It is a product of the blogger’s obsession with history’s footnotes, paragons of vivid individuality who elevated the craft of selfhood to an art. Because often it wasn’t what they left behind, but how they lived that was their real masterpiece. They might be difficult, ridiculous, contrary – even tragic – but never, ever dull.
Strange Flowers constitutes an alternative universe Who’s Who, a pantheon of ill-deserved obscurity which roams the worlds of literature, art, science, aristocracy and bohemia, low life and high society. Unique and fearless, some of these rare blooms emerge from the shadows of history as unsung influences on our lives, others served as inspiration for fictional characters that became better known than their models. Some may have travelled under the banner of Dandyism, Dadaism or Decadence, but this is an account of individuals, not movements, and most of our subjects were avant-garde without a garde to be avant. More interesting are the elective affinities, private connections, the bequest of tastes and sensibilities from one esoteric nature to another.
Some squandered early promise and slid into squalor and ignominy. Others lived and worked in eremitic isolation, finding scant recognition only after death. Whatever their fate, Strange Flowers aims to celebrate the individual by remembering those who, having inherited the basic materials of existence bequeathed to us all, fashioned them into something heroically, wilfully odd, and often sublime.
James Conway is an Australian writer and translator based in Berlin.