Monday, September 22, 2014

Poppies, in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Study of Poppies, by John Constable
via V + A Museum website
They walked along listening to the singing of the bright-colored birds and looking at the lovely flowers which now became so thick that the ground was carpeted with them. There were big yellow and white and blue and purple blossoms, besides great clusters of scarlet poppies, which were so brilliant in color they almost dazzled Dorothy's eyes.

"Aren't they beautiful?" the girl asked, as she breathed in the spicy scent of the flowers.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (1900)

The Wizard of Oz is familiar enough through the 1939 film with Judy Garland that an introduction to it is likely unneeded. Instead, then, I have taken this excerpt. In the Hollywood version, the flowers have been enchanted by the Wicked Witch of the West; in this version, the fragrance of the poppies in themselves is a sedative. When reading this chapter, I wondered, if in 1900, laudanum was still used as a medicine even for children. (Wikipedia: American patent medicine manufacturers were first required to list opium content in 1906; preparations of coca leaf and preparations of opium were roundly restricted by the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914, and Britain and France formulated their own similar restrictions a few years later.)

Illustration: Made in Great Britain, ca. 1832.
Maker: John Constable, born 1776 - died 1837. Oil on paper with a brown ground. Given to the Victoria and Albert museum by Isabel Constable. Museum number: 329-1888.

In honour of the exhibition: Constable: The Making of a Master, in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK), from September 20th, 2014 to January 11th, 2014. More information here.

Laudanum and Harrison Narcotics Tax Act [Wikipedia]
Text quoted from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (New York: Alfred A. Knopf — Everyman's Library, 1992), p. 68

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