All Things Green by Marilyn Payne
The colour green is unlucky. Why? This suspicion goes back to the 1700s. Carl Scheele, a Swedish chemist, experimented with arsenic. He used it to invent shades of green. It became widely used in making wallpapers and fabrics. He knew arsenic was poisonous, but no-one was going to eat it, right? However, when clothes got damp, they gave off a poisonous gas, leading to people becoming extremely ill or dying.
When Napoleon Bonaparte died in 1821 on the island of St Helena, there were rumours his death was a poisoning. He had problems with his digestive system for years and was diagnosed with stomach cancer. In those days, there was no way of establishing if arsenic was in the body. People often died of ‘food poisoning’. In 1980 there was an analysis done on Bonaparte’s wallpaper and it showed to contain Scheele’s Green. So, did he die of cancer or was he poisoned? “There is nothing improbable about the hypothesis of arsenic poisoning”, wrote Frank McLynn in “Napoleon: A Biography”. (Arcade, 2002). “Science gives it more than warranted assertibility”.
Victorian Britain was said to be ‘bathed in green’, from gowns in emerald green to carpets and wallpaper. The dye was so striking due to being made with arsenic. The Victorian slang for an attractive person was ‘killing’. That word took on a new meaning with The British Medical Journal remarking: “Well, may the fascinating wearer of it be especially called a ‘killing creature’. She actually carries in her skirts poison enough to slay the whole of the admirers she may meet within half a dozen ball-rooms”.
Green is similar in both Western symbolism and traditional Chinese culture. In the West green stands for harmony, wealth, growth and eco-friendliness. In Chinese culture green stands for cleanliness and purity from contamination.
If one is bitten by the green-eyed monster, it is thought they are consumed with envy, which is one of the seven deadly sins.
The cosiness of a soft green is unparalleled. It is the epitome of stress relief, ideal for décor. Theatres have ‘green rooms’ for actors to rest in before, in between and after shows. However, even though they are still called green rooms, they are not always green anymore.
Green is associated with nature – green grass, leaves on trees, the growth of plants. Walking in green environments can help lift our mood. In fact, in the pandemic, garden centres have sold up to 50% more plants than usual. Surprisingly, green fingered young people have taken up the hobby of growing, either in their gardens or apartments.
So, is green unlucky? You decide.