Publication Details

Jones, D. L. (1998). Cultivating empire: the gardens women write. Span: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, 46 (April), 31-44.


Western culture invests gardens with powerful, if ambivalent symbolism. They invite us to commune with nature while delighting in how human hands have guided and controlled it. The Old Testament locates the origin of human life in a garden which simultaneously represents paradise and paradise lost. Paradise, whether on earth or in heaven, is, in Christian tradition, frequently represented as a walled garden with hardship and evil fenced out. But this is a double-sided image invoking both sexual wantonness and chastity, for gardens are also associated with the beauty and desirability of the female body. Because Eve's seductiveness was held responsible for exile from Eden, the paradise garden could represent the abode of secular love where a man and woman take their secret pleasure, or where worshippers of Venus indulge as a group in refined debauchery (Hughes 51). At the same time, through Biblical exegesis of the Song of Solomon, the enclosed garden also represented the Virgin Mary, that second Eve who helped repair the transgression of the first (Stewart 38). Such a garden presided over by the Viigin seated among a group of women saints became an image of female virtue and heavenly bliss.