It's my pleasure to welcome Brooke West and Beau North to the salon, with a tale of cowslips!
Thank you, Catherine, for hosting this stop on our blog tour and inviting Beau and me into your salon!
If you have read The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy by now, then you understand why we are obsessed with cowslips! The cowslip scene (which I will spoil for you below -- you have been warned!) is one of the examples of how our Darcy’s hardships have transformed him. After working through his ordeal, Darcy begins to really look at the people around him and connect with them. He takes a small moment that many would have ignored and from that extrapolates a grand, romantic gesture to his beloved.
With their simple but undeniable beauty, cowslips are a fitting symbol for our Elizabeth. The cowslip is a common flower, sweet-smelling and low-growing but vibrantly colored and impressive in its profusion. They have been admired and used for centuries for their culinary, medicinal, and even magical qualities.
The flowers and leaves are mildly narcotic, which is why they have been used for making both a delicate wine and a calming sedative tea. I expect Darcy would attest to Elizabeth having an intoxicating effect on him!
Aside from medicinal purposes, the beauty of the cowslip has inspired some belief that the flower can imbue this quality on others. Nicholas Culpepper, a renowned 17th century English botanist, claimed that women could make themselves more beautiful by using a distillation or ointment made from the perennial. Indeed, it would not be an unusual ingredient to find in modern skincare due to the cowslip’s cleansing properties.
Cowslips were often associated with the faeries in England. Some say the faeries used the cowslips to become invisible, or that the presence of cowslips indicated the presence of faeries. In Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare invoked the cowslip as a favorite of the Fairy Queen, Titania:
And I serve the fairy queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their gold coats spots you see.
Those be rubies, fairy favors.
In those freckles live their savors.
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear
Conversely, cowslips also were used to protect one’s home and cows from faeries. Even as belief in faeries died away, rural folk would keep cowslips by their door to prevent unwanted visitors.
The supposed magical properties of these flowers align with the lightly supernatural element of The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy. I like to think that cowslips always remind Darcy of the days in Hunsford, and that the following scene, which occurs on Elizabeth’s first visit to Darcy House, is the first of many times Darcy fills his house with the delicate flowers in honor of Elizabeth:
She curtsied and said his name in an unsteady voice. He would not allow the brevity of her greeting to deter him and he was determined to make her feel welcome in his home.
“Miss Elizabeth, I am pleased to see you among the party tonight.”
She did not meet his eye, focusing instead on the vase to his right. Every vase in the house was bursting with yellow cowslips, the only tribute he could give her without openly declaring himself.
“Thank you for inviting us,” she said in a subdued manner.
And thank you, Catherine and her loyal readers, for indulging us in talking about our latest collaboration, The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy. We look forward to hearing from you and your readers!