The Language of Flowers: A Novel
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. Look for special features inside. Join the Circle for author chats and more.
The curriculet is being added to your library
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
What does Victoria see flowers as useful for?
Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born in 1978 in San Francisco. This is her first novel. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Victoria like the group home?
Victoria has been labeled by Meredith, her social worker, as a difficult child. Do you think Meredith's views of Victoria are deserved?
What does Victoria do with the $20 from Meredith? What does this say about Victoria's character?
Below is a picture of McKinley Square in San Francisco. Diffenbaugh uses many real locations in the Bay Area for setting in the novel. (This annotation contains an image)
"I nodded goodbye to the room that would no longer be mine, feeling a sudden gratitude for the angle of the sun, the locking door, the brief offering of time and space."Which of the following does Victoria's time at the halfway house most likely represent?
Flowers are highly symbolic in this novel. Flowers, as a whole, symbolize a kind of life raft and a means of expression for Victoria, but that is not all. You will soon see how different flowers symbolize very specific things in The Language of Flowers. (This annotation contains a video)
Which need of Victoria's do the highlighted lines represent?
Victoria thinks of the food as some kind of a trick. She is unable to trust Elizabeth's intentions, and it is easy to see why. She has been bouncing from one foster home to another since birth.
Why do you think Diffenbaugh chose to title this novel The Language of Flowers? Use the information in the highlighted paragraph and what you have already learned about Victoria in your answer.
This novel toggles back and forth between two periods of time in Victoria's life: the present day, and when Victoria went to live with Elizabeth when she was nine. Diffenbaugh reveals things about Victoria's young life very slowly throughout the course of the novel through flashbacks. Think about how the structure of this novel shapes your experience while reading it. (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Victoria baulk at the bride's choice of flowers?
Why does this young man give Victoria such an unsettled feeling?
This chapter is another flashback. What do you think Diffenbaugh wants you to learn about Victoria, Elizabeth, and their relationship here? (This annotation contains a video)
Things in Elizabeth's house seem nice and safe for Victoria. Which is the most likely reason why Victoria would want her placement to end?
"I believe you can prove everyone wrong, too, Victoria. Your behavior is a choice; it isn't who you are." Elizabeth believes in Victoria. Compare and contrast this statement to Meredith's feelings towards Victoria. Which of the characters do you agree with, and why?
Even though Renata locks the cash register, she trusts Victoria alone in the flower shop. (This annotation contains an image)
After her first day of work, Victoria feels
Rhododendron means beware. What is the symbolism behind Victoria giving this flower to the young man? (This annotation contains an image)
How does Victoria craft Earl's bouquet?
Food is also symbolic in the novel. After years of foster care and group homes, and recently becoming homeless, Victoria feels like she can't get enough sustenance.
What message is the young man trying to send Victoria with the mistletoe?
No one has ever said this to Victoria before. Do you trust Elizabeth? (This annotation contains a video)
Who does Elizabeth miss for the first time in fifteen years?
For years, Victoria has been using flowers to communicate what she cannot say with words. The young man is the first person since Elizabeth who understands this. This highlights the theme of communication in the novel. (This annotation contains an image)
These actions of Renata's paint her as ____________________ in the book.
One of the themes emerging in this novel is maternal love. Where does Victoria find maternal love? Where in her life is it lacking? (This annotation contains a video)
Follow the link to read the quote by Shakespeare and answer the question below. (This annotation contains a link)
Why does Diffenbaugh include the reference to the linked quote by Shakespeare? How does the quote inform or inspire the novel?
Diffenbaugh wrote much of this novel from a very personal space. She has taken in foster children and understands the struggles they face. Below is a picture of Diffenbaugh, her husband, and their children. (This annotation contains an image)
"Flaming red fruit grew like swollen fingers" is an example of
Below is an image of snapdragon (presumption), the flower Victoria chooses to reply to the young man's response of mistletoe. (This annotation contains an image)
What does the white poplar symbolize?
Elizabeth taught Victoria that each flower has only one meaning. Learning that a yellow rose can symbolize either jealousy or infidelity turns Victoria's world upside-down. (This annotation contains an image)
Knowing what food symbolizes to Victoria, explain why the highlighted paragraph is significant. Is Elizabeth doing more than nurturing Victoria nutritionally?
Having Victoria in Elizabeth's house makes her pine for her estranged sister. We are beginning to see the theme of unconventional families emerge.
What is Elizabeth teaching Victoria to do in this scene?
The young man from the flower market is Grant, Elizabeth's estranged nephew! It is no wonder he knows the language of flowers.
