When I initially started thinking about the house on Arbor Hill, I did a fair amount of online and library based research about Victorian houses. As the house was built in 1898 during the declining years of the Victorian era, it felt fitting to include damask wallpaper, somber colours, deep wood tones and organic/floral elements – the last of which sent me down a deep rabbit hole of Victorian symbolism.
Floriography, aka the language of flowers, is a pretty nonsensical language, really. Most things that try to establish hard and fast rules for symbolism usually are, and so where one resource might say authoritatively, ‘daffodils refer to chivalry’, another would say ‘no no, my friend, they mean fame or lost love or… take your pick.’ Some flowers are a little more defined, e.g. red roses and their connection with love. Columbine, a very graphic and lovely little flower, consistently gets a bad rap, saddled with ‘deceived lovers, ingratitude, faithlessness’ – it’s even used as a burn in Hamlet when Ophelia hands it to the scoundrel King Claudius, thank you grade ten English.
Even so, early on I tried to establish a symbolic flower for each member of the house, and that motif would become a background element where an important story element was going to happen for said character. Game making is a fickle beast though, and the need to reuse assets in places where the motif would make little to no sense would only muddy the symbolism. Not to mention that the story was tweaked throughout production, and clear visual language is important. These days, the iris bedspread in the parent’s room serves as an awful 90’s decorative element, and not a sneaky clue about the nature of relationship, unfortunately. Lofty, romantic environment artist ambitions, meet practicality and time constraints.
Rue, however, is still the main floral motif throughout the house, it’s one that I think applies to all characters in some capacity. Its symbolism is almost universally centered around regret and repentance, which is admittedly a bummer, but the story in Gone Home is ultimately hopeful, about love and moving forward. The common rue flower motif can be found in the greenhouse door handle, the staircase knoll posts, the detailing in the closet woodworking and the front door stained glass.
Later in production, the wheat motif took greater importance throughout the house as well (see above the stairs, on the kitchen shelf and the dining room table), and while it doesn’t refer to a particular emotion or attribute, it is a slight nod to the brewing and alcohol industry that helped establish the Masan family fortune at the turn of the last century, and to the prohibition story beats in Gone Home.
Thanks for reading!