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Poetry Activity for the Garden Parasol: The Victorian Woman meets the New Woman (Quick Tip)

By Katherine White, Deputy Director

Frederick Frieseke’s The Garden Parasol (1910) depicts the garden of the Friesekes’ house at Giverny, in northern France. The artist’s wife, Sadie, is seated in her garden. A cultivated woman of leisure, Sadie is interrupted by the arrival of a visitor; however, this encounter is upstaged by the vibrancy of the garden and the swirling colors of the Japanese parasol.

Frieseke’s work focused on the female figure and the private lives of women, and his depictions offered women as a worldly man might dream them: sensual and ornamental and engaged in polite, domestic, “feminine” pursuits such as dressing or undressing, arranging flowers, lounging on a divan, or, as here, taking tea in the garden.

While Frieseke offers us a view of an early 20th-century woman at leisure, the turn of the century brought the emergence of more modern understandings of femininity and the recognition that many women felt trapped and were eager to escape to new roles and representations in society. These understandings challenged traditional gender norms and societal structures and emphasized women’s freedom, independence, and mobility in work, education, entertainment, and politics. The term New Woman represented this group of women and the social and political ideals they began to assert in more public spaces.

Poetry Exercise

To celebrate Frieseke’s home and garden in Giverny and depiction of a woman at leisure, we invite you to read Stéphane Mallarmé’s “The Flowers” as translated by Henry Weinfield. “The Flowers” captures lovely representations of flowers, women, and the power of nature.

Are you interested in expressing your creativity and ideas about the Victorian woman, gardens, or other inspirations? We invite you to write a lyrical poem that makes connections between two or more real or imagined people, objects, or concepts as modeled in “The Flowers.” Share your poems on social media and tag #ncartmuseum.

  • Lyrical poems are subjective, expressing the feelings and thoughts of a single speaker. They are characterized by melody, emotional intensity, and brevity, and were originally designed to be sung to musical accompaniment.
  • Lyrical poems rely heavily on imagery and metaphor, which we encourage you to explore as you write.
    • Imagery refers to details that stimulate our senses.
      • Daylight breaks
      • Children giggle
      • Aromas evade
    • Metaphor offers similarities between dissimilar concepts or objects.
      • The passing of days or seasons as the process of aging
      • The game of baseball as a dance
      • The rising sun as a nagging parent
  • Sample Questions for Imagery and Metaphor
    • Identify the images/metaphors and explain how they contribute to the feeling(s) of the poem.
    • What mood or tone do the images/metaphors create?
    • How do the images/metaphors in one stanza relate to or expand upon images in other stanzas?
    • How do the images/metaphors come together to convey the poet’s meaning?

Further Reading

To challenge the Victorian ideals presented by The Garden Parasol, we invite you to read the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. First published in 1892, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is considered an early feminist piece of literature in its urging that women take a more significant place in the social and working worlds around them.

Sample Questions for “The Yellow Wallpaper”

  • Did your attitude toward the narrator change as the story progressed?
  • Why is the narrator obsessed with finding a pattern in the wallpaper?
  • What does the author suggest about marriages in the late 19th century?
  • What does the author suggest about the status of women in the late 19th century?