"... the ways in which the yellow rose had altered both of our lives" is most likely referring to
The flower dictionary that Grant and Victoria are creating can be found on Diffenbaugh's website at the link below, and also at the end of this Curriculet. (This annotation contains a link)
____________________ brings an intersection between Victoria's present life and her childhood one with Elizabeth.
Why do you think Victoria is keeping the language of flowers a secret from Renata?
Match the flower that symbolizes the emotion Victoria is feeling in the highlighted sentences.
Victoria is finally realizing that Elizabeth is not going to give her back, even though she has misbehaved very badly. This highlights the themes of maternal love and forgiveness.
Victoria has the realization that she wants to stay with Elizabeth. What do you predict it was that drove them apart? How is it that Victoria came to live the last eight years in group homes, despite Elizabeth's declarations of love and family?
What do yo think being at a flower farm means for Victoria? Has she died and gone to heaven? (This annotation contains an image)
"Have you ever given anyone a red rose?" Grant asks Victoria. He is really asking
We know Victoria doesn't trust other people, and now we are learning that she also mistrusts herself.
The toggling back and forth between the past and present creates a parallel plot within the book. Did you notice that the first time Grant brings Victoria to the flower farm is immediately followed by a chapter where Victoria first goes to the flower farm as a young girl? Watch the video below and look for more parallels as you read. (This annotation contains a video)
What can you infer based on this interaction?
"My bones melted with her strong shake" is an example of hyperbole. Hyperbole is a gross exaggeration. Bethany's handshake is strong, but not strong enough to put Victoria's bones in danger.
Describe in your own words the process Victoria goes through in deciding which flowers to include in Annemarie's bouquet. Why is it so important for Victoria to feel like she is getting it right?
Here is an image of ranunculus from the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, California. Do you think these flowers will work? (This annotation contains an image)
Which character trait of Victoria's is highlighted by her photography?
Like Victoria, Grant has led an isolated life without a support network or parental guidance.
Which of the novel's themes is reflected in the highlighted paragraph?
This language is likely foreign to you, in the days of digital cameras and iPhone pictures. The kind of film one should purchase depends on the kind of picture you want to take. (This annotation contains an image)
How would you characterize the relationship between Victoria and Grant? Do you think Victoria will ever fully let her guard down? Why or why not?
Read the first section of the linked web page for examples of Stein's roses. (This annotation contains a link)
It is fair to say that roses are a motif in Stein's poems. A motif is something, in this case an image, repeated for larger symbolic significance. How does "a rose is a rose is a rose" resonate in Victoria's life? Why do you think Diffenbaugh decided to use Stein's rose in this novel?
It is interesting to note that Grant and Elizabeth live so close to each other (on adjoining property, no less) and yet their lives never intersect.
What does the highlighted sentence show about Victoria and her possible growth?
"I could not remember ever having cried, and the tears felt like a betrayal of my anger." Victoria's time at Elizabeth's house has caused her to feel emotions she has spent her life suppressing. Victoria is an example of a dynamic character. (This annotation contains a video)
What is Grant's learning how to cook a chicken symbolic of?
"'I don't trust myself,' I said. 'Whatever you imagine our life would be like together, it wouldn't happen. I'd ruin it.'" This isn't the first time we've seen Victoria echo this sentiment. Do you think she is correct in believing this?
When Victoria and Elizabeth first meet, Victoria tells Elizabeth the rules: "You can't poison me or give me medicine I don't want. Or hit me-- even if I deserve it." Elizabeth responds by saying, "If I were trying to poison you, I would give you foxglove or hydrangea... depending on how much pain I wanted you to feel and what message I was trying to communicate."Compare and contrast the exchange from Victoria's first day with Elizabeth to Victoria telling Elizabeth she isn't allowed to use knives on this page. What has changed between the pair since the first conversation?
Grant's reply to Elizabeth shows an undercurrent of the loneliness he feels. We don't know much about Catherine yet, but we can tell that she isn't a well person, and no one - not even Elizabeth - has suffered more for it than her solitary son.
"I missed the flowers already but would not permit myself to miss Grant." What is the most likely reason why Victoria says this?
Even though Grant and Victoria are no longer speaking, she makes a copy of the flower dictionary for him. Before this point in her adult life, it was uncharacteristic for her to hold onto hope.
"I'm forgiving her... Don't you forget that."Elizabeth's tone could best be described as
If you don't have a field guide, you can use the internet. Is there a flower you would like to identify using this link? (This annotation contains a link)
Mother Ruby is a new maternal figure in this novel. How do you predict her relationship with Victoria will go? Has Victoria grown past the point of immediately pushing everyone away?
