.  Only once, in Duncan’s Irises, Lilies, and a Pear, is there any suggestion of meaning beyond decoration or Madonnic purity-- a hint of the initiation and growth process sometimes evoked by Virginia Woolf in her writings.

Coda.  It seems as if Woolf might agree with Katherine Hepburn’s characterization of the lily in the 1933 film Stage Door:

[1] The Wikipedia entry explains that L. auratum was first imported into England in 1862.

[2] The distinction between Asiatic and Oriental Lilies (Asiatic being smaller, usually of one color, and spring-blooming; Oriental growing up to eight feet, coming in yellow, pink, and white usually with contrasting color on the rims of the petal, being highly fragrant, and blooming in late summer) was not established by International lily societies until 1963 (Reiss 52).  Also see https://www.fnp.com/article/difference-between-asiatic-and-oriental-lilies.

[3] Horsham and St. Leonard’s Forest are located about forty miles north and slightly west of Rodmell.  There is still a section of the forest call “The Lily Beds”
Woolf mentions “St Leonards” in passing at the beginning of her 1930 essay “Evening Over Sussex: Reflections in a Motor Car” (E6 453), but the editors suggest this is a reference to a suburb of Hastings rather than the forest (E6 456, n. 2).  
[4] This is the subject of Tintoretto’s famous painting “The Origin of the Milky Way,” owned by the National Gallery in London and therefore very likely known to Woolf.  https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/jacopo-tintoretto-the-origin-of-the-milky-way

[6] Geiseke points out that as a symbol of virginity, lilies appear in several mythical rape narratives. According to some versions, Europa was picking lilies when she was captured by Zeus, and in Ovid’s version of Persephone’s abduction, she was also picking lilies (123-4).
[7] Pratt includes quite a detailed speculation on which lilies are referred to in the the Song of Songs and in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:28), for some reason believing that the “lilies of the field” refers to golden amaryllis rather than actual lilies (see 197-200).

[9] My evasiveness about numbers is due to the fact that it is sometimes not clear whether Woolf is referring to land lilies as opposed to water lilies.  See, for example, the section on lilies in The Voyage Out below.

[10] Observations in her juvenile diary on spring flowers observed in Kensington Garden such as crocuses and almond trees precede the lilies by a few months (PA 39, 48, 52).

[11] “Mountain lily” is the direct translation of auratum, the popular golden lily.  But since that species was not exported from Japan until the end of the nineteenth century, we can be fairly sure it was not being referenced in ancient Greece. 

[12] The poem is available on line; Woolf’s quote comes from stanza 11, as pointed out in note 7 (E2 151).  https://archive.org/details/cu31924077144040/page/n75/mode/2up?q=lily+of+the+valley

[13] This painting remains unidentified, even after the assiduous search of the editor of the essays  (n.1, E3 94).
[14] Anne Fernald’s Introduction to the Cambridge Edition of Mrs. Dalloway contains a useful summary of this information, pp. li-liii.
[15] See D1, 3-8. Leonard Woolf continues the story in Beginning Again where he recounts how Lily, having lost yet another job, was rehired at Hogarth House but was found “in some disarray” in the kitchen with a soldier and finally quit in a state of deep contrition and guilt that she might have upset Mrs. Woolf who was then in a fragile mental state (BA 173-6).
[16] The association of red flowers with consummated passion of course recalls the flower symbolism of The Voyage Out. That their function is deliberately symbolic is suggested by the fact that red water lilies did not actually appear in England until much later.  See entry on WATER LILIES for more details.

[17] Christina Froula has brilliantly outlined the parallels between The Voyage Out and “The Introduction” in her essay “Out of the Chrysalis.”

[18] Beth Rigel Daughtery provides a very helpful account of how the Dalloway stories provide a “corridor” linking the novel to To the Lighthouse.
[19] See https://chamonixallyear.com/lady-legends-women-in-mountaineering/ for a convenient summary of Bristow’s achievements. She was famous for leading guideless climbs.
[20] Also available on Nicholson’s website http://www.virginianicholson.co.uk/charleston. Go to My Books, then click on Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden; the photo is in the Gallery at the bottom of the page.)

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Welcome to the Virginia Woolf Herbarium.  For many years I have been researching and writing about Virginia Woolf and parks, gardens, and fl...