#34 Eglantine


Eglantine is a form of rose, Rosa rubiginosa, commonly known as Sweet Briar.  Named after its many hook-shaped  prickles, the shrub bears numerous five-petalled blossoms, white on the inside shading out to pink, with a central cluster of yellow stamens. According to Wikipedia, it is the foliage not the flower which produces a “strong apple-like smell.”[1]

Eglantine is mentioned frequently in British literature.  Chaucer’s Prioress, the model of the slightly over-idealized love object of medieval romance, is named Eglentyne.  In Sonnet 26 of his Amoretti, Spenser uses Eglantine as an example of how everything sweet is tempered with sour: “sweet is the Eglantine, but pricketh nere.”  Perhaps the most famous eglantine is that conjured by Oberon in Midsummer Night’s Dream:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious Wood bine,
With sweet musk roses and with eglantine (Act II, sc 1)

Like Shakespeare, both Keats and Sir Walter Scott associate eglantine with embowered violets.  In his “Ode to a Nightingale,” the “embalmed darkness” to which the narrator escapes is full of fragrant flowers:
               White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; 
               Fast-fading violets cover'd up in leaves; 
And mid-May's eldest child, The coming musk-rose.
And a similar bouquet is evoked in another bower of escape in The Lady of the Lake:
Here eglantine embalmed the air,      
Hawthorn and hazel mingled there;      
The primrose pale and violet flower      
Found in each cliff a narrow bower (Stanza 12)

Woolf only uses eglantine twice, both times in her fiction, and both times in contexts which emphasize its roots in British literature.  As in Shakespeare, Keats, and Scott, the shrub rose is linked with violets.  In Orlando, it is among a list of landscape features characteristic of “Surrey and Kent or the towns of London and Tunbridge Wells” which are unknown in Constantinople: “parsonage there was none, nor manor house, nor cottage, nor oak, elms, violet, ivy, or wild eglantine (89).” In Between the Acts, the wild rose similarly represents  the rise of British civilization; the Age is Reason is announced emerging along with trade, metals, and pot-making from the age of the warrior and the heathen when“The violet and the eglantine over the riven earth their flowers entwine,” bringing a new world of pastoral safety and fertile agriculture (BTA 85).  The literary heritage of the flower makes it a fitting emblem of England.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_rubiginosa

See Works Cited Page for full documentation

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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...