Midwives have been delivering babies for centuries. Today they are thought of as a more natural alternative to a regular hospital birth, although many hospitals have a midwife in residence. (This annotation contains an image)
As the novel opened, Victoria craved being alone. The fact that she is missing Grant shows that she is
Victoria has finally opened herself up to an intimate relationship with another person! Do you believe, as she does, that the jonquil is to thank? (This annotation contains an image)
"I'd never been taken shopping for new clothes, not once, and it seemed to me the perfect way to start my life as someone's daughter." Yet we readers know what young Victoria does not yet know: that she will not become Elizabeth's daughter, and will spend the next eight years of her life in group homes. This is an example of dramatic irony. (This annotation contains a video)
The redwood trees that Victoria and Grant go hiking amongst can live to be 2,000 years old. What is the most likely reason why Diffenbaugh includes them?
There is so much symbolism in Diffenbaugh's writing. Even Annemarie's clothing choices are symbolic of her newfound happiness.
Below is an image of cherry blossoms, the last flower Victoria needs to complete the dictionary. (This annotation contains an image)
The cherry blossom symbolizes impermanence. Why did Diffenbaugh single out this flower? What does impermanence mean to Victoria?
This is a new level of intimacy for Victoria. This is the first time she has taken a photograph of a person.
Which is the most likely reason why Victoria can't let herself enjoy her time with Grant?
Grant has learned how to cook because he knows that food makes Victoria feel safe. Flowers aren't the only language between them.
Why does Elizabeth think she is sick?
Oh, no! Were you predicting something like this would happen?
Victoria is actually sick because she is pregnant! What kind of mother do you think she will be, and why? Cite evidence from the text in your answer.
What do you think of Victoria's desire to make sure Grant never finds out about the baby? Is that fair to Grant or the baby?
Meredith's fatalistic assessment is
Why does Victoria say, "the next few months of my life would likely be anything but safe"? Shouldn't a pregnant woman who is planning on having the child make safety a priority?
Here we have Gertrude Stein's line again: "A rose is a rose is a rose."What does Victoria mean by this? Is the rose just a rose? If not, who or what does the rose symbolize?(Hint: a white rose means a heart unacquainted with love.)
Portero Hill is a neighborhood in San Francisco on the Bay. (This annotation contains an image)
Which character trait of Victoria's is evident here?
This is the only time in Victoria's life that she has let herself be loved and feel vulnerable. It is obvious to us that Elizabeth's problems have more to do with her sister than with Victoria, but Victoria can't see that.
____________ anger parallels Victoria's in this scene.
Victoria isn't getting any prenatal care, which is very dangerous for both mother and child. It is important to visit the doctor monthly while you are pregnant to make sure the baby is healthy and avoid possible complications. (This annotation contains a link)
Follow the link below to read an article about The Language of Flowers from NPR. (This annotation contains a link)
According to the article above, what does Diffenbaugh say is the hardest thing about working with children in foster care? How do you think this relates to Victoria?
Honeysuckle represents the opposite of the cherry blossom to Victoria. Do you think she will someday achieve the permanence which she does not think she is worthy of? (This annotation contains an image)
Ray's sentiments most closely mirror those of
The iris means message. How is this the perfect name and calling card for Victoria's new business? (This annotation contains an image)
Below is an image of the San Francisco Flower Mart, called the best wholesale flower market in the country by Martha Stewart. Is this what you pictured? (This annotation contains an image)
Victoria returning to the Gathering House is emblematic of Diffenbaugh's passion for helping young adults transition out of foster care. She is one of the founders of Camellia Network, which is linked below. (This annotation contains a link)
Marlena sees Victoria as a(n)
When labor arrives, Victoria thinks of Elizabeth. "I wanted, more than anything, to be with her."Although they haven't spoken in eight years, Elizabeth is still the only mother Victoria has ever known. What does this statement say about the mother-child bond?
Elizabeth has told Victoria they will be moving into Catherine's house to care for her since she is mentally ill. Is this a threat to Victoria's stability?
What could this be a metaphor for?
The moment a mother first holds her newborn baby is a very profound one. Do you think this will be enough to calm Victoria's fears? (This annotation contains an image)
"The feeling stayed with me for exactly one week" is an example of foreshadowing. Watch this video to learn more about foreshadowing. Has anything else been foreshadowed in this text? (This annotation contains a video)
Why is breast-feeding a baby "the last thing in the world" Victoria ever thought she would do?
There is an African proverb that says, "It takes a village to raise a child." Renata, Mother Ruby, and Marlena are Victoria's village. Do you think this will be enough support for Victoria? (This annotation contains an image)
How is the experience of having a baby causing Victoria to wonder what her life was like as a baby? Do you think this is painful for her?
