Painting the white roses red

From: Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985):

“Finally the pastor shook his head and declared me one of the people in Hebrews, to whom it is impossible to speak the truth. He asked me one last time:

‘Will you repent?’

‘No.’ And I stared at him till he looked away. He took my mother off into the parlour for half an hour. I don’t know what they did in there, but it didn’t matter; my mother had painted the white roses red and now she claimed they grew that way.

‘You’ll have to leave,’ she said. ‘I’m not havin’ demons here.’ “

Lewis Carroll, in “Alice on the Stage”:

“…:I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion – a blind and aimless Fury.”

From: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865):

“CHAPTER VIII – The Queen’s Croquet-Ground

A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red. Alice thought this a very curious thing, and she went nearer to watch them, and just as she came up to them she heard one of them say, `Look out now, Five! Don’t go splashing paint over me like that!’

`I couldn’t help it,’ said Five, in a sulky tone; `Seven jogged my elbow.’

On which Seven looked up and said, `That’s right, Five! Always lay the blame on others!’

`You’d better not talk!’ said Five. `I heard the Queen say only yesterday you deserved to be beheaded!’

`What for?’ said the one who had spoken first.

`That’s none of your business, Two!’ said Seven.

`Yes, it is his business!’ said Five, `and I’ll tell him–it was for bringing the cook tulip-roots instead of onions.’

Seven flung down his brush, and had just begun `Well, of all the unjust things–‘ when his eye chanced to fall upon Alice, as she stood watching them, and he checked himself suddenly: the others looked round also, and all of them bowed low.

`Would you tell me,’ said Alice, a little timidly, `why you are painting those roses?’

Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began in a low voice, `Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we’re doing our best, afore she comes, to–‘ At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out `The Queen! The Queen!’ and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen…”

Anna writes at

“In the Victorian Era, a proper etiquette among the upper class in England was totally different from modern day’s one, and those restrictions gave rise to flower language. At that time there were many rules and customs that no longer exist. People were expected to be more subtle: outright flirtations were prohibited, and questions about relationships were taboo. Most of it will feel a bit odd these days, but it was mainly based on simple good manners. Inability to express your feelings freely created a culture where secret messages were conveyed through the flower language.

The craze for the Victorian flower language finds its roots in Ottoman Turkey, in particular in Turkish “selam”. This tradition originated in Turkish harems as a game; selam was a “language” which was supposed to be decoded by attaching rhyming words to particular flowers and other objects. However, when Englishwoman Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762) introduced it to Europe people liked the flower aspect and got rid of other aspects. This resulted in the establishment of floriography – cryptological communication through flower arrangement.
Mary Wortley Montagu introduced the concept in her Turkish embassy letters, which only briefly mentioned this tradition. But as they become popular in Europe the concept spread like wildfire…

Symbolic Rose Meanings

White Rose: Purity, Sanctity, Secret admirer, Mysticism
Red Rose: Sacrifice, Immortal love, Health, Memorial, Passion…”

From Wikipedia:

“The Queen (in “Alice”) may also be a reference to Queen Margaret of the House of Lancaster. During the War of the Roses, a red rose was the symbol of the House Lancaster.”

Maya Binkin, founder of The Art Pilgrim, posted at on 9 Apr 2020:

“…Looking back into history, there is a strong tradition of associating the Virgin Mary with the white rose. Before the Fall, roses in the Garden of Eden were supposedly thornless. The thorns only appeared with original sin. The Virgin Mary, who conceived Jesus without sin, is often referred to as a ‘rose without thorns’. Entirely pure.

In contrast to the white rose is the red rose that is associated with her son, Jesus. Red like the blood that he shed for our sins. It has been said that his thorny crown was made of a twisted stalk of a rose, henceforth the symbol of passion and religious devotion, representing both life and its transience. The rose in Christian mythology, to a degree, is an adaptation of the much older pagan myths where the rose is associated with Aphrodite.

The association of the rose as a flower of lust, love, and beauty is, it seems, as ancient as history.

To hold the rose close is to harness the symbolic power of the Church and God. The House of Lancaster and the House of York understood this when they chose roses as symbols – the former adopting the red rose, the latter the white rose. It was not until 1829 when Sir Walter Scott coined the term the ‘Wars of the Roses’ that it was actually referred to as such. But, between 1455 and 1485, if you were in the possession of a white or red rose, everyone knew where your allegiance lay…”

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