"The next thing she did, however, was to stoop straight down and pluck - quite as if it were all she was there for - a big, ugly spray of withered fern"
Offering to Flora (1627)
Public DomainOffering to Flora (1627) - Credit: Juan van der Hamen

Flora’s plucking of this dying plant is an act which subverts her own name. In Roman mythology, Flora is the goddess of flowers and springtime, a figure of gaiety and merriment. Paintings invariably depict her clasping luxuriant blooms or reclining in verdant bowers. The image of her young namesake picking a withered fern suggests a corruption from an ideal state of nature which corroborates the governess’s sinister suspicions. 


Henry James had a weakness for bestowing floral names upon his female characters. An early novella, Daisy Miller (1879), tells of the courtship of the eponymous heroine, whilst Pansy Osmond features in The Portrait of a Lady (1881).   

Dying fern leaf
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeDying fern leaf - Credit: Angela