What do you think Victoria's plan is? Will it be creative problem-solving or more self-sabotage?
Apart from the physical exhaustion, which is the most likely reason why Victoria feels overwhelmed?
After the first week, Victoria's support system has all but evaporated. From the interview in the back of this novel, Diffenbaugh says, “It is my belief that we could prevent much child abuse and neglect in our country if we understood the intense challenge of motherhood and offered more support to women who want to love and care for their families.” How do you think Victoria's lack of support will play out?
Which of the following examples from flying on a plane most closely correlates with what Victoria needs to do here?
Victoria undoubtably has postpartum depression, which can be a very serious condition. Why do you think she cannot reach out to Mother Ruby for help? (This annotation contains a link)
Names are important in this novel. Victoria's name is derived from the Victorian times, when the language of flowers was well-known. What does it mean that Victoria cannot choose a name for her baby?
Diffenbaugh has said that these scenes of the novel were the hardest for her to write. After every sentence or two, she would have to lie down because it was so painful for her. Can you feel that pain while you read?
Once again, Victoria deals with her problems by
This paragraph reflects the novel's theme of forgiveness.
"I did not know if she still screamed, or if time, solitude, and hunger had collapsed my daughter's lungs as completely as a rising tide" is an example of
Young Elizabeth setting the vineyard fire and present-day Elizabeth running out on her daughter serve as the climax of the novel. (This annotation contains an image)
What do you think of Victoria's decision to bring the baby to Grant? What are her motivations behind it?
Moss symbolizes maternal love. Victoria gives her daughter moss because she doesn't think she is able to give her the real thing. (This annotation contains an image)
What is Victoria doing by denying her baby her breast and offering her moss instead?
Elizabeth has told Victoria repeatedly that she is her mother, but when it comes down to it, Victoria is still officially a ward of the court.
What is at the root of Victoria's lie?
Mastitis is infection of the breast tissue which can occur while breastfeeding. In Victoria's case, the infection spread throughout her body. (This annotation contains a link)
What is significant about Victoria, who is usually so guarded, letting Renata look deeply into her eyes?
Despite career success, Victoria continues to punish herself for abandoning her daughter. Do you think Victoria has the strength to try and make it right?
Victoria's misunderstanding highlights the theme(s) of
Wow! After eight years Victoria is admitting the truth to Elizabeth and asking for her forgiveness. This shows major growth by Victoria.
This exchange highlights the idea of
Elizabeth can finally say the words aloud. She is coming into her truth. Now she can try to put the mistakes of a ten-year old behind her and grow into an adult.
Why is this a pivotal moment for Victoria? What has she learned?
Red carnations symbolize heartbreak. Elizabeth is the only other person in the courtroom who understands their significance. (This annotation contains an image)
Elizabeth's reply makes it clear she wants
Victoria asks Caroline why she is limiting herself. Do you think Victoria is learning that she shouldn't limit herself either?
What does Victoria discover at Elizabeth's?
"Moss grows without roots" is such a significant discovery for Victoria because it means that she was equipped to love and care for her daughter, despite lacking her own foundation. (This annotation contains an image)
Grant named their daughter Hazel (reconciliation). What a symbolic statement of one of the novel's main themes! (This annotation contains an image)
"When I saw you jump the fence, I turned the oven on."How does this statement of Grant's show forgiveness of Victoria and acknowledgement of her needs?
"... for once the tone of my voice communicated what I wanted to say." Victoria is finally learning how to communicate without flowers!
Why would Catherine have thought she lit the fire?
Catherine was unable to ask Elizabeth for forgiveness, so she tried to use the hyacinth. It seems that she waited too long to send her message, though. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the novel's themes is highlighted in Grant's statement?
The sentiments and emotions symbolized by the bouquet Victoria makes for Elizabeth are (in order): I feel your kindness, forget me not, reconciliation, a heart unacquainted with love, grace, tears, tender recollections, childhood, gratitude, maternal love, good health and long life.
How does this represent a "full circle" moment for Elizabeth? Cite evidence from the text in your answer.
"She offered it to me, and in doing so it felt like she was offering me a path back into the family, the family in which I was loved, as a daughter, as a partner, as a mother." Victoria has finally found her family, and she is finally beginning to realize that she is worthy of a family's love.
What does it say about Victoria that she goes back to the Gathering House to hire more girls?
"This time, I would take smaller steps, and enter our unconventional family in a way that I knew I could handle." At the novel's close, Victoria has finally learned how to express her needs and care for herself while caring for those around her. Did you foresee this beautiful and happy ending?