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216 × 138 × 25 mm
248 pages
36 illustrations
16 Jul 2018

Monsters under Glass A Cultural History of Hothouse Flowers from 1850 to the Present Jane Desmarais

Monsters under Glass explores our enduring fascination with hothouses and exotic blooms, from their rise in ancient times, through the Victorian vogue for plant collecting, to the present day.

Our interest in hothouses can be traced back to the Roman emperor Tiberius, but it was in the early nineteenth century that a boom in exotic plant collecting and new glasshouse technologies stimulated the imagination of novelists, poets and artists, and the hothouse entered the creative language in a highly charged way. Decadent writers in England and on the Continent – including Charles Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde – transformed the notion of the hothouse from a functional object to a powerful metaphor, of metropolitan life, sexuality and being, replete with a dark underside of decay and death; of consciousness itself, nurtured and dissected under glass.

In this beautifully illustrated, wide-ranging and vivid study, Jane Desmarais charts the history and influence of these humid, tropical worlds and their creations, providing a steamy window on our recent past.

‘Reaktion Books is to be applauded for, and encouraged in, its commitment to botanical education, and its attempts to tackle plant blindness. More power to them in that most worthwhile endeavour! And now back to the book . . . stylishly and well written. This is a great book; one I enjoyed reading, and which made me think about plants in new ways.’ — Botany One

‘the great value of Desmarais' book . . . lies in its cornucopia of examples and new contexts in which to reread the literature of the period. This intimate, embodied history is itself a little like one of those mighty displays under glass: immersive, intoxicating, fascinating.’ — TLS

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Jane Desmarais is Senior Lecturer in English in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Goldsmiths, University of London. Her publications include Decadence and the Senses (with Alice Condé, 2017) and Arthur Symons: Selected Early Poems (with Chris Baldick, 2017).


1 Heat and Light: The Rise of the Hothouse
2 ‘Aromatic and Tainted’: The City as Hothouse
3 Blooming Buttonholes and Flower Fetishes
4 Florientalism and the ‘Scented Ways’
5 Paradises and Torture Gardens 124
6 Flowers of Evil: The Fleur Fatale 150
7 Mind under Glass 179
8 Weeds

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